Pokemon Go for Professionals

Coloring Book

Coloring Book! Creative Commons Copyright Elizabeth Albert https://www.flickr.com/photos/elizabeth_albert/5027163965 edited for size and to remove name on drawing

If you haven’t played Pokemon Go yet, you might be making a mistake. Especially if you are a design professional. Even more especially if you ever deal with the planning and design of people’s environments.

When was the last time you explored where you live with a fresh set of eyes? I know I stopped exploring  where I live years ago. By explore, I mean wandering around like I would when I’m a traveler in a new city. My lack of exploration of my home is in part because I’m goal driven, and I haven’t set goals that relate to wandering around and (re)experiencing the world immediately around me.

I typically explore when I hear of a new restaurant or destination, when we have guests in town, or during that rare instance when we choose to get out and do something we normally wouldn’t do. Like play Pokemon Go downtown.

Humans like reward. That’s why the concept of gamification can be quite successful. Pokemon Go is fascinating in that as the first truly successful augmented reality effort, it’s turned the world around us into a game’s playing surface. There are now new rewards for people to walk around and explore their environments. As a design professional, if you don’t understand and ‘get’ what this means… you’re doing yourself a disservice.

I’ve been playing Pokemon Go distractedly since shortly after it was launched. My wife loaded it onto her phone recently. We decided to go downtown yesterday and enjoy wandering around as we played the game. We drove and parked on the edge of our city center, and started walking. We developed a system for how we’d order our meandering:

  • Walk up and down the streets.
  • Within each block, we’d go to the Pokestops and try to avoid looking too nerdy.
  • We’d be unable to look anything but nerdy when we encountered Pokemon that we would then need to trap in a Pokeball. (swiping fingers on our screens)
  • We would linger at any Pokestop that had a lure activated, hopefully having it coincide with a beer and some food.

Many of the Pokestops in downtown Anchorage seem to be focused on art. We stopped a few places in the museum’s garden, and realized that we hadn’t been there in a long time. We took a bit of time to enjoy, and get some pleasure in seeing the work of friends. Around downtown, we found pokestops for art that we didn’t know existed. We walked places that we might never have walked. We looked at buildings and spaces, and learned the name for art where we have not known the name before. All the while, we had the overlay of the fun of pursuit of playing a game and the rewards within it.

KEY#1: Pokemon Go provided us with a form of tour guide that took us from place to place, with a focus on art. Since that aligns with our interests, the game provided us with a meaningful service. (note: in Hood River, Oregon… many of the pokestops focused on historic buildings.)

We stopped in for a coffee at Side Street Espresso, and as we passed Darwin’s… someone activated a lure on Darwin’s Pokestop. That drew us inside for a beer (close enough to noon to be okay).

KEY#2: Wise businesses realize that Pokemon Go exists and can be used to their benefit. We would not have stopped in at Darwin’s at that time of day if a lure hadn’t been activated. We came in, spent money on beer, and had fun.

As an augmented reality game, Pokemon Go is simplistic and in an infancy of potentials. As someone who works with urban design and planning (with a goal of engaging people into their environments), there is a fascinating potential for delivering information and the potential for interaction. At the moment, most players use Pokemon Go to “catch ’em all”, so it’s highest cultural success is likely getting people out walking. But, what’s next?

KEY#3: We went downtown with the sole purpose of meandering and catching Pokemon. We learned some things about our city in part because of Pokestops, but more so because we actually went downtown! It took a reward to get us to do that. In the future, when augmented reality tools incorporate different levels of reward, tied to local opportunities and knowledge, then they move beyond augmented reality into integrated reality. A logical step for that would be to require interaction (knowledge or activity) to get the rewards at a Pokestop… rather than just swiping the screen.

Pokemon Go is a digital treasure hunt. A pub crawl. First Friday art walks. Any community event with the goal of offering something in return for effort. It’s just a new approach to getting people out. I find it funny that many people and professionals dismiss or even sneer at Pokemon Go… as they miss the point. The point is the opportunities that it alludes to… and… fun.

Original posted on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/pokemon-go-professionals-peter-briggs

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About the Author: Peter Briggs is a landscape architect who has a current preoccupation with the business of design. For more bio information, please see: www.highestexpertise.com/who-is-peter/

The Line Cook Crux

Restaurant_cook,_Seattle,_1954

Who’s your line cook?

A new friend owns some restaurants in Portland. When it comes to hiring, a challenge in that market is finding and retaining a good line cook (def’n:”Line cooks are usually responsible for prepping ingredients and assembling dishes according to restaurant recipes and specifications. Kitchens can be hot, noisy and stressful places, so you’ll need to be able to work efficiently and quickly to be successful as a line cook.”). The challenge in finding and retaining line cooks is that in most markets, the pay isn’t great and the work is hard. Those two conditions mean that it’s not necessarily an attractive position. It’s a pathway to something else inside the food industry, or a temporary stop on the way to something outside of the industry.

A dishwasher, a busser, a waiter, a manager. All positions that are somewhat formulaic and transferrable. They basically are about the successful delivery of a product. Without a product, they have no job. Who creates that product? The line cook. Hence, I find it interesting that this position is typically undervalued.

In your industry, who’s your line cook? What happens when you lose them?

The answer lies within specialization, and how an organization develops its staffing through evolution or importation. A line cook not only needs preparation and cooking skills, they need to be familiar with your recipes, imbued within your culture/brand, and have that certain zest/zeal/initiative where food gets  a bit of its magic. Whether an eye for detail, or artistry, patrons love to love their food.

