Cultural Diversity – July 30, 2007

Embracing Cultural Diversity

Issue 32

I got a letter the other day from the Hon Kevin Andrews MP – Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. He was writing to say he was DELIGHTED to advise that my application for Australian citizenship had been approved. This came as no surprise; I had passed the entry test at the department of immigration the week before with flying colours. The short quiz one is required to pass to become a citizen of Australia paled in comparison to the horrendous mound of paperwork that had to be produced to become a permanent resident!

Please do not get the wrong impression, there were others taking the test the same day who were not finding it effortless. Those that do not have a command of written English found the essay questions very challenging; defining the terms ‘fair dinkum’ and ‘bloody oath’ and outlining the appropriate times to use them. The dexterity section required participants chug a scooner of beer while simultaneously turning over an entire barbeque grill of snags, which you might think is easy, but in some cultures ambidexterity is not common.

A woman taking the test the same day as me spilled her beer before she even got the barbeque tongs in her hand. Unfortunately, the rules are very strict. It was sad to think she would not achieve her dream; on the other hand, we simply cannot have citizens of Australia spilling our precious commodities. I am fortunate to have come from a country that has similar customs and beliefs, spending my teen years chugging warm Budweiser in the back of a pick up truck prepared me well.

Unless I do something really wrong or fall upon unfortunate circumstances like Mohamed Haneef – the Indian doctor from Brisbane, I am here for good. Of course Haneef can remain in the country now that all terrorist charges against him have been dropped; however, I suspect that now even applying for a rental card at Video EZ will be quite an ordeal for him.

Luckily Americans and Australians are quite similar: both thought the war in Iraq was a good idea, but thought the Kyoto Protocol wasn’t, both have an insatiable desire for reality TV. Naturally, there are some differences. Driving on the opposite side of the road, eating differently and fortunately for me there is a difference in approach to the topic of immigration and multiculturalism. While Bush has been working to keep foreigners out, Howard has boosted the rate of legal immigration to Australia – and one of those immigrants is yours truly.

One good thing for Geyer is that my being around will not warrant any changes to the work environment, which is not the case for many businesses that hire immigrants, and this can become a point of confusion. Knowing where to draw the line when it comes to acknowledging diversity is a challenge for many organizations. The reality is, we should and do, openly welcome people from other cultures into our work environments, but often do not want the baggage that comes with embracing their culture; whether that is celebrating different holidays, allowing native clothing to be worn, or participating in religious rituals unlike our own. Despite the fact that Australia is increasingly culturally diverse in terms of participants, our business culture continues to follow the predominant Australian culture.

According to the psychologist and IHR consultant Leonie Elphinstone the Australian business culture can be defined as relatively flat, egalitarian, time focused – sequential – monochromic. She says there is a focus on outcomes rather than harmony and that in Australian business communication is direct and of low context. Elphinstone goes on to explain that workplace cultures are influenced by industry area, size and ownership (Australian or International). 

Conducting a workshop with one of our clients a few weeks ago we were exposed to the often violent reaction many organizations have to suggestions that the work environment be amended to reflect the diversity of the people that work there. Like many, this organization was quite eager to point out that diversity is a major driver for their business, but when it came to providing prayer rooms, allowing employees to wear a head scarf, or installing squat toilets they wanted nothing to do with it. They said ‘this is Australia after all’.

After all it is Australia, and what that means today is that we are comprised of 216 different nationalities and speak 134 different languages. Only 60% of Sydneysiders were born in this country, in Melbourne that jumps to 64%. 36% of Australians speak another language and 7.5% speak a language other than English at home. In the workplace, the percentage of workers born overseas is 25% and 15% come from non – English speaking backgrounds. The inhabitants of the group of people I sit with in Sydney are a good example of this. I was born in the USA, Ji Wei in Malaysia, Neil in Wales and only Sally and Sean were born in Australia.

As you might expect, the biggest gaps in culture come as a result of different religious beliefs, so perhaps it is fortunate that in Australia 18.7% claim to have no religion. It is interesting to note that in Melbourne 20% say they have no religion, but only 14% of those residing in Sydney claim no religion – and this is the city referred to as Sin City? The source I got this from claims this is due to the fact that ¾ of all Lebanese Australians live in Sydney, and Lebanese are devout. It is also due to  the high percentage of Lebanese Australians in Sydney, that the percentage of those that believe in Islam is 4%.    

