Saturday, December 13, 2008

Fail Big - Count Me Out

When startups are encouraged to fail big, I'm pretty sure no one had in mind the recent troubles with Count Me In, the same company Small Person's soccer and baseball teams have used over the years to handle registrations. I'm just glad now that I did not end up working with them as I'd imagined a year ago that I would. Sometimes there does seem to be some grand design in the universe.

At the very least, it's one more reason to believe the adage, "it's better to be lucky than good."

For those impacted and those associated with the company who I know to be good people, I wish the best. I'm sure this isn't an easy situation, but hopefully it can all be resolved with a minimum amount of damage all the way around.

For the rest of us, I'm sure we're just glad to be clear of the blast zone.

What are the potential long-term consequences of today's decisions?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Raising a Compassionate Geek

Amidst the chaos of students readying their collection of engineering contraptions based on ancient Chinese technology, Kristen found me and put a copy of ParentMap into my hands. "The story on the Dalai Lama starts on 42," she said as I started to thumb through the pages.

The story wasn't about the more general relationship between the Dalai Lama and his native Tibet. She had read an article I'd written about Small Person's encounter with His Holiness last spring and wanted follow up on what sort of lasting effect he and I had noticed since then.

The educators at Seattle Country Day School get it - science and technology are important, but these are not the only keys to success. Learning how to collaborate with others and to see the world from more than one point of view are important too.

I see this pretty clearly when I'm coaching geeks. When technology professionals have more than sufficient technical skills but still aren't achieving all that they want, we often discover that the missing ingredient is further development of their (sometimes neglected) soft skills - collaboration, compassion, and building strong working relationships.

Small Person is most definitely well-rounded in that respect. As innovative as he is, and as good as he is at building things on his own, he also shows a talent for working well with others, listening to differing viewpoints and integrating them with his own ideas. I have no doubt he'll go far.

As a parent, I encourage that balance because I see how much it helps my clients. It is important to play to our strengths, and it can also be a good idea to take another look at areas we may have dismissed in the past as unimportant and consider the possibility that there may be some value there too.

What role does compassion play in your work and life?

News for the Pressure Prompted

On balance, I'm not a procrastinator; I'm simply pressure prompted. Last night I finally registered for the PSCA coaching conference. If you are a leader, an educator, a coach, a parent, or anyone else who is interested in self-improvement, you'll want to register too, I'm sure of it. There's still time to get the Early Bird discount but time is running out, and that is the primary distinction between being pressure-prompted and procrastination.

Being pressure prompted (for real - not just a rationalization) means that the closer we get to a deadline, the more crystallized our thoughts become. Where earlier on, there seems like too much time and too much space, suddenly when it simply must be done, everything becomes clear.

Sometimes I let it go too far and I'm sure others do too. Too much pressure, and then my thoughts become muddied; I've gone past the point of clarity and I'm too stressed to think clearly anymore. In this stage, I begin to feel slightly panicked.

Being pressure-prompted is often a good thing but it's not without its problems. Sometimes in the midst of all that clarity, I realize I have a perfect idea or solution... but without enough time to execute. This puts me back smack in the middle of procrastination-land. Nothing is happening or plans have to be dramatically shifted to accommodate the issue of not enough time.

When it's a matter of being pressure-prompted, there is still action. Like a seed germinating, the activity is just all internal or underground, where you can't see it. Procrastination generally involves being stuck, with no real action, activity, or progress taking place at all.

Sometimes I perceive (rightly or wrongly) obstacles in the way of my goal that I have trouble seeing my way past. When I'm smart, I realize that I'm stuck and I get my coach on the phone. Usually a quick conversation is all I need to get myself back on the path of movement. This external viewpoint helps get past the blinders we each tend to have - yes, even those of us who are trained to know better.

You can benefit from some of that training too, even if you're not a coach. You're going to hear more about this upcoming conference in the next few days and I promise to make the rest of the information that I include worthwhile, even if you're not planning to attend the conference. Be sure to subscribe to the TechSurvivor blog to receive updates so that you don't miss anything.

In the meantime, be sure you check out the information about the conference, Creating Conscious Choice and Change - Learning and community-building for individuals and organizations to be held on February 5, 2009, in Seatac. Do it now, before time runs out.

What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What To Do If Your Job Survives the Lay-off - Top Ten

Today we've all just begun to absorb the news about the Washington Mutual layoffs yesterday, significant enough to necessitate early notification under the WARN Act. At 34,000 affected over the course of the next year or so, the actual number on the WaMu layoffs is huge. While that is a lot of people planning to be out of work, some people will be dealing with survivor guilt rather than dealing with losing a job.

For the people hititng the streets, it can seem like an enviable position, still going to work every day. The truth is that it doesn't always feel that way when you're the one wondering how you were spared when so many of your co-workers were let go and you're trying not to think about how you're likely to fare in the next round of layoffs that could come along later. Surviving a layoff can be just as stressful as getting a pink slip. Officially hearing what we've suspected for a while now, that we're in the midst of a recession, just makes it worse, wondering if and when the other shoe will drop.

Despite the downsides, there are clearly considerable upsides to surviving a layoff. Here are some tips to make the most out of the opportunity.

1) Take time to grieve - Grieving can seem counterintuitive when your job has been spared, but the significant changes involved when others around you lose their jobs means that your life and work will be different somehow. Those changes mean some kind of loss for you too, so take time to recognize that loss.

2) Take Stock - Take time in the midst of everything else to identify your strengths and your accomplishments and collect evidence of these while you still have easy access to that. Not only will it help you realize that you do indeed deserve (as much as anybody) to continue working, it will be helpful material in the event you too find yourself looking for work.

3) Identify top priorities - Figure out what work most needs doing now that there are so many fewer people to get it done. And decide what tops your personal priority list. You may have a lot more on your plate for a while, so it's more important than ever to plan on purpose how to spend your precious time and attention.

4) Sieze opportunities - Change generally means chaos and while that can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, it also can mean increased opportunities. Take advantage of being in the right place at the right time and step up to meet the new challenges with vigor.

5) Stay positive - You may be asked to do a lot more with a lot less and you may worry about your own job down the line, but for now, you can protect yourself best by keeping a positive outlook. If you do find it necessary to speak up about a problem, look for the most positive way to present it and make it clear you are willing and able to participate in finding and implementing a solution.

6) Start (or keep) networking - Network to help out-of-work friends. It will help them now and can help you in the future if you should find yourself pounding the pavement later on.

7) Save up - With the possibility of more uncertain times ahead, this is a good time to use the job you still have to set aside money as insurance against loss of income, even if it means cutting back expenses to do it.

8) Stay in touch - Go ahead and meet with ex-co-workers (or soon-to-be) for coffee, lunch, or drinks. They're your friends and you can help each other network. Try to keep it one-on-one, though to avoid large numbers of ex-employees who may still be in grief mode or to spare a handful of ex-employees the "business as usual" conversations likely to predominate amongst groups of people still employed.

9) Cultivate a new perspective - Take advantage of the changes going on around you to spend some time questioning assumptions and playing with new perspectives. You never know where these might lead.

10) Get help - Find a helpful and supportive online group or form your own mini-support group to get through some of the biggest changes, If you feel like it's worthwhile, you can also hire a coach to help you strategize your next move. Just don't think that you have to figure it out and deal with it by yourself.

If you are in the more awkward position of being in a job that's on life support, do the prudent thing and take advantage of being able to work for as long as you can, look to Sylvia's list for how to prepare for not having a job later on, and plan ahead for what to do if you're not working for a while.

How can my friends and I help each other right now?