MARCH 2010

         VOLUME TWO, ISSUE 3

3 Human Elements  This morning, a friend and colleague forwarded an editorial to me entitled "The You Decade" written by chief wordworker and verbal-branding consultant Nancy Friedman. In short, it's a look at why the second-person pronoun (You) is everywhere in today's marketing. Yahoo's latest slogan: "Totally Y!ou." Philly's new city slogan - "Life - Liberty - and You." A mobile phone company advertises that it's "all about YOU." Time Magazine's 2006 person of the year guessed it - you. And we can watch the President's weekly address, now named "Your Weekly Address" on...are you ready...YouTube.
According to Friedman, marketers are saying that "You are important. You are powerful. You are in charge." The "You-niverse" is yours.
Marketers may be on to something - I don't know - not my field of expertise. But the piece reminded me that when it comes to work...we need to remind ourselves that we're important, we have power and we are in charge.
Think about it. Over a third of your life is spent at work. Do you feel powerful when you do your work? Do you feel achievement in your work? Do you feel joy in your work? Do you have a sense of purpose in your work?
These are tough questions...and only you can answer them...because YOU are in charge.
Jennie Ayers
Principal, Challenge It Now 
In This Issue
Stop Looking for the Holy Grail
Do You Practice Creeping Elegance?
Home is Where the Office Is
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"Life/Work Balance: Stop Looking for the Holy Grail" by J. Ayers & Kris Campbell
According to Wiki, the expression "work/life balance" first cropped up in our everyday language in the late 70's. The Lexis-Nexis data base offers up about 25 articles that used the phrase from 1986-1996. The number of references to "work/life balance" has increased steadily over the years until skyrocketing into the thousands last year. We've become obsessed with balancing our work lives with our personal lives...and the ability to do that is more challenging than ever.
Here's why. 
  • The number of women in the work force has increased; so has the number of single parents.
  • As the population ages, many of us face dual demands at home. We take care of our own families as well as our parents.
  • Advanced technology blurs the line between work and home.
  • Companies are restructuring and expecting a downsized work force to increase productivity levels.
  • And then there's corporate inertia - despite years of organizational studies that emphasize the importance of human capital, the idea that employees are key to achieving business goals remains a hard sell. In direct opposition to our rising concern over work/life balance, too few organizations are willing to accept any responsibility for providing support to address those issues.
In spite of all this, we continue to struggle and tell ourselves that we can "find that balance". We're here to suggest that it's time we stopped. Let's be brutally honest. It's unlikely that any of the things that negatively impact our lives and work are going to change in our favor in the near future. By nature, human systems are messy. Clinging to outdated beliefs that we can have "balance" in our work and in our lives simply sets up unrealistic expectations - and when we don't meet those expectations we beat ourselves up and feel like failures. It's a vicious we can choose to break.
                                              collaboration cubes 
                                        This is easier than work/life balance!
We live in complex, troubled times. Our world is one of continuous demands and many of these demands compete for the same post position - number 1. This is one of the great challenges of our time - how to handle competing demands. Even when we try to prioritize, we discover that everything on our plate is a number "1" need. So let's stop wasting time and energy on trying to solve the problem of attaining work/life balance and instead start managing the paradox. 
How? Through a process called Polarity Management. Polarity Management opens our eyes to the fact that there are problems in the world which simply cannot be solved. Through this process, we increase our ability to distinguish between problems we can solve and those we can't. When we learn to effectively manage these unsolvable problems, we recognize that two opposites can be part of the same whole.
Dr. Barry Johnson, in his book "Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems", presents the perfect example of opposites existing together in harmony - breathing. "Inhale slowly and deeply for 10 seconds, then hold it! If breathing is a problem to be solved by choosing to either inhale or exhale, I have just provided you with a solution by telling you to inhale." Feels pretty good, right? But pretty soon, we have to exhale. And before you know it, we have to inhale again to take in more oxygen. We can't stay alive by choosing to either inhale or exhale. We have to do both. As Johnson says, we get the benefits of each while appreciating the limits of each. Managing this polarity requires choosing BOTH inhaling AND exhaling.
So how do we apply this to work and to life? By acknowledging our simultaneous commitments to both...and realizing that we move in and out of those commitments as the situation arises. Sometimes we'll need and want to focus more energy and time on our work. Sometimes we'll want to shift that energy and time to our lives outside work.
Check out Johnson's book. It's comprehensive and easy to understand with step by step explanations on how to map polarities. You may discover a new way of thinking.
The Curse of Creeping Elegance by Jennie Ayers
iy window  A friend of mine is a gamer - both player and designer. Because of her, when I hear people talk about Final Fantasy, Halo and Tony Hawk, I'm at least hip enough to know what's being discussed...although the fact that I just used the word "hip" is a pretty good indication that I'm not, given that the word died with the platform shoe. Although when linked to "hop" it may still have some mojo...but I digress.