Specialization. What kind of a person can step in and immediately get the job done? What proportion of the potential employee market have the ability to do this? How much training will it take?

Evolution. Do you have the ability to smoothly transition people within your organization from one position to the next? Do they have the skills and interest to do this? Do you have this person when you need them? Has someone already passed through this position and are they able to step back to it in a time of need? If they step back into this role, can they do both jobs?

Importing. Is the position one where someone can step in from outside and carry your business vision? How much training is required to provide them with the skills and knowledge they need? How much is required to invest them in your vision?

As an employee or business owner, you’ll identify with the challenges of having the right person in the right place at the right time… and the effort needed to manage doing it. The point of this post is for you to go out and find another business person to speak with. Ask them who their line cook is? What position is undervalued? What position is harder to fill than you think it should be? Then figure out why.

The restaurant owner I spoke with emphasized how important his company culture is to him. Vision/passion/brand/promise… whatever term you use, how his staff operate and interact with each other and the public is critical to him. When it comes to the ‘line cook crux’, his approach was to stop and look at the market around him. He sees it as an undervalued position, so his response is to value it through higher than industry pay… and also to value it through the culture he fosters for all of this employees. If the rarity of good line cooks is related to being undervalued… solve some of the problem by creating value.

A certain position within your company may always be a critical skill or resource. When you imbue that position with the right value, then people might seek you out, and certainly lessen the impulse to see  whether the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Once again, a brilliant flash of the obvious… but it’s a good exercise to go through to recognize that staff are your most important resource. Some are more ‘replaceable’ than others, but why put yourself in a place where you need to replace someone except when they are moving on to the next phase of their life? When your line cook goes to another company to be the same line cook there… what happened?

 

Survey Says? Fact, Value or Policy.

1280px-Dennis_Weaver_Gene_Rayburn_Michael_Landon_Match_Game_1964-ed

Sitting down on a plane, within the first few minutes you can probably predict whether the person beside you will be an interesting conversation or not. Some never even get to the point of acknowledging your presence, and most never get past hello. Some… they really get someplace!

Fact. Value. Policy.

When supervising, a goal is to give people the framework within which they can get things done. A fantastic in-flight conversation left me with the memorable fragment that one of the keys to success in enabling people to get things done is to train them to understand whether an answer is based in fact, values or policy.

Fact.

There are such things as facts. These answers are knowledge-based, and team members should be fully comfortable in making decisions based on facts.

Value.

Some answers will lie within value calls. These answers need some more consultation, as answers that lie within values need someone that is responsible for them (and experience/wisdom is also helpful). Typically, this needs to move up the chain of command until someone not only has the power to take responsibility, but also says they will stand behind it.

Policy.

A form of value, this one becomes more political in that it relates to the organization surrounding you. It may differ from your values, but it follows a similar pathway where something moves up the chain until someone recognizes the grounding in policy, and approves the answer as reflecting policy.

That’s it…

I’ve made the decision that some blog posts should be short. Hopefully the above gives you something interesting to contemplate… and to make into your own thing.

The Beauty of Being a Hack

Pinning

(Working Title: Fake it until you make it… and beyond)

Let’s assume that change is good. We’ll call it positive change. Change typically means being placed in situations that are unfamiliar. The unfamiliar has the ability to produce discomfort. Let’s introduce the concept of positive discomfort.

In order to grow, discomfort needs to be recognized as a good thing.

In conversation #8 of 100 Conversations, a goal was phrased as wanting to speak with authority about a subject. It was also phrased in wanting to get to the point of not feeling like a hack. The phrase “fake it until you make it” came to mind. I think that we have all been there, or are still there. It can take a long time until we achieve expertise (or close to it), and it sometimes takes even longer to actually realize that we’ve made it there. The trip to expertise is long and gradual, so we probably carry the feeling of being a hack with us beyond when we could have left it behind.

So, we get to a point where we have the tools and skills to deal with the majority of what we encounter. Things become more static, and there is a resultant decrease in discomfort. Well… in theory. The truth is that we find ourselves opening doors to new opportunity for new experiences, and the accompanying ability to be a hack again. This time you get to be an experienced hack rather than a freshman hack. Reassuring, right?

[I’m going to try a new thing in my blog posts. You’ve just reached the first point that I’d like to make: we do fake it until we make it, and then keep on faking it BUT in a more controlled/experienced manner. It’s normal. You can head on over to People magazine now, or continue on for an expansion of this reassurance.]

There is truth in this ever renewed hackdom. Most of us seek to develop a core expertise, and then we build upon it or expand it in new ways. When my work is directly related to my company’s mission statement, I am a landscape architect and apply that skillset for our clients. The episodes of truly being a hack relate to major chapters in our lives. I can be a landscape architect with my eyes closed, but when it comes to the current chapter where I’m the guy running the company? That’s where my discomfort lies. That’s my current chapter. These chapters take the form of receiving a big promotion, moving to a new company, changing careers, having a kid, etc…

The conversation that spurred this blog post was with an artist. And, my brain is finding some challenge with processing where it wants to go within this discussion. Let’s assume that success is predicated on having a specific set of skills to apply to a specific set of problems. Most careers are based on someone approaching us for a specific expected outcome. What happens when the specific expected outcome IS being new and different?

We look to artists to provide us with things of aesthetic beauty (which is in the eye of the beholder), but we also sometimes seek a deeper need to have them connect us to new ways of looking at our world. The easiest “specific expected outcome” for an artist is to provide us with something of beauty. An artist can achieve an expertise and spend their life creating the things of beauty that we surround ourselves with. This can be their career.

