Kick-Start Your Work Day

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I start most days with YouTube.

That may seem odd to you — but it works for me. Today, Gregg Allman, George Harrison, Green Day, and The Verve are my colleagues. My partners in crime. My morning coffee mates.

Yesterday, it was Aretha. Tomorrow it might be Chopin. I’m not sure. I’m completely open.

We often forget that we must leave ourselves the room to be our best. (Certainly our brains require this.) When pushed to the limit and working on only fumes, we’re likely to fail.

I’m not sure what works for you, as the seeds of creativity are quite different for each and every one of us. That’s the beauty of the workplace. We are individuals. So are the required roots of creativity.

So start your day with what works for you. Take the time to identify this. Then become brutal in its application. Take that morning walk — or listen to that audio book — or queue up Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga.

Start your day with the proper foundation.

Then push “start”.

What powers you though your day? Share your strategies here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Why I’m Taking a Walk Every Day

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My mind seems full — and I’ve found this to be an issue lately. While I’m committing countless hours each day to absorbing ideas, facts and figures, my devotion to “down time” is, well, paltry. I’ve neglected that part of work life where you find the time to reflect and process information. Because of this, I’m certainly less productive. Things just seem to “hang out” in my mind, spinning, fermenting. Being busy is a great thing — overload another.

I’ve recently read a fascinating post (See it here. More on the book Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey, here.) about how some of the most incredible individuals of the last 400 years, spent their time. While their areas of expertise were varied (and remarkable), there was one link among many of them: From Milton to Tchaikovsky, many set aside time for a daily walk. A few ventured alone. One with family. Shame on me — I know better. Walks rock.

Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Digestion. I’m not referring to gastronomy — I’m referring to all of the information you’ve taken on-board today. It’s difficult to see patterns and develop linkages when your brain isn’t allowed the time to process effectively.
  • Fresh air. I love my office, but a change of scenery does help me to feel rested and refreshed. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to a beach or a handy mountain range to view, as some of my colleagues. But the breeze is just as refreshing here in the mid-west — the birds just as vocal.
  • Lowered anxiety. With our busy work lives comes our unshakable friend, anxiety. Physical exercise has great way of managing this nagging work life by-product.
  • Digital reprieve. Not sure how much time you must spend in front of a computer — but I do a lot of my work on-line. At times, I simply forget there is more to life than Power Point.

I’m going to commit 20 minutes each day this summer to get out and walk. Whether it’s a stroll around your office building, a nearby park or a quick trek to grab lunch and back, I challenge you to do the same.

Take a tip from Mozart and keep paper and pencil handy. Write me here and let me know what happens.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as one of their “Top 100 Websites for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Considering Success

 

 

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Do you consider yourself to be successful? Yes — I’m aware that’s a loaded question. In this case, I’m speaking of workplace success. But I’m certain that by the end of this post, other elements of our lives will come into play. Work life success is a complicated construct. It has to be…simply because we’re people…and people are complicated. But, this query seems to come up quite a bit during the course of our career lives. As I coach clients (both individuals and teams), I’ve realized this question often looms central.

Unfortunately career growth is not always reflected in the numbers. When career growth doesn’t jibe with outside measures of success (such as money, power and title) — we have doubts and question our path. We tend to place great emphasis on metrics in business. What you’ve sold. What you’ve earned. How many employees you might supervise. On some level the numbers work on other levels, not nearly as well. Numbers don’t tell the entire story. They never have. Never will.

Sometimes the numbers lull us into a false sense of security. In other cases, they really don’t reflect or keep up with the progress we should really claim. I see this too. (I’ve left one or two “cushy” jobs with great salaries to pursue goals.) Think of all the organizations that have misread the cues. They may have thought they were at the top of their game — and for a time, the numbers stated that they were. However, the success was fleeting in some part, because their metrics were essentially flawed.

When we are in transition career-wise, the numbers almost never reflect the depth and breadth of what’s happening. (We may have changed paths in exchange for a lower title, for example. We may have opted to re-train. Our goals or focus may have evolved.) But, we still wait for that outside confirmation that we are doing the right thing. I’ve done this. I’m sure you have.

The important point here it to find the guideposts that work for you. These may not be anything like the metrics we are accustomed to — but will offer the information you require.

Here are a few alternative measures of success to consider:

  • You are developing a voice. We’ve all held roles where our expertise or opinions were lost or ignored. No amount of money can make up for this problem. A voice matters. Always. When you can operate at a level that let’s you know you’ve earned your turn to contribute in a meaningful way, that is priceless.
  • Mastering something new. You don’t need to leave your current work life to master something new. It’s a commitment, I know — but worth the trouble, as the rewards are certainly there.
  • You’ve found a challenge. There are “seasons” of our work lives where a new challenge is the last thing that we need. But, when there isn’t enough challenge, this too, can be suffocating. With challenge comes hard work — but also a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.
  • The chance to create something. We’ve all held jobs where our role was to sustain something — a practice, a policy, a program. But, to have the opportunity to create something new (a post, a new product, a business), is an experience that cannot be measured with traditional metrics.

