Monthly Archives: January 2013

Who benefits?

There seems to be growing awareness that the world isn’t a zero-sum game – that the way to be successful is to help others achieve their goals.

I find it disappointing, therefore, that a lot of people still divide time into ‘me time’ and ‘company time’.  Likewise, companies seem to divide their efforts into separate initiatives – say perhaps 80% into ‘what’s good for the company’, 15% into ‘what’s good for the employee’ and 5% into ‘what’s good for the community’ (generally assigning to the latter two categories to special departments).

My concern is that this leads to missed opportunities to add value.  It would make more sense if we were all routinely on the lookout for activities that would add value, to any one or more out of the company, the people or the community, without causing harm to any of them.

For example, why not encourage employees to help themselves and each other.  If an activity helps the employees and doesn’t hurt the company or community, it is going to make for happier employees, which ultimately helps the company and the community.

So I’d like to see a shift in how we think about benefits.  Rather than trying to make sure the right party gets the benefits from any action, let’s embrace any and all benefits, letting our concern instead be on preventing (or at least managing) any resultant harm.

The impact of blog posts

I’ve started reading a lot more blog posts as I’ve taken up writing this blog.  I have had to focus on which blogs to subscribe to, and in particular which posts will have a real and positive impact on my thoughts.  

I realize that I’m being a bit narrow, and ignoring entertainment or artistic value.  I do read and enjoy novels and short stories, and don’t require them to have impact on my life (though I do believe they’re ultimately good for me) – the enjoyment is enough.

However, I’m mainly looking to read blog posts that are informative, persuasive, challenging and/or inspiring.

The easiest to handle is blog posts that just tell me what I already know or believe.  I try to be careful not to just read these, and to avoid ones that really don’t add anything.  But, I do enjoy them if well written, and am always interested in new anecdotes and examples that illustrate the ideas that I’m often trying to convey, or better ways of explaining things.

Next, I love reading blog posts that get me thinking about things I’ve never really thought about.  This being today’s world, far too much is happening for me to keep up with everything, but I discover quite a bit from the blogs I follow, along with Twitter and Facebook.  It is a challenge getting my mental filter right – I don’t want to waste time on things I won’t care about or miss out on things I would care about – but I have to keep trying.

The final category is the toughest – those blog posts that contradict what I believe.  This is where the most value could come.  I tend to read these posts, and do my best to understand the author’s perspective as best as I can.  That way, if I stay disagreeing with the author’s point of view, I at least better understand their perspective and appreciate the objections to my point of view.  And, it does offer the chance of me changing my views, maybe not to the extent of disagreeing with what I previously thought, but at least reaching a more balanced view that incorporates the two perspectives.

So, I get value from blog posts in different ways, and when I write my blog posts, I’ll hope that my readers may similarly get value in these sorts of different ways.


There’s more than one path to progress

Humans learn from experience, from what has worked well and what has failed.  Generally that’s a good approach, but sometimes we take it too far, thinking that we should stick to the paths that have worked in the past.  In particular, we can get addicted to small, reliable steps of progress, rather than allowing the chance of riskier, but ultimately far more significant breakthroughs.

I heard an excellent radio programme by popular economist Tim Harford yesterday, with a somewhat catchier title than this blog post: Hotpants vs the knockout mouse.  

The programme started with the case for incremental improvements.  And yes, these can add a lot of value, for example, the British cyclists in the velodrome at the 2012 Olympics owe a lot of their success to a number of incremental improvements by sports scientist Matt Parker (including warmed shorts, hence the hotpants of the title).  In just about any field, there are opportunities to predictably succeed in improving the current state.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

Except, when it is all we do.  Some progress, in fact some of the most significant breakthroughs, can’t be achieved by small, incremental steps – they need a leap of faith, which probably won’t even be repaid.

Clearly, there have been big breakthroughs in the past, and the programme tells the story of Mario Capecchi, who pioneered gene therapy in mice (which is where the breakthrough mouse comes from).

But, and this was the biggest thing I took away from the programme, much of how we measure success these days can prevent people taking the risks necessary to achieve the huge advancements.  Expecting regular success, benchmarking people against competition, too frequent warning against failure and encouraging people to follow common paths of success: these result in only the craziest or most confident being willing to take the big risks.  And we are all poorer for it.

The full programme can be found on BBC IPlayer or on iTunes.

My first post

Welcome to the very first post of “Engaging Work”.

A year ago, my employer (a large investment bank) launched an internal collaboration platform, encouraging employees to work out loud, bridge geographical and divisional silos, and share knowledge and passions.

One piece of functionality the platform offered was blogging.  Though I do spend a lot of my time thinking deeply about all sorts of issues, my first thought was that I couldn’t possibly write down what I was thinking.  I worried that someone might not agree with what I had to say, or even I might look back and regret things I had written.

Thankfully, I decided to give it a try, and 9 months and 53 blog posts in, I can’t imagine not blogging.  I’ve blogged on all sorts of topics: changes in the world of banking, technology, development, diversity, books I’ve read, as well as my own personal observations within the bank.  Blogging has helped me connect to colleagues, and organise my thoughts.  It has given me an opportunity to help others, and to realise that being honest and vulnerable won’t make me weak.

I’ve now decided to start an internet blog.  Its subject – celebrating the people that are passionate about what they do, and what can be done to help more people join them in finding fulfilling work – is one that I really believe worth exploring.

I’m not the first to care about this – I’ve been inspired by and learned from a great many people’s thoughts and words, and I hope to keep learning from others.  The ideas I discuss aren’t mine to own, so feel free to take them, improve them, and share them.

So welcome to this journey engaging the subject of work – I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.