If their artistic identity is grounded within a higher level of engaging an audience with ways of looking at the world, then comfort is a stale sign. Positive discomfort is the indicator that they are in the place that they should be. The level of discomfort probably being directly proportional to whether growth is incremental, or a massive shift. My empathy for artists is huge. “Success” is grounded within finding popularity. The majority of people like the familiar. How many times does our culture reject the “new” that our artists create? At a concert do you shout loudest for the new songs, or the old one that you know by heart? How did you feel when Picasso entered his blue period? [you probably don’t have first-hand experience unless you’re immortal]. So not only does discomfort arise from the challenge of investigating a new approach to your art, it comes from how people will react when you change how pleasing you are to them.

As a landscape architect, I am in a design profession. We exist within a spectrum between the functional and the artistic. Technical expertise. Craft. Art. The discomfort that I experience relates to the vagaries of running a business, and trying to do new things.  We do artistic things, but are we artists? At least in my world, I don’t think we have enough discomfort to be artists. Our artistic efforts are grounded in function.

The tangent I find myself considering now in this post is how much discomfort can we accommodate? At the moment, I spend much energy on the discomfort that arises from running a business, managing clients and the challenges of communicating with all involved. I think my discomfort quota is mostly full. That (unfortunately) leaves less room to seek the discomfort of the artistic side of what we do. I think that’s typical to our world and what happens as we age and gain expertise.

This leads to the beauty of patrons. Perhaps the most important role of a patron is that they free artists from the discomfort and constraints of ‘fitting into’ society and ‘making a living’. They can focus their discomfort quota toward pursuing the change and vitality of examining (and shifting) views of the world within and around us. They gain the freedom to seek discomfort.

So, back to the concept of being a hack. Over time most of us pursue vocations or careers where we incrementally develop our knowns and the certainty that tomorrow will look mostly like today. We get better at being a hack, as the hack we were yesterday looks like the hack we’ll be tomorrow. For artists (or creatives in general), the beauty and pain of it is that they might wake up as a completely new and different hack. Perhaps yesterday provides some tools for them, but maybe not. What they carry with them as their core certainty is a desire to look at the world and show others what they see. Comfortable or not.

Well, I find myself at the concluding paragraph (and once again, it just feels like I spent hours contemplating something that is just obvious once I get to it). Most of us are like kids in a scouting program. We work within a system where each badge you get prepares you a bit more for the next one, and the sash that you wear them on illustrates your incremental momentum toward being less and less of a hack. There are those around us who just wander off into the woods alone to create their own badges. The freedom of discomfort. The perpetual hack.

State Your Assumptions

Feynman

Positive change. How do organizations achieve it?

Part 1 – A mechanism for coordination

“Top-down” and “bottom-up” are familiar concepts for discussing where change originates within an organization. They’re based within some level of organizational hierarchy, with a simplified view being that there are two levels of power: workers and managers. The power they each possess stems from the fact that they need each other.

As an aside, this has been a very hard post to write and edit. It’s been difficult to distill into not only something of interest, but hopefully something useful. The underlying assumption I’d like you to embrace is that our goal is positive change. Let’s take this apart and agree that change is a fact of life, and that there is always room for improvement. Hence: positive change.

With the goal of positive change, success is found when both entities find agreement and are aligned in a common direction. Without alignment, change is difficult. The sheer potential for change is stymied when the groups don’t even have a mechanism in place to listen… let alone an ability to work to agreement.

Another main point I’d like to introduce is that your organization needs to be intentional with how it approaches change, and have processes in place to evaluate whether change is positive or negative. If you wish to be an advocate of positive change, you need to understand how your organization handles change.

Part 2 – Institutional limits on innovation

A concept of which I was recently made aware is that of a conversational ‘anchor’. These anchors are the biases or preconceived views that we bring with us. They anchor us to one way of thinking and as a result shape how others interact with us.

If organizationally rooted, these anchors define the ideology of an organization. If they are leadership rooted, they will have the same general effect. It’s simplistic, and it is a spectrum, but I’d like to introduce the idea that organizations are either solution-focused or ideology-focused. Either entity may have an inspirational vision of the future, an action-oriented mission to support their vision, the goals to support their mission, and the strategies to achieve their goals. But, I suggest that they differ greatly in the anchors that they carry and how they carry them. How do anchors limit positive change? I would hypothesize that the more anchors there are, the more limited an organization is in finding and implementing positive change. At its most open, an organization engages with its staff to tackle issues and develop solutions. This becomes less and less effective the more anchors that there are.

Part 3 – Assumptions vs. Premises

I don’t think there is any judgment of either organization type. Another way to view anchors is to call them assumptions. In our everyday lives (and episodes of Three’s Company), assumptions can be quite damaging because we’re not operating with all of the information. The scientific/logical approach to assumptions can be very powerful (and necessary), when we state them, recognize them and ideally confirm them. They serve the purpose of narrowing down the scope of a discussion, ideally beginning with people having agreement on the assumptions that will be made.

So… for the sake of this post, let’s say that an anchor is something subconscious (or undeclared) that we bring with us… whereas a premise is a declared assumption. A solution-focused organization is likely to be built on declared and agreed upon premises that are open to change. In other words, the organizational type predisposes itself to always questioning. Whereas, an ideology-focused organization will need to protect itself from the potential negative impacts of anchors. It is an organization that is already predisposed to a particular way of thinking. Extra effort will be required to ensure that any ideology has a solid premise, and is only applied the way that is intended to be applied.