The question to consider is how much tolerance are we prepared to accept when it comes to embracing diversity? Beginning with dress, what ethnic and religious styles are appropriate in the work place, when is it acceptable to wear a sarees and kameez, dreadlocks, braids, and a turban to work?  According to Chandra Prasad, from the IMDiversity Career Center,many professionals are unwilling – and in some cases, due to religious and cultural beliefs, unable – to comply with the standard corporate dress code.

There are many reasons why people wear culturally specific styles in the workplace. It may be to maintain the culture of their homeland, or simply a way to express cultural pride. Some do it to be trendy, or as a means to educate others about their home and customs. All of these generally produce positive outcomes and do make the work place more interesting. On the other hand, when people wear culturally specific styles in the workplace it plays into our tendency to assume, or jump to conclusions. Prasad says a very common assumption made when one wears culturally specific styles is that they don’t speak English. 

Rosa Anabela Tavares is a family practice physician who is mixed Haitian and Angolan; she lives in New York and wears wraps on her head and sarongs to work. Apparently in the past she wore dreadlocks, which caused people to assume she was “radical, liberal and not approachable. Tavares says “In my capacity as a physician and role model, [my own style] is a strong signal to my patients and colleagues about being open and not being afraid not to be mainstream.” Tavares believes that people should wear the fashions with pride: “As a minority, you run the risk [of being labeled] regardless, so you might as well do it while embracing something you care about.”

A critical factor in this discussion is where you work, we have a great deal of latitude in our dress, it is almost expected that designers wear clothing that is out of the ordinary. Internet and high tech companies tend to be more lenient than law firms and some retail stores. Very traditional companies may regard cultural styles as substandard, so it is important that employees pay attention to what is happening around them and check with their employer if they wish to deviate. My son Harry was recently given a warning at work for not shaving, his employer Hoyts explained that facial hair was acceptable; however, the scruffy growth Harry was sporting could not be considered a beard. You cannot have a scruffy teen scooping out popcorn at the Harry Potter opening and uphold the brand.

Wearing different cultural styles may also bring unwanted attention to the employee, which may be positive or negative depending on the circumstances. There is the story I read of Mary, an Indian reference librarian, who believes that wearing a saree works to her advantage. She explains, “On the street when I wait for the bus, in the grocery store, and at functions on campus, students will stop by and say, ‘Do you remember me? You helped me with my research last semester.’ It makes me feel good about being recognized and acknowledged for my services in a vast, impersonal campus.”

Dealing with an employee wearing a turban to work is quite minor compared with other more challenging aspects of cultures that might be manifested in the physical environment. I mentioned earlier the suggestion of installing squat toilets in an Australian headquarters nearly made it necessary to get a defibulator for our client. After his violent reaction we didn’t have the fighting spirit to tell him about our other client just a bit further down the road that has had to repeatedly replace the toilet seats in their fitout due to employees standing on top of them.

Last year when working with Ngai Tahu our brief called for special areas and requirements for food preparation and greeting customs. This had an impact on the physical environment and amount of space required for the fitout. Given the purpose of Ngai Tahu it seemed natural and appropriate, but how would we have reacted if it was something less mainstream or from a culture more foreign to us than the Maori? How would we react if this was an insurance company with a large number of Maori employees?

As we enter a new chapter in the war for talent, the question of what is Australian and what is not will be on everyone’s mind. The labor pool we tap from will be increasingly diverse and as organizations we will all need to decide just how far we will go to make others feel welcome. Alternatively, those of us who are new entrants may just need to learn to adapt to the culture that has accepted us and get on with our work.

 

 

 

Sources

 

Exploring Culturally Specific Styles in the Workplace

by C Prasad

www.imdiversity.com

 

Cultural Diversity in the Australian Workplace

Leonie Elphinstone

Presented in May 2005 at Griffith University

 

Immigration the Defining Difference

By Duncan Currie

The Sydney Morning Herald

July 12, 2007

 

Two Cultures, Changing Dreams

By Deidre Macken

The Australian Financial Review

June 28, 2007-07-27

 

Demographics: The Population Hourglass

By Andrew Zolli

Fast Company

Issue 103 March 2006

Convergent Technologies – July 30, 2007

Convergent Technology

An important event is happening this month, and no it is not Peter Geyer returning from the ‘world tour’. Of course it is highly likely that you may not even be aware of this important event and that is not because you are out of touch, it is because you are designers and not nerds. It is quite possible that you are not sitting on the edge of your chair like every geek across the Silicon Valley counting down the days, hours and minutes to the June 29th release of Apple’s long awaited iPhone.

