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Archive for January, 2008

I read Marci Alboher’s Shifting Careers blog in the New York Times on Saturday, and have been thinking about her Friday post it all weekend.

She pointed to Marc Andreessen’s posts about creating a successful career.  He makes some interesting points in the entries. I especially like what he has to say about making sure that you expose yourself to opportunities to fail, so that you can learn how to handle tough situations.

He also says that his advice is “aimed at high-potential people who want to excel throughout their careers and make a significant impact on their fields and in the world. These posts are not (emphasis in original) appropriate for people for whom work/life balance is a high priority or for whom lifestyle is particularly important.”

This is the part that Marci takes issue with, writing “I believe that it is possible to make a significant impact in one’s field and in the world while also having at least some modicum of work/life balance, even if it may not feel like that every day.”

Now if you’re reading my blog, you know that I tend to agree with Marci that you shouldn’t have to choose career achievement orsatisfaction in other parts of your life. You should be able to have both. But Andreessen’s advice is directed at young people – people starting out in their careers, even folks who are still deciding where to go to college and what to major in. I wonder if the advice is appropriate for people in that stage of life.

To excel and make significant impact, don’t you need experience, skills, expertise and even wisdom? And to excel and make significant impact that before you’re 50, don’t you have to give your career your all during some part of your life, so that you have something to offer when you want to dial it down a bit?

Here’s where I’m coming from: There are some things that I’m really good at. I can do them better than almost anyone in my company, which is why I can do my intense, exciting and gratifying job only four days a week –  sometimes I do it so well that I do it better in four days than most other people would be able to do in five days. But I wasn’t always so good at all of these things. It took time, dedication, and commitment. In fact, it took almost all of my time for many years of my life.  

I work with a lot of young people, Millennials, who feel like they should be able to quickly rise in the working world without sacrificing other parts of their lives. Is it wrong to ask them to give up that belief? Is there really another way to excellence and impact than working your butt off?

One answer to these questions is to encourage young people to choose a career that they like doing enough that it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice when they give their jobs a lot of their time. That way it feels fun and good and compelling even when it does “take over your life” for a period of time. But is that a cop out? Is there, in fact, another approach, that you can take from the beginning of your career, that I and my generational cohort didn’t know about?

I’m not sure. I’d love to hear some other folks’ opinions.

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I’ve already blogged about hiring our nanny, so I think its only fair to share some of what led up to firing our nanny.

 

Without going into too much detail, there was an Incident. In handling the Incident, our new nanny displayed Bad Instincts.  It may be fair to say that the parents’ own Bad Judgment help perpetrate the Incident, but the truth it, that doesn’t really matter. You see, while our children might have the misfortune of being born to parents who sometimes show Bad Judgment, that doesn’t mean that they should also be subjected to a Nanny with Bad Instincts. The Incident was very scary to all involved, and Property was Damaged. But The Important Thing Is That No One Was Hurt.

 

After the Incident, we kept coming back to this feeling about the nanny’s Bad Instincts. We felt that we could no longer Trust Her with The Children. And the truth is, no matter how much we liked her, how well she interviewed or how much she was able to learn on the job, we had to let her go. Even if it wasn’t Fair.

 

Following a rough week, I have a serious need to feel like I’ve Learned From My Experience. So I’ve put together a list about what worked in this situations, and therefore the steps that I want to make sure I take when handling a crisis in the future.  

 

Here it is:

 1)     Make sure everyone is OK.

In this case, of course, this step involved checking in with the kids, my husband and the nanny not just right after the incident but also over the course of the week.

 2)     Make a decision about how to handle the immediate fallout from the crisis, and act quickly.

We new we had to let the nanny go the night of the Incident. I waited a day to tell her, which probably wasn’t fair. I did, however, immediately get in touch with our preschool to find out about extending the boys hours and started looking into some options for taking the boys with me when I travel. This was necessary for handling the logistics of the situation. It was also helpful because at a time when I felt pretty helpless and stupid, I was able to feel like I was doing something proactive, which felt good.  

 3)     Take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

I’m embarrassed to say we didn’t have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. We do now. Also, we’re working on creating Family Emergency Procedures, which will apply to all kinds of crises. I’ll also be better about putting a list of emergency resources front and center in the kitchen, in the boys’ room, and by the phone in my office.

 

4)     Step away from the crisis.