Part 4 – Engaging the Highest Level of Expertise

Back to positive change. Each of us has our highest level of expertise. We are at our best when we focus on that, and others consult with us for our abilities. That’s where we provide our highest value, and often it provides us with happiness when we are engaged at that level. In a perfect world, that means that everyone is vested with vision and mission where they understand and support the goals and strategies. When this is the case, challenges are approached with a more comprehensive understanding… and we open an organization to an opportunity: people will offer solutions that may solve multiple problems… or… they might stop and challenge the question, helping the right question be asked.

This requires an organizational approach that is open to critical thought. This is a very simplistic discussion as it’s not as easy as saying, “you need to be solutions-based”. That could lead to amazing chaos with everyone being enabled to suddenly be philosophical. There is a hierarchical overlay of a number of levels of leadership, but the idea is to enable people to grow and initiate growth.

[As an aside, are you familiar with kaizen? A system of continuous improvement. If you’re not familiar with it, take a moment to check it out on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaizen). The foundation of this system is a solutions-based system where everyone is integrated meaningfully within every corner of the organization. If someone sees an opportunity to improve the organization, the systems are in place to hear them, evaluate ideas, and implement positive change.]

Part 5 – Right Person, Right Place, Right Time

Let’s also realize that an organizational challenge is to find the right place for the right employee at the right time of their career. The Peter Principle (not named after me) is summarized as being people rise to the level of their incompetence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle.  People usually receive promotions based on how well they do their current role, rather than assessing their effectiveness and skills as suited for the role they will rise into. So, you are amazing at your job and you get promotions… until you are in a role that you aren’t as good at. Then you stay there. Ideally, everyone would be at the level just below their incompetence. Easy to say. Our culture is grounded in the idea of upward mobility, and organizations and individuals aren’t good at saying when they’re in the right place.

So, a solutions-based system needs to enable all employees and ensure that the right person is in the right role at the right time in their career.

Part 6 – Bringing it home

So… I’ll pick on ideology-based systems. I’m maybe really getting into the realm of opinion and bias here, but the reason for this is to address a system that has preconceived notions. An example of this is polarized government. Investing any organization with vision and mission is a challenge, and has an inherent weakness in the face of people who aren’t integrated. If they are just ambivalent, the system rolls on with them in it (but not the better for it). If they work counter to the system, a few can severely damage the whole. Unfortunately, being an elected system, government doesn’t typically reflect an integrated system of vision, mission, goals and strategies (sadly)… people are often elected based on specific strategies or goals (election friendly soundbites). Organizational effectiveness requires a continuum, so in a system where vision/mission/goals/strategies can change drastically… long-term benefit can be crippled.

What I’m getting at in this is that a solutions-based system maintains a high level of flexibility in how to achieve a vision. An ideological based system has more constraints on how to get there. It’s the difference between trying to solve a problem with a single tool versus having a tool box. “Our mission statement guides us to use a pipe wrench,” versus “Let’s assess the problem and figure out the ideal way to solve it.”

Part 7 – Epilogue

Phew. The above was hard to write, and I’m uncertain I did a great job of leading you with where my brain was going. At the end of it, I likely just restated the obvious. I think the most important part of this is to state that to work toward positive change, we need to understand the system within which we are working. Each system can offer advantages, and it likely depends on how much of a paradigm shift is needed for the positive change that is initiated.

The point is that we recognize that we are surrounded by systems that are grounded with assumptions/premises of which we may or may not be aware. Many entities predispose themselves toward certain solutions for one reason or another. This could be politics, religion or just doing it the same way it’s always been done. My worry is that these organizations are complacent to existing within these anchors, and they become an accepted organizational mentality with unintentional (?) limitations. If an organization has been taught that direction comes from the top, it doesn’t encourage personal engagement. People begin to show up, do their job like they’ve been told, and go home.

So. Does your organization clearly state its assumptions/premises? Do they recognize that these do frame how they operate? Do they have strategies in place to ensure that these premises are used correctly and don’t influence other areas? Do they have strategies in place to ensure that these premises encourage and spur positive change around them? Can these premises be changed? And to take it back to something I asked at the beginning of this post, does your organization have a mechanism in place to genuinely listen, assess and implement?

Benevolent Manipulation (aka Helping Someone Out)

Helping Hand

Our work lives require us to be professional. Being professional requires that we train ourselves with a filter that kicks in instantly to cancel out our base instincts. There may be times where that filter malfunctions. If the relationship is good, we can recognize what needs to happen. We can apply that filter for that person. And, it’s reassuring to sometimes hear that something sucks and someone understands. Then we can talk about how we’ll try to respond better next time.

In firms, bad things rise to the top. That’s a fact, and that’s actually the way it needs to be. Leaders are responsible for cleaning up messes and trying to keep everything neat and orderly. The tasks that arise that no one else can do, those are their tasks.

It’s a fact that in addition to the strengths they have, they also have weaknesses. Beyond what work throws at us, life adds another layer of surprises. As a leader, you are required to strive to be the best person you can be all of the time, and to certainly always be professional. If you show weakness, it will have impacts on those around you. If you are grumpy or if you snap… the ramifications go much beyond what you would experience at home where forgiveness is more often applied (hopefully). A work relationship can be seriously damaged by misplaced actions and words. There is such a thing as opening Pandora’s box. You are expected to be the solid and fearless leader… and you need to strive to achieve that.

Being a leader means that your brain churns with one non-optimal situation or another, trying to find the appropriate resolution. I know that I firmly believe that every situation does have a win-win option. It’s hard to constantly juggle all of the variables and organize them into something good.

