Some people say that stress is the gap between expectation and reality. This seems like an overly simplistic definition, but I think it gets at something true about the challenges associated with being continuously disappointed.
Consider it in the context of popular discourse about HR, leadership, and organizations. If aliens landed on Earth and studied what to expect from working in an organization by attending conferences and reading social media posts from HR and organizational thought leaders, they would probably be really fucking disappointed on their first day at work: Read more
I’ve become increasingly fascinated by power in the last few years. Think about it: power is woven through every experience we have with others: in relationships, interactions, and organizations, but we almost never acknowledge it. Saying power is invisible doesn’t quite get at its intangible quality. I think it’s more accurate to say that it’s unseen, because so frequently we’re not even looking for it.
This morning I spent nearly three hours digging out a Wisteria from my front garden. It was there when we moved in 5 years ago, hastily planted by the sellers to make the house look more appealing. “Wait”, I was told by people who knew more about plants than I do. “It takes a couple of years, but it will give you beautiful flowers.”
So, I waited. And every summer it sent green tendrils up and around and along the wrought iron fence. Slowly at first, and then like an evil, starving octopus grabbing at the other plants, reaching boldly out into thin air, slapping at passerby’s faces. We’d regularly trim back the “tentacles”, as we came to call them, but they quickly reappeared. Sometimes it seemed like I should be able to actually see the vines growing, they regenerated so fast.
I had a whirlwind week, and a highlight was facilitating a fantastic panel discussion on toxic cultures at the Conference Board of Canada’s Corporate Culture Conference. This is a topic I’ve been asked to speak about a lot in the last year, and it always leads to interesting conversations after my session. It turns out that a lot of people have experienced a workplace they would describe as toxic at some point in their career.
Of course, “toxic” is a description of impact, not a diagnosis of an organization. I think it’s important to keep this distinction in mind, lest we assume that labeling it is the extent of analysis that’s required. Or, like the great philosopher Britney Spears, we decide that there’s no escape.
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
— Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the words we use for important ideas about work ‘diffuse’ over time, and all the problems this creates. Like a game of telephone, as an idea spreads its initial meaning gets refracted through each receiver, who stamps it with her own experience before passing it on. What starts out as a clear concept gets muddier and muddier over time.
“…complexity is about how things connect far more than what the things are.” – Dave Snowden
I crashed my brain in August. In the same way that my computer gets slower and slower as I accumulate more and more open tabs, I was finally left with a spinning wheel of mental overload.
I began a new role at a new organization a few weeks ago, and I’m once again appreciating the unique and precious experience of being in a liminal space.
The concept of liminality comes from anthropology, and refers to a finite period in which we stand with one foot in a new literal or metaphorical place and identity, and one foot out in our old place and identity. We are still an outsider, but are in the process of deliberately becoming an insider. This is a special, fluid, and confusing time, one in which our understanding is incomplete, and our new role is still solidifying. In a liminal period, we still lack much of the context that insiders have, which means our understanding of the new is incomplete. But this lack of shared history with other insiders (and often the assumptions that shared history creates) can sometimes help us briefly see with greater clarity than the insiders.
I was in San Francisco for work last weekend. It was great. San Francisco is the perfect city for people that hate being hot, hate being cold, and that love being angry all the time. That’s because of its microclimates. Due to hilly terrain and oceanic currents, weather conditions can vary dramatically between different pockets within the city.
Among the many workplace phrases that I would like to make illegal is “getting buy-in”. It’s almost always paired “WIIFM”, which stands for “what’s in it for me?”, and is short-hand for the way we imagine a totally average employee who is also a diabolically shrewd and calculating villain assessing our carefully crafted change initiative or program implementation.