The Incident happened on Monday, and by Friday I was a mess. I was exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed by it all. Coincidentally, my husband and I had planned a weekend getaway for this weekend. Part of me really wanted to cancel, because I felt like we had too much going on to get away. But I didn’t want to disappoint my husband, so off we went. It was the best thing we possibly could have done. I needed to get away from the reminders of what had happened, focus on other important things (like my relationship with my husband), and relax. This is the one I think that I’d be most likely to forget in the future, but I want to try to remember how critical it feels our recovery.

 5)     Go back and look at the structural causes of the crisis: do big changes need to happen?

Looking back, I can already see a few ways we could have avoided the situation. I probably rushed into finding a replacement for our irreplaceable nanny of two years. We also probably rushed into assuming that we need a nanny after all. We might be better off with the boys in preschool for longer hours and more days, with more structured activities to keep them occupied and more people looking out for them. Perhaps a reliable babysitter, dog walker, and maybe even personal chef can help us out when I travel for work. We’re going to take some time to play with different variables, and see what works best.

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Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a great article about how Obama is trying a new approach to win South Carolina. In the past, the way to win in the South has always been to use established networks and leaders, get the endorsements or preachers and politicians, and roll on to victory. In part because Hillary has tied up some crucial endorsements, and in part because he’s going after a younger audience, Obama is going direct to the voters, establishing his own infrastructure, and trying to motivate voters who might not otherwise participate in the primary.

When I first read the article, I thought to myself, Obama, you better stick with what works if you want to win this state. And then I realized that what’s playing out in South Carolina is what plays out in the business world all of the time. The established players stick with what works, and newcomers innovate to create new approaches, products, services and businesses. Often, the newcomers end up building very large businesses very quickly. The established players, sticking with what works and playing the same old game, end up with much slower growth. It’s the classic Innovators Dilemma as described by Clayton Christensen

It’s also something I’ve been encountering at home. When our nanny of two years was leaving, I wanted to stick with what worked – finding another nanny to replace her so that our combined school/nanny schedule would stay the same. It hasn’t worked out very well (more on this later!) and now we’re mixing it up – trying to have the boys in school more and considering not even looking for a new nanny.

It is scary to try a new approach when there’s so much history telling you that the old one worked really well. Sometimes you try something new because you can’t go the established route, like Obama not getting the support of some key established players in South Carolina. Sometimes you try something new because you try the old way and it fails, like me with the new nanny. And sometimes you try something new because you have a hunch that it might work.

I’m keeping an eye on the South Carolina primary – I hope that Obama’s campaign innovation strategy works. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed about our innovation in the childcare routines, too.

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I’ve just gotten into the swing of posting every day or every other day. But now stuff is going on at home that is consuming the part of my brain that is typically reserved for thinking interesting thoughts. I might be slower to post for the next week or so.  This is a relatively new blog – and if you are in fact reading it please don’t give up yet! The stuff going on at home also means I’m going to have to spend a little less time on my day job, too.

It’s one of those things that usually happens with work, but is now happening at home. Just when I feel like I’ve got things ‘under control’ something goes haywire and consumes most of my energy. Suddenly, I remember that no, I can’t actually control everything.

After a day or two of self-doubt and anxiety, I realize that it’s not just me – no one can actually control everything. And these times when things go out of balance are always going to occur.  Just like there are times when I have to work more than four days a week and travel more than I’d like, there are also times when I’m really needed at home, when I can’t travel, and can’t even work full days. I’m still working on treating these occasions more like a moment when things are going out of balance and less like a sign that I should be living my life completely differently.

So instead of thinking too deeply about it, I’m going to watch Heroes and eat ice cream. I can’t think of a better cure for over-thinking.

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I was reading last week’s Business Week and came across an article on Richard Sapper. Apart from an inane argument about how to design, the article is a nice profile piece. I especially liked this quote from Sapper: “The most important thing for me is to give everything I do a form that expresses something. It’s not neutral. It has a point of view and a personality.”

So what’s the link outside of the world of design? Well, expressing a point of view and personality in everything that you do. When we’re with our kids, especially little kids, much of the day is taken up by routine tasks. Diaper changes, feeding, bathing, dressing, laundry, feeding, diaper changes, undressing, etc. Its easy for me to get into a rut where I’m doing these things quickly, without expression just to get them done. But when those tasks take up the majority of your time – which they do any time you have multiple young kids in the house – you can miss a lot of opportunities for fun, play, learning and development.

