Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Expanding Your Thinking

I hadn't gotten so far as to start linking out to other sites yet but now I think it's time because I have something I'd like for you to think about - "What are you doing to expand your thinking?"

By this, I don't just mean what technical knowledge are you picking up through some kind of continuing education. While that's important, I'm talking about something that will really keep you out ahead of the rest, in that place where all the real opportunities lay. I'm talking about pushing your horizons and challenging your root assumptions. Are you engaged in anything that regularly pushes you in that manner? If you're not, your horizons are probably shrinking, rather than expanding. It takes a lot of effort just to keep them status quo.

Think about the last time you drove all night to get someplace you wanted to be. If you're still at that stage of life where you're doing these things, pick something else you used to do and haven't done for a while. Now pretend you've got an opportunity to do just that. Are you excited about the opportunity? Or are you busy thinking what a pain it was the last time you did it... the discomfort of losing sleep and wondering if it's really worth all that this time. Don't get me wrong - I'm not advocating sleep deprivation here - that can be a dangerous thing (for this exercise, let's assume you've got other folks to share the driving with & you're all safe about it); what I'm talking about is intentionally taking yourself out of some comfort zone so that you can have a new experience. Are you still willing to do that? Or have you slowly gotten to the point where new experiences aren't worth the hassle?

In our household growing up, it was always my father's argument that the definition of growing old had nothing to do with age, but rather a willingness to allow our boundaries to contract. As such, I've always strived to do new things, experience what I've never come into contact before and, above all, push my thinking. I like to think it's served me well. You'll have to decide for yourself whether that's true or not for you, however I hope that you at least push your comfort zone enough to give it a shot. Our current way of thinking is one comfort zone that hardly anyone ever likes to push. Challenging our basic ideas about life is a tough thing to do. Of all the horizons that need expanding, though, this is the one that gets us the most for having done it.

For one thing (and there are many other benefits), when we're willing to at least entertain another point of view, it makes it easier to understand others. When we understand another person's perspective, it makes working with them easier and that makes us more effective. On a broader scale, the practice can even prevent war but that's perhaps a different topic. Go ahead and think on it for yourself though, if you're drawn to it. Puzzling through difficult questions is one way to stretch your mind.

Reading thought-provoking material is another good way to do this and there are a few resources I have always felt I could count on for that. One is Bob Lewis' column that used to run in InfoWorld. They've made some changes recently to their format but you can still find him writing on his own at http://www.issurvivor.com. The similarities in name are completely coincidental - unless of course, I subconsciously gravitated toward mine because of his. If you see a name change soon on this site, you'll know it's because I decided it'd be better to try not to step on anyone else's toes - and Bob was out there with his name long before I was here with mine.

In any case, if you're reading this at this still early stage, chances are good that you know me, so probably you know you can trust me about Bob. He's good people. I've been reading his column for years and it's always been on target. If I don't immediately agree, I stop and ask myself why that is. That's the mind expanding part that's so important.

Another terrific resource for new ideas and ways of thinking about things is Fast Company Magazine. They always strive to push boundaries, their own and ours in a variety of ways. I always feel excited about new possibilities after reading one of their issues and frequently recommend particular articles to people. It's worth spending time on.

Do you have other resources for stretching your imagination? What keeps you at it? Email me at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com and I'll share your ideas with the others.

Stay current; stay young - keep stretching your horizons.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Nurturing Creativity

A while back, I wrote about how it helps us be more productive to establish good relationships with co-workers. I've had enough experiences to prove to myself that this is true; now I have some better ideas about why that is and how to harness it.

Today provided me with a good example of how this works. First, a flashback... When I first started working at this particular company, someone asked me to join the group one day for lunch. I couldn't do it that day but I figured that lunch was a good way to get to know people so I wanted to be sure I was invited the next time there was an opportunity. "Sorry," was my reply; "Tuesdays aren't good for me. If you're going on another day, can you let me know? I'd like to join you next time."

A few weeks later, came another invitation: "Today's not Tuesday!" Even though I had other things in mind, none of them were critical so I dropped them and joined the group for lunch. On the way back, I made sure to thank the person responsible for the ride and for the invitation.

Fast forward to today... Having set the stage for future invitations, I received another one today. On the way out for Chinese buffet, we talked mostly about who had kids and what ages or where we each had gone on our last vacations. At lunch, talk turned to food preferences of different cultures and which substances should be legal or illegal. Having exhausted a lot of the "normal" topics of conversation, or perhaps because we were all ready for post-lunch naps, or even more likely because we're geeks and it's what we love, talk turned to the latest problems stumping some of us.

Some lively debate ensued over how some of the code worked and what customers were likely to see and under what circumstances. Even when there weren't out and out answers, there was good food for thought being tossed around and ideas of who to talk to next.

This is the kind of collaboration that puts us at the top of our form. It flows freely out of our shared interest in solving a good puzzle and willingness to talk easily with one another. The fact that it happens in a car ride back to work from lunch is a testament to the fact that what we do is creative and creativity happens how it will, not how we will it to. The fact that there was a car ride to begin with (for me anyway) was a testament to my efforts at building a new relationship with a new group of people. I haven't solved the problem yet that I'm working on, but I'm quite certain I'm closer now than I would have been without the time spent with the group.

Do you spend any time consciously building relationships in your workplace? What works for you? Email me at techsurvivor@soaringmountain.com and I'll post your ideas here.

Provide yourself and your co-workers with opportunities for your creative thought processes to come together and build on each other's work. Nurture the relationships that make this possible and take advantage of the opportunities that show up.