You might not care, but in the view of those at Apple, the iPhone will change life as we know it. Why? Because the iPhone will be the ultimate in convergence of technologies. To ice the cake, it will take Apple’s concept of user friendliness, exhibited in the iPod, and apply it to a mobile phone. This is good news for those of us who cannot figure out how to work their mobile phones. Sadly, I must admit that I am also personally challenged with operating an iPod. Let me be more specific, otherwise I risk fanning the flames for those of you who believe I am a complete technical moron; it is not the iPod that is confusing, it is iTunes and downloading that causes me to seek advice from my tech savvy son.

The Economist magazine describes Apple as “masters of innovation” they say we can learn four key lessons from the company about inventiveness. The first is to innovate from without as opposed to within, this is referred to as ‘network innovation’ Stitch together your own ideas with others, and perfect them. The iPod was not a new device, but it did have elegant software and stylish design and of course the iPod has the multi touch keyboard that makes it so much more popular than other MP3 players. Apple brought user friendliness, good looks and a dynamite marketing campaign to the game, they didn’t invent the portable music player.

Lesson 2 is to design for users not the demands of the technology; otherwise we run the risk of having devices designed by engineers for engineers. According to Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs “We are all born with the ultimate pointing device – our fingers – and the iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse” Jobs predicts the iPhone will “revolutionise the industry”.

The third lesson to learn from Apple is that smart companies should ignore what the market says it wants today. It seems a bit counter intuitive, but it makes good sense, you will never innovate if your frame of reference is how we do things right now – today. To drive this point home consider the absurdity of this prediction about telephones made by the Boston Post. “Well-informed people know it is possible to transmit the voice over wires and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value”. Okay I am cheating; this prediction was made in 1865. The point is, we don’t know what we don’t know, and to stay ahead in the game we need to continually challenge ourselves to “think different”.

The final lesson to be learned from Apple is to fail wisely. Again not being geeks, the fact that the Mac was not Apple’s first foray into personal computers is probably not common knowledge to us.
Depending on the source, some say the Mackintosh computer was a descendent of Apple’s Lisa computer developed in the 1980’s. The Lisa was a personal computer with a graphic user interface. Lisa was a flop and Steve Jobs was forced to leave the project. Apple has a history of flops, but they keep going. They learn from their mistakes, and clearly Steve Jobs is tenacious. Some believe it is the leadership of Steve Jobs that saved Apple from bankruptcy.

So within days the iPhone will be released. When you hear so much about the arrival of such things you begin to anticipate, have expectations and in my cynical view wonder if you’re being duped. Is it ever going to happen, is it for real, will it deliver on the promise? e.g. the paperless office, Elvis being alive, the Geyer Blog or the completion of the Melbourne fitout.

The iPhone is a multimedia and internet enabled mobile phone. Its functions will include: a camera, a multimedia player, mobile phone, e-mail, text messaging, web browsing and visual voice mail. The touch screen will have virtual keyboard and buttons; it is a quad-band GSM phone. The phone has so much technology in it that Apple has applied for over 200 patients! Soon you will be able to purchase the iPhone if you are prepared to part with US $499 for a 4 GB model, or really go hog wild with the 8 GB model which will set you back US $599.

The lure of having one device that will do everything is attractive to some. For me I have my doubts, mostly because as a family we have gone through multiple mobile phones for a variety of reasons. You might say, of course, she has teenage boys they lose everything. Unfortunately, it was not my sons who popped my mobile in the washing machine on the normal cycle. Even after a rinse cycle retrieval and emergency mobile phone CPR (soaking the phone in mentholated spirits) it still wouldn’t work. By the way that technique was recommended to me by Peter McCamley who had a water accident with his mobile, it worked for him!