There are so many other elements success that I’m sure I’ve overlooked. Please share your story here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and speaker. The Office Blend, has been recognized by Forbes as one of their “Top 100 Websites for Your Career” in both 2012 and 2013.

Music = Inspiration

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From time to time, we all experience our own form of “writers block”. The words (and work) stop flowing, as we find ourselves faced with that invisible, impervious “wall”. We might be working too hard or lingered too long solving a specific problem. Whatever the scenario — inspiration is absent.

As we know, changing gears completely can lead to a breakthrough (Read more about the Eureka Phenonmena here.) Listening to a great piece of music, can affect this gridlock — setting our minds in motion, in an entirely different direction.

Here are six pieces of music that might take you away from the pressure, and lead your mind toward a more productive, fluid space. I happen to find these selections helpful. However, I would love to know what you queue up when energy is running low. Share them with us here.

A little extra inspiration never hurt.

Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve:

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What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong:

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Clocks by Coldplay:

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The Best is Yet to Come by Frank Sinatra:

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Nessun Dorma by The 3 Tenors:

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Sweet Disposition by The Temper Trap:

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Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.

Creativity First, Innovation Will Follow

creativity4I am officially obsessing about creativity. This has everything to do with all of the content devoted to innovation. Discussions about innovation seem to be everywhere — yet, we don’t to fully understanding how to cultivate it. Yes, innovation is a critical concept in today’s workplaces. However, I can’t help but think that we might be putting the cart before the horse. Which leads me to one crux of the innovation dilemma. When it comes to innovation — don’t we need creativity to be there first to pave the road?

Where creativity is concerned it is wise to learn from the masters. I’ve just listened to HBR’s interview with Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios. Undeniably, the folks at Pixar seem to have a handle on the creativity realm, and the innovative results which follow. Catmull explains that the dynamic they have built at his studio isn’t perfect. However, the employed creative process has successfully contributed to some incredible game-changing outcomes. (Consider Toy Story for a moment).

The ideas Catmull proposes may initially make us a bit uncomfortable — and go against the grain of how we might usually work. But, the dynamic has undeniably been proven to be a winner.

Here are a few of Pixar’s strategies to consider:

    • Banish perfectionism. There is a misconception that an idea has to be perfected to share it. Throw that rule out the window — and take a leap of faith to trust your team. Share your ideas earlier and gain useful input to build on its strengths.
    • Don’t let risk dictate. Give ideas enough time to “flesh out” before the looming possibility of risk snuffs out the possibilities. Evaluate risk as time goes on, and address those risks one step at a time — after the true potential of the idea is presented.
    • Don’t focus on just one idea. Becoming creative isn’t about locking in on one idea and never letting in another creative thought. Look to accumulate a number of ideas, and group them to help catapult a project forward. If you work in a group (as they do at Pixar), let a number of ideas from different contributors co-exist for a time. See what develops.
    • Not all ideas are initially money makers. Sometimes the process of following a creative path is simply good for the soul. Even if the idea doesn’t prove lucrative, it might pave the way for other ideas which have a much greater payoff.
    • You can give up. Not every creative endeavor deserves long-term attention or resources. If you have the feeling that you’ve entered a dead-end, offer yourself permission to move on. File the work for a later date —  it may become more relevant down the line.

How do you stoke innovation in your team? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist, consultant and speaker. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

The Evolution of Work: Organizational Structure and a Culture of Creativity

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There has always been pressure in workplaces to perform. However, the quality and measure of that pressure has evolved significantly. With greater emphasis on ideas and innovation, organizations find themselves wondering: How can we stay on the cutting edge? How do we help talent, help us?

While organizations have explored strategies to facilitate cultural changes that enhance creativity — in practice, they vary considerably in their ability to do so. Many organizations have the potential to increase creativity (mindset and motivation). But, this often requires an accompanying adjustment or redefinition of organizational structure.

Where creativity and innovation are concerned, an organization’s “form” may need to adjust to follow this desired function. Without needed revisions in structure and supporting processes, positive changes are difficult to realize.

Organizations are beginning to make the connection between structure, creativity and innovation. One example, is uniquely represented in Valve’s Employee Handbook. Valve — a game developer located in upstate Washington, works with a flat organizational chart that allows talent to flow freely toward the work. One  basic tenet, is the belief that ideas have tremendous value — and deserve to be explored by those who have interest in their development. As such, employees are not completely limited by reporting structure and are free to gravitate toward the projects where they can make the greatest contribution. Projects are rarely assigned, as employees determine how they dedicate their time based upon skills and interest.