That’s what it is. The higher you are in an organization, the more variables you are likely to be juggling. Just like algebra, an equation with one variable is pretty easy to solve. Two variables is a bit more tricky. Get to three and more, the complexity sky rockets. Not only do firm leaders work with multi-variable problems… they have multiple problems happening at the same time.

So, I titled this post benevolent manipulation… or, helping someone. Empathy and sympathy can be hard when we can’t identify with the experiences of someone else. We can’t be expected to know what it’s like to be responsible for the success of multiple people in a firm, until that’s what we do. Maybe the first step is to understand that the leaders of your firm firm are probably actively thinking about the best ways to activate you and enable you to be the best person you can be. They are trying to adapt themselves to maximize the benefits of your relationship. They have been where you are now, so they have access to direct sympathy  and empathy. One challenge is that their efforts to assist you will likely be invisible. They are trying to match your world-view, so it might just seem normal to you (and thus invisible).

Then, your boss has a bad day. Or a number of them. Where they might have addressed something perfectly constructively before, they now are short and perhaps negative. Empathy goes a fair ways… but, your duty is actually to try to adapt to those around you. If you notice that a certain action on your part resulted in a sub-optimal reaction… the first thing you need to do is to assess it. Can you separate the intent from the delivery? Can you empathize with their reaction? Is there anything you can do to manipulate future situations to ensure that reaction doesn’t happen again?

You are responsible to adapt to those around you and make their lives smoother (just as they owe the same to you). We don’t want to lose ourselves in the mix, but we can make choices that benefit those around us. Control the situation to help the other person be the person they want to be. We all want to be good… and it’s easier with help.

If you want another post with a more applied discussion of ‘benevolent manipulation’, see Benevolent Manipulation. [Am I already running short of titles?]

Tools… Not Tales.

Tools not tales

My posts relate to me trying to find “order” in my experiences and those of the people I speak with. I come from a design background, and have learned business and project management without the benefit of an MBA. I’d say that my goals are to learn a new shared language, find commonalities, and maybe discover a bit more clarity in what we are all doing no matter our background. To some I imagine these posts reflect the thoughts of a freshman in the land of business and management, but if viewed kindly, I think they still offer the value of a different perspective.

BUT…

30 Motivational Quotes to Help Realize Your Entrepreneurial Dreams!!!!!

I fear that some of these musings bear a likeness to all of the motivational sayings that we find online that are supposed to make us better: they might give us a vision, but they certainly don’t fill in the blanks on how to achieve it.

Seriously… I am now a target for clickbait with titles like: “30 Motivational Quotes to Help Realize Your Entrepreneurial Dreams.” The concept Jump the Shark came to mind in a large way. The thing is, it wasn’t clickbait. It was coming from a source that I assumes produced things of substance. For this one, maybe not.

I love a great quote just as much as the next person, but inspiration without strategy just winds up leaving us feeling bad about ourselves when at the end of the day… we’re still at our desk with that beautiful inspirational poster above us,  facing the same problems. It’s just that this time we have a handy saying to summarize where we’d rather be: soaring with the eagles or something. [ED: As a tangent.. I hope that you’ve had a laugh with www.demotivators.com]

I’m intentionally being hard on myself, because we all need to be reminded that the point of our introspection is to get us to someplace new and better! My posts are a way for me to work through the things I’m facing in my career. It’s therapy for me. The reason I try to share it is that my existence is not unique… nor is yours. We’re all facing similar things, and we need to talk about it. I keep on repeating “you’re not crazy, other people are facing the same things, it’s just that we’re not talking to one another”. The fact is that it IS reassuring when we realize other people have the same kind of crazy, but it doesn’t really go anywhere until we find ways to get to the point where it feels less crazy. This requires tools.

Tools… Not Tales.

Publishing posts is typically a one-sided thing. I publish, you read. You publish, I read. Rinse and repeat.

You might like my post… and I’m super happy that my posts have been shared once or twice. Literally. I am SUPER excited that one person chose to share one of my posts. That validated my existence. AND… that’s the level of interaction that we get within social media. It’s a one-sided conversation.

That’s one of the reasons I started 100 Conversations. Talking to real people in person results in a dialogue! I say this tongue in cheek, but if we want to spur interaction… social media isn’t really the place. [ED: except the comment sections online. But… I wouldn’t call those a meaningful dialogue.]

Anyways… I’m currently distilling conversation #7, and wanted to post about an unexpected benefit of that conversation. That conversation linked me to a professional in Anchorage who deals with management, communication and all of the things that resonate with me right now. Looking at a single post of his provided me with some tools that I really need right now. I never would have found what I needed if the connection hadn’t been made. The connection. The reality is that for me there is nothing altruistic about seeking these 100 Conversations. I’m trying to learn. For me to learn, I need other people to share their worlds with me. Connection.

So… I challenge you. Connect with people online and offline knowing that they actually might need and want YOUR thoughts and resources. Chances are that in your bag of tools, you will have some of the missing pieces that someone else has been seeking. [ED: I hold out hope that people who have an MBA have the keys to a secret mythical part of the internet where these conversations fall from the sky like rain. They’re just not telling those of us who didn’t earn the degree and secret handshake.]

At this point in our careers… I guarantee that we gain more by sharing and interacting than by just absorbing what other people put out. Yes… even you. Put down your half-fat mocha latte and realize that you have something to offer. Even if you just ask the questions you haven’t given yourself the time to ponder.