Whether we like it or not the trend toward converging technologies is in full swing. At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference – geeze sorry I missed that, I wouldn’t have been invited anyway because it is Microsoft’s annual meeting where they chart their aspirations for the future, At WinHEC Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, predicted “We don’t see the desk phone existing as a separate device in the future”. In Microsoft’s future vision, the PC would incorporate all of our desk phone’s functionality with our PC’s. We would be able to set up a conference call with the click of a mouse and you could play solitaire on the conference call if/when it got boring.

Sounds good to me, it took at least seven people to help me set up a three way conference call on my phone last week and that was just the people in our office working on it. The guys from the two other companies I was attempting to connect with couldn’t do any better. It wasn’t till Sean dug out the operating instructions for our 1975 handsets that we were able to successfully complete the call. Having this occur when the Sydney office was down an office coordinator and IT guy didn’t help.

In his article Skype Overcomes Hype with Fun Factor, Peter Moon talks about how much fun it is to make phone calls over your PC. It must be, why else would 8 million people be connected via skype at any moment. Just as we are seeing a convergence of technologies with mobile phones and PCs we are seeing it with skype too. If you think all you can do with skype is make phone calls you’re wrong. The latest release of the software provides the ability to transfer money using Pay Pal. Moon points out how useful this will be when your kids are calling you for money, one seamless transaction.

Wait – were not done yet, there are more converged technologies to report. There is the Qmedia speaker system that turns any MP3 player into a clock radio. With a secure digital card, a USB cable or a 3.5 mm jack you can go to sleep listening to your favorite podcast enabling you to learn as you snooze!

Wait that’s not all!! Convert your hand-held PC into a portable satellite navigation system, and with that you will have everything required to become a cab driver in Brisbane. My experience has shown one needs only a vehicle and a Pocket PC with a Bluetooth GPS satellite receiver and mapping software loaded – no need to have any knowledge of the city or speak English and by all means if you intend to be a cab driver in Brisbane don’t for one minute think you will need a street directory for back up. The receiver will cost you about $81 dollars, and the mapping software for a pocket PC will cost about $199.
A few warnings about the immanent convergence of technology; Don’t try to do it by yourself or bad things could happen such as attempts to converge your mobile phone with your I key in your purse. If you drive a Nissan or Lexus the mobile phone will render the key useless, the car wont start and the best thing is it can’t be reprogrammed. OOPS
Another warning, if you do intend to become a cab driver in Brisbane don’t be fooled by mobile phones with a built in GPS, every time you lose contact with the phone network you will lose satellite navigation capacity. This would make you no different than your passenger, if your passenger is like me they will have no idea where to go because they are from Sydney. To complicate matters further, they may even still believe that they are going ‘down to Brisbane’ from Sydney. This clearly demonstrates they don’t even have the most rudimentary knowledge of Australian geography. As a result you will be hopelessly lost and will need to charge your passenger a double fare.

Sources

It’s Not PC to Predict the Future
By John Davidson
The Australian Financial Review
May 22, 2007

Just the Gift Every Mum’s Waiting for
By Peter Moon
The Australian Financial Review
May 1, 2007

Skype Overcomes Hype with Fun Factor
By Peter Moon
The Australian Financial Review
May 22, 2007

Why Apple’s iPhone is Not the Next iPod
By Saabira Chaudhuri
Fast Company
May 2007

Podcast
TWIT # 98
The Big Bang

Podcast
The Economist
Apple and Innovation – cover editorial
June 8, 2007

Short Attention Spans – May 15, 2007

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 30
Short Attention Spans

Over the years that I have been doing Future’s Ramblings many of you have passed along your comment on the articles: if you liked them, were exposed to new avenues of thought , or had a spark of inspiration that came as a result of reading them. Not all of the comments are rosy. My personal favorites are those that are quick to point out grammatical errors and typos, advise me to get a technical advisor and the guy that ever so gently reminds me – over and over and over again – that Sony did not make the IPod. Yes you know who you are.

One of the most frequent comments I get is about the length of the articles and the fact that they ramble so much! (Hey maybe that’s why I call it Ramblings) After all, how can a busy executive be expected to read such a long diatribe off a blackberry in the airport? Well I want you to know that I do appreciate your comments both good and bad, and have taken many of your suggestions on board – I now use spell check. Just to show you how much I care I have also put my normal defensiveness aside to seriously considered the length of the articles. My conclusion is that it’s near impossible to cover a topic with any detail in much less and that you all must have seriously short attention spans.