One way that we imbue cooking and eating with personality and point of view in our house is making it a collaborative process. And yes, making calazones with two 2.5 year-olds is a messy and potentially aggravating process. But it can also be a lot of fun. More importantly, it gives me a chance to start teaching my kids real skills and gets them excited about eating. When they were smaller I used laundry folding time to teach them about colors and the names of different articles of clothing. Now, we’re potty training. We combine bum-wiping with yoga practice. Downward dog is fun for the boys and particularly useful for me in that context.

I know, this is getting kind of gross,  but it is true. On days when I have the energy and creativity to bring personality and point of view to routine child care activities, me and my boys have a better day. And when I don’t, I not only bore them, but I kind of bore myself.

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So I followed the advice from First Break All the Rules in hiring a new nanny, and I’m really pleased with the person that we’ve hired. She’s got a great attitude, the kids really love her, and she seems comfortable managing the challenges of the job (and by that I mean corralling a pair of 2.5 year olds who are in turns, charming and devilish, self-sufficient and dependent). But she doesn’t have as much experience as our prior nanny, and there is, of course, the learning curve of figuring out how our particular household, children, and stroller work. And I work from home.

I am struggling with finding the line between how much I should be jumping in and helping her while the boys are testing her by getting out of their beds to go potty four times before finally settling down for their naps, versus how much I should just sit in my office, with headphones in my ears and while sitting on my hands, letting her figure it out.

While it might be more dramatic when played out on the home-front, my struggle is a classic problem that leaders often encounter at work as they’re managing and developing people. One way of thinking about this issue that I’ve found helpful at work is the Blanchard model of situational leadership. According to Blanchard, there are four different kinds of leaders: directing leaders (S1), coaching leaders (S2), supporting leaders (S3) and delegating leaders (S4). There are also four different levels to describe the skills of the people that you lead, with much less catchy names. “Followers” can be Low Competence, High Commitment (D1), Some Competence, Low Commitment (D2), High Competence, Variable Commitment (D3), and High Competence, High Commitment (D4). Blanchard suggests that leaders match their style with where the people that they’re leading are. Which makes a lot of sense.


My former nanny started as a D3 and became a D4 after 2 years, and my new one is starting as a D2. According to Blanchard that means that I do need to step in to help her understand her role and define the tasks that she’s involved in, but I also need to do some sitting on my hands, letting her figure stuff out and come up with her own ideas.

It’s easy to agree with the model from an intellectual perspective, of course, and much harder to watch (or hear) my nanny learn on the job when the job is my kids. I think that’s one of the challenges of having people work for you personally, whether it’s in your home or for your small business. But since there doesn’t seem to be any existing frameworks for training a nanny, I’m going to go ahead and give Blanchard a try. 

I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but it is extremely difficult to type while I’m sitting on my hands.

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I think its a shame that the Street is dinging Apple for yesterday’s news, saying that it’s too much evolution and not enough revolution.

Even highly innovative companies like Apple don’t have the bandwidth or resources to continually be pushing the boundaries of the completely new. And there’s a lot to be said for spending time building towards the big ideas, testing incremental ideas out in the marketplace and seeing how they land before launching the big disruptive idea. I wonder if that’s what Apple is doing with some of the greener features of the MacBook Air. As Bruce Nussbaum insightfully noted, in his blog, one of the more interesting aspects of the new design is its green features. They’re also evolving AppleTV in such a way that it’s bound to attract new customers, and seeing how people use the device as its stands can only help Apple improve it’s video offerings in the future. I think people forget that it took a few years between when the iPod and iTunes were launched and when Apple became the go-to on-line music resource. And I don’t think that’ s a bad mistake.

 It also makes me think about when I need to be pushing for evolution vs. revolution in my house. We’ve recently had a lot of transitions – new nanny, big boy beds (thank you IKEA), I’m starting to travel for work more consistently, and we’re on the verge of potty training. The transition to big boy beds has been a big hit. The boys are much happier going to bed if they can get into their beds all by themselves. And instead of waking up to the sound of someone screaming, I most often wake up to the pitter patter of little feet and a pleasant announcement, from the top of the steps, that ‘I awake.’

Given how well one transition is going, the activator in me wants to really push potty training. Somehow it seems like the crib and diapers should disappear together. But the boys seem perfectly happy to sometimes use their diapers and sometimes use the potty. So maybe I need to listen to them, and let them evolve into big boys rather than pushing them into it. Thanks, Steve Jobs, for setting a good example.

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