Work swarming, a process quite similar to talent utilization at Valve, is not unlike the spontaneous mechanisms borrowed from nature. Discussed previously by Gartner, swarming emphasizes an organic flow of energy toward specific, needed tasks. You’ll find examples of work swarming operating in other workplace cultures — for example, in hospital emergency rooms. Ultimately, elements of swarming allow resources to focus upon a task of real importance or potential value. A dynamic often not realized in traditional, mature organizations.

Work swarming has the potential to encourage both creativity and innovation. However, there is often a general hesitancy to move away from the prescribed roles within traditional hierarchies. As such, contributors remain in their designated lines of work. Common sense does tell us that Valve’s method won’t work perfectly for all organizations. However, we could adapt processes so it might be utilized.

Within traditional organizations, job descriptions and reporting relationships prescribe specific activities and relationships. But to encourage creativity and innovation, it would be advantageous for employees to have the opportunity to function outside the realm of their “day-to-day” routine — a “hybrid” solution. Not unlike the 70-20-10 concept pioneered at Google, employees would feel free to explore new projects, ideas and trends. Employees could be allowed to “unhitch” from the organizational hierarchy and work flexibly for a percentage of their time. In this way, employees could contribute to worthy projects in which they have interest; new ideas are explored and employee engagement enhanced. Talent would flow toward projects which could transform an organization.

The implementation of swarming components would require a clearinghouse of information concerning trending ideas and projects — possibly through an internal crowd sourcing platform — and the available talent. In this way employees can make decisions concerning where to spend their time. If there is enough interest in a new project, a team is organized and employees can plug into the action and contribute. Not enough interest? The project dies before an inordinate amount of resources are devoted.

There are certainly logistics that would need to be addressed to modify an organizational form or structure, in this manner. However, in the case of creativity and innovation — changes to enhance these processes may prove a worthy endeavor.

Note:  A form of this post has been previously published at Talent Zoo

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Connect with her on Twitter and Linkedin.

Problem Solving & Rest: Another Look at the Eureka Phenomenon

Creativity10“It is my belief, you see, that thinking is a double phenomenon like breathing.” – Asimov

If you have ever watched the now classic television series House, you’ll find that every medical mystery is solved at the most unusual moments. Without fail, House’s uncanny ability to problem solve, kicks in while he sits in the hospital cafeteria, mid-sentence while talking to a team member or any other situation where he doesn’t outwardly appear to be focusing on the problem on deck. It’s always curious and entertaining to watch — but we shouldn’t be all that surprised as to why this happens. Our brains function in curious ways.

Your Brain Revealed
In the classic essay The Eureka Phenomena  (1971), Issac Asimov explores why these moments of inspiration occur when we least expect them. Asimov’s theory is quite simple, posing the notion that thought includes both voluntary and involuntary components. Moreover, opportunities for both types of thought, must be present to become highly effective. Essentially, we can be thinking about one thing on the surface, yet ruminating on another topic below — the involuntary part of the equation.

The Eureka Phenomena sheds an interesting light on how we might become more effective in the workplace. As we all have experienced, if you are focusing too long and too intently on one topic or issue, you can prove to be unsuccessful. Asimov would say that involuntary thought was not allowed to flourish  — and that contributed to the failure. He recollects that when he was in the midst of a problem he could not solve, he shifted his focus, and “shuffled” off to the movies. This action ultimately, allowed him to work through his challenge. Isamov also tells the story of Archimedes — and how a visit to the public baths helped him to discover the concept of volume. Of course, you may find that taking a walk or baking does the trick —  but the process is of no less importance.

You must give your brain the “down time” it needs to succeed.

Office Life and Involuntary Thought
There are millions of individuals who have the responsibility to process information concerning people, places and things for a living. Many attempt to accomplish this in an office environment. Of course, working in a traditional office does have merit. There are opportunities for collaboration and serendipity — yet obstacles to productivity abound. As discussed by Jason Fried in his classic Ted Talk, many aspects of office life (such as interruptions), can prove to be huge offenders, curtailing deep, meaningful thought.

During the course of a typical office work day, an individual may complete a multitude of activities and appear outwardly productive. However their brain power may not be maximized — as there are few opportunities to rest, reflect and digest information.

The Eureka Phenomena Applied
You must remember that while thought doesn’t require physical output, your brain is still hard at work. So, while you may not perceive that you are fatigued, your brain may actually be exhausted. As studies have shown, allowing the brain time to rest is critical. In this way, the brain finds the fuel it needs, so that energy can be funneled to the involuntary mechanisms that promote deeper thought. If we can learn anything from Asimov — it is that the brain cannot be bullied into becoming effective. It must be respected and nurtured.

Be mindful to offer your mind a bit of rest, and identify those activities which help your brain relax and build them into your day.

Ultimately — don’t feel guilty if you feel the need to “shuffle off” to the movies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist and career coach located in East Lansing, Michigan. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.