Fortunately, I do have a soft side which I got in touch with, so upon further reflection decided my stance was a bit harsh. Consequently, this months Ramblings is dedicated to learning more about our ability to pay attention; in hope of gaining a better understanding of why some of you just can’t do it. My research began with an online quiz from Psychology Today that consisted of a series of questions. Here are a few examples:

 How often are you late for work or an appointment?
 How often do you find yourself daydreaming at work?
 Do you lose your patience easily?
 How often do you interrupt people during a conversation?

Well I must say it came as a shock, A SHOCK I SAY, to learn that I have a rather short attention span. The website advises this might make me disorganized, miss deadlines, and pay my bills late. They offer that it could be due to fatigue, the side effect of medication or a personal problem and suggest I visit a psychologist to asses whether ADD might be a factor. Well what do they know, that’s not a reputable magazine anyway. Not like Who Weekly and their excellent quizzes on how sexy are you? Or determine if you need a daily moisturizer.

It appears the US government is as shocked as I am about my inability to pay attention, which is why they have funded an effort to counteract what some medical professionals have termed “epidemic-level shortness in the attention spans of American citizens”. This was done in response to a study that determined Americans, compared to other nations, and themselves a few days or weeks earlier, suffer from dramatically short attention spans.

Psychologists in America think this may be due to the overabundance of irrelevant and distracting information. Thank goodness there is none of that here! Even though the irrelevant and distracting information comes from multiple sources, the television is a major contributor. In America 90% of children under the age of two and 40% of infants under three months old watch television regularly. Studies link television watching to not doing your homework, being bored in school, not going to college and shortened attention spans.

Another reason given for short attention spans is the time we spend web browsing. Apparently too much browsing can leave you with the attention span of approximately nine seconds – the same as a goldfish. The positive side to that is that every time a goldfish swims by the little castle in the fish tank he thinks it’s a new thing so has high job/life satisfaction. According to Ted Selker an expert in body language at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “Our attention span gets affected by the way we do things, if we spend our time flitting from one thing to another on the web, we can get into a habit of not concentrating.” This does not seem to be the case with people who read news articles on line, apparently 77% of online readers finish an entire article where their print reading counterparts measure in at only 62%.

Having a short attention span, or making people think you do, is not completely bad. Last week articles appeared in the paper commenting on the Leader of the Opposition Kevin Rudd’s lack of concern for Peter Costello and the other Government backbencher’s yahooing. Everyone wondered why Rudd was unfazed by the yelling and heckling going on around him and questioned whether he was in fact paying attention. Rudd appeared to be tidying up papers and writing a speech while there was utter mayhem happening around him. This lasted about six months and then Rudd finally lost his cool and yelled at the Prime Minister. So good news, he wasn’t sleeping on the job or wearing ear plugs – a good move considering he wants to be the next Prime Minister.

You don’t need to have a long attention span to lead a country. Doug Hannah, a friend of G. W. Bush’s since childhood, has found that an attention problem runs in the Bush family: “They have an attention span of about an hour.” When he and George were boys, he remembers, “Mr. Bush would pick us up to take us to the movies and leave after an hour and 20 minutes…. At ball games George would sometimes want to leave in the fifth inning.” “Even today,” writes Gail Sheehy in the October Vanity Fair, “nothing engages Bush’s attention for more than an hour, an hour max? more like 10 or 15 minutes. His workday as governor of Texas is “two hard half-days,” as his chief of staff, Clay Johnson, describes it.

He puts in the hours from 8 to 11:30 A.M., breaking it up with a series of 15-minute meetings, sometimes 10-minute meetings, but rarely is there a 30-minute meeting, says Johnson. At 11:30 he’s “outtahere.” He tries everything possible to have at least two hours of what he calls private time in the middle of the day to go over to the University of Texas track or run a hard three to five miles on a concrete path at a pace of 7.5 minutes a mile, then relax and return to the office at 1:30, where he’ll play some video golf or computer solitaire until about three, and then it’s back to the second “hard half-day” until 5:30.”