The Challenge for You

I think a lot, but I don’t prioritize reading (shame!). I’m trying to catch up with a backlog of mental processing. If you’re in a similar place in your career (or ahead), you are likely familiar with more resources than I am. If you read any of my posts and realize I’m just repeating something from an existing business book or resource, I need you to give me a reference for it by posting a quick comment. Even if just the author’s name or similar. If you do that, you’ll be helping me… and others. That way we all shift the discussion to include the tools to get to where we need to go. I need you for that. You are needed. Even if it’s not a reference, I’d like to hear your voice.

And, just like the kid in the sandbox who threatens to take his toys away… if I wind up needing to get an MBA to gain access to their mythical world, you might lose out on someone who’s interested in your growth and success.

The Challenge for Me

I realize that not every post will offer a new tool for a reader. Sometimes it will just be me finding some meaningful realization. Just know that I am very aware of the fact that we all need a variety of tools that we can experiment with… and bear with me as I try to share things that might be useful.

With the above, I’d like to share this blog post from William Dann: Servant Leadership Revisited that lead me to The Root of Management Lapses that led me to the start of what I needed Putting the Questions to Work. They aren’t exhaustive posts… but I think they might give me enough to adapt the tools to my needs. Many times, we just need that small push to get us to our next step.

When No Mentor Exists

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It’s easy to speak to mentoring and peer learning when there is a clear pathway to reaching out to someone. There will be times when it’s not as easy as that. You will have a situation that is so complex that describing it requires providing someone with a short-course. You will have times where you are dealing with sensitive information. While briefing someone can be a difficult task to relay all of the information fairly and effectively, it can be done. The challenge of seeking guidance on sensitive information is that you might not have access to someone within which you can confide. Sensitive information can benefit from speaking with someone in confidence, but you need to have a few degrees of separation between your confidant and the issue at hand. This becomes a huge challenge when you are working within a small community, whether a population area or the community of people within your discipline. Since you are seeking wisdom for something sensitive, it’s likely that you will look for someone who shares your background. If not many people share your background, or you are in a place where everyone knows everyone, it just might not be an option.

The realization is: there will be times within our lives where we can’t access the wisdom of other people. How to make up for this? Perhaps the two components are to ensure that we have a balanced life in order to have the ability to absorb the unknowns and difficulties of having to sort through things on our own, and/or becoming skilled at working with our networks to find the parallel wisdom that might assist us.

Let’s identify two kinds of problems. The first one is a shared problem where you can speak to someone else who can understand the whole problem, and provide you with a complete package of advice. For example, your problem is that you can’t find a really good sushi place. The odds are good that someone in your network will have discovered the best sushi, or can at least upgrade your sushi experience with something better on your way to finding perfection.

The other kind of problem is a composite problem. You can’t go to just one person, so you will need to break that problem into pieces and seek input on those pieces. You will then need to assemble them on your own as you work to solve it. Composite problems are either complex in that they have multiple variables that need specific expertise, or you are in a situation where you need to break your problem down into pieces where you can seek input without compromising the sensitivity. You are not able to draw on one source for wisdom.

Break it Down

So, going back to our original issue of having a problem where you can’t talk to someone directly about it. You will need to establish whether your problem can be broken down into component pieces that you ARE able to work on with others.

A side benefit of this approach is that to be fully intentional, you stop and take the time to assess your concern (we don’t stop and think often enough). There will be aspects of it that you will need to solve on your own, but there may be components where input from others might be sought. It is likely that you won’t find any solutions, but you will find tools.

Solutions versus Tools

At a certain age, we stop finding and applying pre-packaged solutions. We’ve solved all of the easy problems, and our value exists in the fact that we HAVE conquered the easy stuff. Our value lies in the fact that we possess a suite of tools that allows us to adapt to new situations, and that we have the skills to seek and add new tools. When we encounter new problems, the reasons we consult with other people are likely:

  1. Confirm application of the tools we have: we seek validation that our assessment of the situation is reasonable, and that we have applied our tools in an appropriate manner, and
  2. A search for new tools: consciously or subconsciously, we engage with someone else to find the tools needed to work on a problem.

So, in a complex situation the first option above is likely not available. But, the second solution provides us with the ability to find tools that we can apply to our problem. The challenge is taking the time to understand the components of our complex situation, and finding the conversations/resources where we can seek parallel guidance and the tools that they hold. We can then take these tools and adapt and apply them to our problem.

I think the summary of this #6 of 100 Conversations was a realization that there will be some problems where direct application of mentoring is just not possible. I’m lucky that my world doesn’t usually have an overlay of sensitive information where I can’t identify someone that is removed enough from the issue that I won’t compromise confidentiality. When those do crop up, I know that it involves me adapting the tools I have to a new situation. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t (learn, adapt and try again). At a certain point in your career, mentoring will no longer assist you in teasing apart the world’s problems to find clarity. At some point your problems may each be new and unique, and only for you to solve. You will be alone for brief periods of time. But… you talk to your friends to blow off steam (and read this blog?) …  and be reminded that you’re not crazy. As Run DMC said, life’s like that.

Freedom of Time

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I have a question for you: Why do you work? Think about it for a few seconds.

I’ll hypothesize that your answer includes these two components: desire and a paycheck. In an ideal world, we would be absolutely passionate about what we do and we would get paid a huge amount of money to do it. While there are those people out there, most of us seek to find the right balance between those two components. Sometimes we get paid a lot for something we’re not keen on. Sometimes we get paid little for something we love. The ideal is that we evaluate our career transactions, and we have an intentional reason to do what we do.