Like most designers, Rusty dreams of designing her own game some day and getting rich. She sure doesn't lack for ideas. But she admits that she tinkers the ideas to death, failing to come up with a finished product before someone beats her to market with something similar. So far, it's happened 3 times.
This excessive tinkering has a name - architects call it "creeping elegance", that inability to put down the pen because an arch could be just a tad more perfect. It's a tendency for parts of a design to become elegant past the point of diminishing returns. In other words, effort doesn't always equal reward.
The concept of "creeping elegance" isn't just for architects. Many of us in the work force set our achievement bars high. We don't just want to do a perfect job, we need to do a perfect job for our own sense of self. We may add bells and whistles just because we can and we're suspect that the best answer to a challenge is the simplest one. Unless we give 110%, it's just "not good enough". Do we have the courage to ask ourselves...should it be?
"If I just had more time, I could (fill in the blank)." How often have you said (or thought) that? A friend sent me an article: "How to Gain Time." Yikes! Did I really miss such an important physics discovery? Turns out I didn't. Time is still finite. Twenty-four hours a day is all we get...even though the world may demand that we do more and more. Time management - that's what experts say we need. But isn't time management really "me" management? It's me deciding how I'll spend my finite 24 hours a day. And maybe, just maybe, I can accomplish more in my finite 24 hours if I decide that sometimes, it's okay to be "good enough".
Home is Where the Office Is by Janice Criddle 
fuzzy slippers  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an estimated 65 million people work from home. With the recent surge in downsizing and the uptick in entrepreneurship, that number is bound to rise, as will the number of people who extend their work day beyond a traditional office setting by keeping a home office. The lines between work and life are getting fuzzier.
My home office started out as a desk and computer in a common area where children could be supervised and bills could be paid. I was still working in corporate America when an opportunity to become a consultant came along. It was a no brainer. I could work with people I knew and respected, I could have more flexibility in my schedule (creating a better work/life balance). And I could work from home in fuzzy slippers. My home office began to morph into a Home Office and I happily joined the ranks of people working full or part time from home.
I'm in good company. A study conducted by Home Office Computing Magazine reports that 96% of people working from home are happier than when they were in an office. The same study also revealed a 15-20% increase in productivity. There were time saving benefits as well. If it takes you 45 minutes to get work, that's a 90 minute daily commute. Ninety minutes a day is 7.5 hours a week and an astonishing 9 weeks a year!
Becoming a consultant and working from home is one of the best decisions I've ever made. My only regret? My Home Office. Not that I have one, but that I didn't research what my needs would be and then plan accordingly. And I didn't factor in the effects that changes in family life would have on the space.
  • My husband closed his office and began sharing my new Home Office.
  • With increased flexibility, I took on more volunteer work.
  • As my children matured, they put more demands on the old home office.
If I were putting together a Home Office today, there are 4 things I would do differently:
  • Assess needs. How much filing space would I need? How much storage, including shelves for books? How about confidentiality, for me and my clients? Would I need to see clients in my office? How would the need for privacy factor into the equation?
  • Identify appropriate space. If I had done a needs assessment, I would have realized that evolving my home office into a Home Office was not ideal. The most glaring issue is privacy - because my office is in a common area, I have to conduct some business in the privacy of my bedroom. Productivity is hampered by having my office spread over two spaces, one upstairs and one down.
  • Invest in necessary furniture and equipment. Since I allowed my office to evolve without a plan, I have a very eclectic space. Books piled up, files in boxes, a desktop iMac and pc laptop - all make organization a challenge. I'm happy to report that I do have wireless internet and can print from anywhere in the house...or from my backyard. (When the weather is great, a Home Office has even more amazing benefits.)
  • Establish boundaries. Since my Home Office started as a home office, the boundaries are non-existent. My family uses the desk, computer and supplies as they always have. But it's not just physical boundaries. Establishing the discipline needed to stay focused on work and not be pulled by the normal distractions that present themselves when I'm at home can be daunting.
All of this is a challenge...whether you work from home full time or "catch up" on work from the office. It's clear that the space in which we work can either help or hinder us.
I do have role models. I am using their Home Offices as a guideline. Each has selected a specific room and created a great space. (One uses a spare bedroom, one converted the garage, and one remodeled the basement to include a separate entrance to accommodate employees.) Their offices are convenient, organized, practical and aesthetically pleasing. More importantly, the boundaries are clear. If I call a friend, she'll say, "This is a good time for a break. I'll go downstairs for a cup of coffee." She has physical boundaries and reinforces those boundaries through her actions.
As I work to make changes in my own Home Office, I'll realize more acutely the benefits of working from home - flexibility, increased productivity, cost savings, comfort and accessibility. I'm also going to sharpen the lines between work and family...and I'm keeping the fuzzy slippers.
3 Human Elements
Challenge It Now focuses its energies on a common goal - through consultation, coaching and facilitation, we help professionals in business organizations create and sustain a workplace climate where the positive experience of work is optimized, engagement is enriched and performance potential is maximized.
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