Generally we don’t think about what we are doing between 80 and 90% of the time and for the most part this is harmless. Many of the common tasks we do through out the day do not require our full attention. The problem is when we are distracted from things we should be paying attention to. This can have catastrophic consequences, at the least you may miss your exit on the freeway, but in extreme cases you might end up like the guy that went to work and forgot his 10 month old son in the back seat. It was in California and it was very hot, unfortunately the child died.

Main stream psychology hasn’t paid much attention to distractibility, but now some scientists are beginning to see positive aspects of mind wandering and link this to basic operations of the brain. Since mind wandering taps into the same part of the brain that we engage when we are doing nothing, it serves the purpose of calming us. We can then apply idle brain capacity to planning and solving problems which is a perfect situation for creative thought.

As we move into an age where creativity and innovation will take centre stage it is worthwhile for us to consider how we can better tap into our natural tendency to day dream. We also need to acknowledge that, as interesting as we think we are, when we make presentations to clients they will most likely zone out part way through. This can be quite a challenge because we don’t want to dilute our message to the point that it loses meaning, nor do we want to make it so complicated that the average person can’t see it through to the end.

This is particularly prevalent in Futures. It is not uncommon for us to do months worth of work and have only three minutes at a companies board meeting to present it. In this kind of situation it is critical to make our point quickly and effectively. Since you know all of us you will understand what a challenge this is, we have the gift of the gab and getting us to stop talking is no small feat.

As with most things, recognizing you have a problem is the first step to solving it. So please have some patience, I for one am trying to muzzle myself. You could help too by improving your concentration by purchasing one of those new electronic games they have been marketing to senior citizens to keep their minds active. If that doesn’t work go get yourself a prescription for Ritalin.

Sources

Online Readers Have Longer Attention Spans: Study
By Humphrey Cheung
Trendwatch
April 2, 2007

“Short Attention Spans Serve Purpose”
By Malcolm Ritter
Discovery Channel News
March 19, 2007

“The Empire Strikes Back”
By Peter Hartcher and Phillip Coorey
The Sydney Morning Herald
May 12, 2007

“Nine in 10 US Babies Watch TV”
The Sydney Morning Herald
May 8, 2007

“Are We turning into Digital Goldfish?”
BBC News
February 22 2002

Bush Watch
RealClearPolitics.com
March 16, 2007

“Effort Underway to Improve Short Attention Spans of Americans”
By Ion Zwitter
Avant News EditorWashington, D.C.
January 19, 2007

The Wikiworld – April 9, 2007

The Wikiworld
Future’s Ramblings – Issue 29 – April 9, 2007

The Wiki world in 3 parts

Part one – World of Warcraft

My son Harry spends an incredible amount of time playing World of Warcraft. This game, created by Blizzard entertainment, is a MMORPG or massive multiplayer online role playing game that takes place in the world of Azeroth. In this game each player controls a character within a persistent game world; they explore the landscape, fight monsters and perform quests on behalf of computer controlled characters (sounds like a day in the office to me). What intrigues me about the game is that it requires players work together to solve problems, or in this case defeat monsters. The players do not know one another personally; never the less, they are in constant communication with one another via e mail developing strategies, discussing what has worked or not worked in the past and sometimes just chewing the fat.

There are 8.5 million people in the world that play this game, a little under half the size of Australia! Harry is now in level 70, which is the highest. A testament to his nerdity. Of course if you own shares in Blizzard you would be delighted that 8.5 million players happily fork over 30 dollars a month to play the game. However, as a mother of a child who plays, I have concerns. Mostly I wonder why can’t he do useful things in his spare time like sit on the couch with a beer and watch TV like his parents. Also I fear he is neglecting his formal education, even worse, he might get gaming addiction. Don’t laugh there is such a thing. As a matter of fact in an extreme case a couple in China was arrested for neglecting their baby because they spent so much time playing the game.

On a more positive spin, improving ones communication and collaborative abilities is a great thing to do given the role these skills will play in the future. Another bit of good news is the mainstream has now recognised that there are plenty of gamers out there who can work collaboratively to solve tough problems. A bunch of nerds playing a game to one mob is an untapped labour pool to another.

This is why researchers at Stanford University have struck a deal with PlayStation 3 which will enable PS3 owners to convert their consoles to help find a cure for cancer. The PS3 is powerful machine, its user interface and 3.26 Hz power PC processor allows the machine to download a segment of a problem from another source. Therefore, by connecting to Stanford’s systems through your PS3, any gamer can download their information and help out with specific program if they choose.