For this ratio of passion and cash, it represents the value that we place on our time. This balancing effort is probably subconscious for most people until they reach a certain level of experience where a desire to make intentional decisions arises [in other words, you get old enough to realize that we’re mortal, and we only get to visit each minute we experience once].  Each of us will have our own balance of this ratio, depending on our goals and needs and whether our current stage of life has convinced us to put more emphasis on one or the other.

So… this post is about the “freedom of time”… and assessing whether we own our time, or another entity does. This comes out of conversation #5 of 100 Conversations, and has grounding within numerous other interactions I’ve had with peers. [and I do have to say… choosing one topic out of these conversations is a challenge]

Since this blog is supposed to focus on the business of design, I will look at how this concept of “freedom of time” relates to what we do. The simplest parallels area: a) when we put passion first and we volunteer our skills on pro bono projects that we are passionate about, or b) when we work on a “bread and butter” project where it’s about paying the bills. One is love with no cash, and the other is cash with no love. (I’m being dramatic with this. We are lucky that we do find goodness in our bread and butter work).

The Balance

Ideally in any project, it provides us with a balance of love and cash. For project management, this is the ideal because it means that we have happiness at the project level that brings in typical income. This contributes to good morale, for us and staff.

When we examine multiple projects, it is more likely that they provide a range of levels of emphasis in the ratio. Some will provide more satisfaction, and some will provide more cash. This can start to skew morale because we open ourselves to feeling imbalanced. While morale averages out between projects, the more difficult challenges do tend to impose more mental weight than the good ones can offset.

The ‘business’ issue in this discussion is when difficult projects lose money. There is no benefit within the ratio; the good does not balance the bad. These are the projects where we say things like:

  • If I wanted to work for free, I’d do pro bono and have it be my choice.
  • Well, at least our other projects are profitable and make us happy.
  • This client will have better projects in the future. We’re getting in the door.
  • Doh! I did it again.
  • Etc…

The Bad Projects

Within your business life, you’ve probably run into the concept where people make generalizations that a small portion of your business causes you most of your pain. This is normally followed with the advice that we should fire some of our clients. I’ll bet your reaction is “while it makes sense, it wouldn’t work for me.” The theory is easy to understand, but our perception of reality complicates it. Let’s quantify a bad project as one that loses money and is more difficult than it should be. Conversely, a good project has a nice client and nice profit.

Have I ever “fired” a client? No. Have I ever had a small wish that someone might not have another future project they want me on? Yes. I’m in a small market, and my coping mechanism is that I can always try to manage the project better… but saying “No” potentially severs a relationship. In my market, the theory is that relationships lead to other relationships.

This Makes No Sense

So in effect, there are times where I know I am sacrificing my freedom of time in that I will need to expend a disproportionate amount of energy compared with the commensurate benefit of profit. This is personally a really bad decision, but I’ve somehow justified it as a long-term business strategy within my market. So… just call me the (cynical) optimist, “Maybe they’ll be better next time!! Yeay!”

How Bad Is It?

I think we develop processes to minimize the effect of these projects on our companies, and our potential to break even or maybe turn a profit. See one of my blog posts about “Managing from Behind”. While I’ve developed personal and business coping mechanisms, I’m unsure as to whether this is worth it or not. It takes a lot of energy to not only control these situations, but to also work with (and buffer) staff to guide and protect them, and their morale. BUT… the reality is that life throws us curve balls. From a mentoring perspective, difficult situations provide a fantastic way to illustrate how best to work when we’re under pressure. It puts much of what we do into a great context. The context of: the skills we’re learning now will serve us well every day, and will prepare us for when we encounter the next difficult time. In other words… if we can deal with this difficulty, the normal stuff becomes easier.

And, absorbing and redirecting these kind of things is part of my job. I own the company. I’m the guy responsible to fix things. I need these skills.

Back to Freedom of Time

The concept I introduced at the beginning of this post still holds true. We should be intentional about how we choose to spend our time. If you’re intentional about it, then the negative consequences don’t sneak up on you and surprise you. You can actively manage them. You can try to prepare.

So… I find myself within what is probably our cultural norm: freedom of time is a long-term game. I’m sacrificing some of my freedom of time now in order to increase it in the future. Is that a good idea? Do I think it’s a good idea now that I’ve thought about it? Let’s talk about that over a drink.

The alternative? Make your decision… only choose the good clients… fire clients that don’t match your freedom of time criteria. If your discipline and market supports that, you could have a good thing going.

Endnote:

This is one of those posts that focuses on trying to reassure myself that I’m not completely crazy. Maybe it will do the same for you. So many management lessons point to these absolutes that sound great, but are hard to apply. They drive us a little crazy because we can’t reach them. Let’s just learn from them and try to be a bit more intentional. The intent of the posts I’ve written (and the ones I will write) relate to managing the craziness. If all of our clients were easy, then this blog wouldn’t be needed. I want to feel like my existence is a normal one. Hug me.

Getting the Project: The Interview

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As a landscape architecture firm in a remote market (Alaska), we tend to be on multiple teams pursuing the same projects when we are a subconsultant on architectural project pursuits. We share this tendency the most with structural, and somewhat with electrical and mechanical. For most proposals this is a fairly clear and straight-forward process in that we provide generic proposal information to each team and then ask them to be specific with what we will generate tailored for their needs and approach. Things get a bit more complex when project or design development is needed for the proposal, but we’ve become good at compartmentalizing and ensuring that we are always acting in the best interest of our prime consultants.