One such program at Stanford is Folding @ Home which is a study of how proteins fold. When a protein folds incorrectly it creates problems none us want to have, like Parkinson, Alzheimer’s and Mad Cow disease, not to mention cancer. This is similar to another system, SETI @ home, that crunches data from radio observatories looking for extraterrestrial life, despite the added manpower no aliens have been located. Never the less, the point is that by adding additional machines and brains your chances of solving a problem increase.

Part two – Living in the Wiki world

The reality is that Harry and all of the other kids that play this game live in the wiki world, and though you might not know it, you probably do too. If you don’t maybe you should because it is the wave of the future.

Wikis, blogs, chatrooms, open source, social networking, crowd sourcing, smart mobs, crowd wisdom what ever you call it the ‘blogsphere’ and new ways of collaboration are enabling millions of people to actively participate in innovation, wealth creation and social development by collaborating with others. People are using a growing suite of collaboration technologies to brainstorm new products and services, manage projects and share ideas and data. According to Brad Anderson CEO of Best Buy, North America’s largest consumer electronics seller, it is all about “unleashing the power of human capital”

Already this new economic model extends beyond software and music to every part of the global community. The new art and science of collaboration, ‘ wikinomics’ will force us to think differently about how we compete, how we maintain profit, and how we harness mass collaboration to create real value

We work in the ‘wiki workplace’ by collaborating with piers across organizational and geographic boundaries. We consume products that we helped to create online. If we at Geyer are smart, we will begin to brainstorm how we should design for the wacky wikiworld’s workplace. Amanda Wood put this challenge to the Melbourne office in a past presentation by asking how are we going to design for the ‘flat world’ because the status quo isn’t going to cut it.

In the flat wikiworld workers will develop their own self organized networks that will cut across company divisions, they will have the ability to communicate and interact as a global, real time workforce. This will be exacerbated by the entrance to the workforce of the Net Generation, a group with familiarity and comfort with working with web-based tools. All of this combined will drive a massive shift in how we design, produce goods and services, store service and sell product.
As a result, the way companies and countries compete will change; smaller companies will have the ability to go neck and neck with giants by creating partnerships to increase their size and skill base.

Not everyone embraces the wiki world, some are concerned with intellectual property and the risks of airing dirty laundry to the world, but the reality is that in the wikiworld you will not be able to hide. Every individual will have the ability to post data or a picture of you on the internet doing something you should not be; like watering your garden during restrictions or leaving your dog’s poo on the grass. This will be an especially enlightening time for politicians, organizations and companies. They will no longer be able to afford to not walk the talk.

Part three – Wiki Companies
Companies like HP, Chevron, Boeing and Telstra agree this is the way of the future and have joined the wikiworld through company blogs. While many are controlled vehicles used to blow the company’s horn, others are open means of communication engaging employees, customers, shareholders and the general public. The Telestra blog http://www.nowwearetalking.com.au bears all, complements and complaints of the company. The site launched in December and already it attracts 7000 hits a week. Editor Rod Bruem says “The company philosophy now, since Sol Trujillo came, is to be open and honest. What is worse? Somebody coming to us with a problem or going to Ray Hadley or the Today show?”

He has a point. No company, politician or person is immune to having their personal lives on view in the wikiworld. One of my favourite examples, DontDateHimGirl.com, is a site offering dating advice to young women by profiling men that are unfaithful, have sexually transmitted diseases, don’t pay child support, or are just plain cads. I have not checked the site yet to see if there are any Geyer guys there. Last week Judge Stanton Wettick ruled that he had no jurisdiction over a lawsuit filed by Todd Hollis who was profiled on the site. Lawyer Robert Byer summed it up well “I think he must have the idea that just because you can access the internet anywhere in the world you can sue someone anywhere in the world” clearly not true – there is no wikijustice.

Nope no justice for Mr. Holis or Tony Blair – pranksters added an entry to his profile on Wikipedia stating his middle name is “Whoopdedo” they also said that Kylie Minogue “is the more beautiful and more talented older sister” of Michael Jackson and that Sharon Stone and Demi Moore headed the Soviet secret service. Interesting but untrue and that is the challenge with open source collaboration it could be really good or really bad. This is why proposed guidelines are being created for blogging netiquette.