Where things get weird is when we are on multiple interviews. Maybe its a strange skill to have, but we’ve shown how effective we can be when this happens. For the sake of this post I’ll just say that it’s exhausting being on four out of five interviews for a project where landscape architecture is brought forward as a significant role. I’ll just say that you need to become a character actor where you funnel each specific team and fit into who they need and want you to be. But… that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to provide an opinion on what a good interview looks like. An opinion developed from being on multiple teams having the same interview.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but I’d say it covers some of the basics and the obvious things that experience shows.

This is THEIR Project

For me, the most challenging part to an interview is anticipating what kind of interview is best for the client and their panel of interviewers. That influences everything that I list below, because something that works for one interview may be wrong for another. A good example of this is whether an interview is a presentation, or a conversation. Based on your proposal and being invited to an interview, the client should believe that you have the skills and experience to complete their project. They have a good feeling for what you can do. An interview allows them to get a better idea of who you are, and how well you perform. Part of performing is how well you listen and respond, and interact not only with your client… but the team that you bring.

Much of how you operate within an interview depends on your knowledge of the psychology of your client, and how quickly you can read the room when you are in the interview. Post interview debriefs sometimes relate to how a team just talked about themselves and what they can do, OR that they took the time to converse with the client and to speak about themselves and what they will bring to the client’s project. The same information can be conveyed two ways, but one illustrates that this is about the client and THEIR project.

Own the Space

You may be interviewing in the nicest room in town, or a basement storage closet. It’s always good to know ahead of time what you will have for a space in order to anticipate how you will use it. The number one thing that sticks in my head from successful interviews is how the team creates their own stage within an interview. This is as simple as bringing a number of graphic boards to put on easels behind them. This allows you to shape your space and to differentiate the visual memory of your interview from other ones. Keep them simple. Ideally they also provide the content for any presentation that you might have. Digital presentations can be good, but it just seems like they have the power to change the dynamic from interaction to watching. Some clients need their presentations though. Everyone is different.

Team Roles

You have four important roles on your team, that can be combined within person.

  • The conductor. This person is the leader of the team and sets the feeling and theme for the interview. Their role is to keep things flowing and on task. This is the person the client will remember something along the lines of: ‘that dynamic and trustworthy person with great skills’
  • The improviser. This person is focusing on the client in order to understand how to adapt the interview to their needs. You’ve already discussed some flexibility as to how the interview might shift, and they assist with this.
  • The time fascist. Just like you want to deliver a project on schedule, you want to show the client that you have an agenda for your presentation and that you are keeping it on time. Ideally you reserve more than enough time for questions.
  • The experts. You will have the people at the table that can apply their experience to this project, listen carefully and answer questions succinctly, and engage into the right level of dialogue.

Introductions

Introductions are a fantastic opportunity to gain intelligence that you can apply within your interview. Ideally have the client introduce themselves first, and assess if it’s appropriate to have them each answer why this project is special to them in their role, and also to them personally. When introducing the team, a similar tailored answer may also be appropriate. Depending on the client and project type, identifying personal ties/interests can help to illustrate commitment and also humanize the conversation. If possible, start with some easy humor within this to assess the feeling of the room. If people are open to laughing, you’re in a good spot. (*but… at this point it’s important to understand that I have my personal approach to how I’ve learned to interact with clients. When humor fails, it’s not a pretty sight.*)

Agenda & Framework

Set an explicit pathway along which you will be leading your presentation, and be clear about when you move into the next part as you are presenting. Your interview should be like a good story with a start, middle and end.

Set the Message

When you are preparing for your interview, ask yourselves the question: When the interview is over, what will the interviewers actually remember? They will remember how your interview felt. They will remember if they felt any obvious emotions (hopefully they laughed). They will remember that you gave satisfying responses to their questions. They will remember you prioritizing discussion with them. They will hopefully remember one or two take-home messages that you felt were critical. And hopefully they will have some kind of ‘theme’ that they associate with you.

The above are the qualitative aspects that you have significant control over. Within your interview planning, consider what theme(s) you want to be remembered by. And don’t be afraid to be completely literal with starting your interview with, “Our goal is that you leave this interview remembering us as the team that listens carefully and provides our clients with innovative solutions that reflect who our clients are.” I love it when presenters tell me what I’m going to learn! It makes it easy for me, and then at the end I know how I will evaluate them. Did they achieve their interview goal?

When interviews include quantitative assessment tools such as scoresheets, then you need to make sure you provide them with what they need to ‘check the boxes off’. Such scoring does usually have a qualitative overlay that benefits from how socially competent you were.

Personality & Process

Bring the right people to tell your story. An important part of this is whether they interview well or not. Don’t bring people that don’t interview well unless you can put them in a place where they can be their best. Sometimes subject area experts are essential… even if their social skills aren’t ideal. They might just need more practice.

Focus on illustrating that you have an integrated team. This gets easy when you have pre-existing relationships. When you don’t, make sure you take the time to have your team members get to know each other. This allows you to find the places during an interview where your team can speak about one another to illustrate such integration and a comfort in interaction.

Flow & Segues

With a rehearsed presentation there should be an easily followed and logical flow that is reinforced by good segue ways. As mentioned earlier, your interview should tell a story with a connected start, middle and end.

Message, message, message

Each part of your presentation should reinforce your themes. It doesn’t hurt to be explicit and explain how each part of your story relates to the whole message that you are providing.

Summary

Well. That’s about it. The key to all of this is to do your best to understand your client and what they need and want to get out of an interview. Then, it’s about good communication skills, psychology… and illustrating that you are the team that will deliver a product on scope, schedule and budget with a clear process. And if all goes well, that you are the team that will make it smooth, painless and as fun as is appropriate.