It gets a bit overwhelming, what does it means to free speech and personal rights, copyrights and most important to us, what does this mean to upholstery fabric?

Sources

“All Profit in the Wiki Workplace”
By Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams
The Australian Financial Review
March 29, 2007

“Kill Baddies and Fight Cancer”
By John Davidson
The Australian Financial Review
March 20, 2007

“How Gamers Can Help Cure Cancer”
By Jim Martz
Wired Magazine 6.14.05

“Baring It All on the Company Blog”
By Fiona Smith
The Australian Financial Review
August 15, 2007

“Don’t Date Him’ Site Beats Law Suit”
By Joe Mandak
The New Zealand Herald
April 12, 2007

“Wikipedia gets Minister’s Vote Despite errors”
The New Zealand Herald
April 12, 2007

“War of Words Prompts Call for Blogging Netiquette Code”
By Brad Stome
The Sydney Morning Herald
April 10, 2007

“As Gadgets Get it Together, Media Makers Fall Behind”
By Saul Hansell
The New York Times
January 25, 2006

Wikinomics
By Don Tapscott

The World is Flat
By Thomas L Friedman
Penguin Books

Chicks Rule – March 9, 2007

Chicks rule?
Future’s Ramblings – Issue 28 – March 9, 2007

I went to a lunch sponsored by the Australian Institute of Management earlier this week; it was in celebration of National Women’s Day. The main speaker Ann Sherry, the CEO of Westpac in New Zealand, made all of the women in attendance turn to the person sitting next to them and exchange a hair or make up tip, then we all did a show of hands vote on who Meredith on Gray’s Anatomy should end up with, McDreamy or the Vet.

Of course I’m messing with you. Ann Sherry talked about the status of women in business, which compared to the status of the women the speaker who went before her described, was pretty good. The previous speaker was from United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM works for women’s human rights, economic empowerment and political participation which is a pretty big deal in places like the East Timor, Cambodia, Guatemala and Afghanistan.

Of the many insightful things Ann Sherry said, the one that stuck with me was a message to all of us in the room that “with affluence and influence comes obligation” What she meant was that all of us educated and affluent women in the room should be supporting groups like UNIFEM and mentoring other women in business to enable them to make it to the tops in organizations. Her rational was not a moral one but an economic one, because if we do not engage the entire workforce, our chances of success in an ever increasingly competitive global economy are slim.

This made me think of my past mentors and my time at the University of Arizona, Judith Chafee one of only two female professors, did influence me greatly. Judith went to Yale in 1950 and was the only women in her architecture class; she studied alongside Charles Eames at the American Academe in Rome and went on to work with some of modern architecture’s greats: Edward Larabee Barnes, Eero Saarinen and Walter Gropius. She is well known for her houses in the Tucson desert which were described as an American modernism bred of the desert. When I was studying with her she refused to participate in a show of women architects because she wanted to be recognized for her architecture, not for being a woman.

After Judith’s death Chris Macdonald British Columbia Architecture chair said “to have made such fine work in the face of such a powerful cultural force (as Postmodernism) and this in an environment where a forthright and passionate woman would be patronized as a matter of course – represents an accomplishment of singular determination”. I like that quote, but there was another I like better from Professor Robert Nevins, who also taught me and went to Yale with Judith. He said “she was fu%$&ing scary, but even drunk she was smarter than anyone I’ve ever known”. Being a hard drinker and chain smoker, she had mannerisms and a forthright style that frightened many.

She taught me a lot, and I must say I did want to be like her, but have only managed the hard drinking part. There were others like Professor Ellery Green who made this statement to all of the fifth year architecture students in the Ethics and Practice class he taught. “None of you women (there were about five of us) will really make it in business because you don’t play football, and to really understand business you need to understand football”. Yep, it was with those words I began my career in architecture.

Of course today there are plenty of women at the top ranks of organizations around the world: Carly, Martha, Theresa Gattung (ok I’m being cheeky they are all no longer in the job). There are also many women who occupy the top job in the country. In fact there are 8 female presidents in the world at this time: Chile, Finland, Ireland, Israel, Latvia, Liberia, The Philippines and Switzerland and 5 women in the world that occupy a Prime Minister position: Germany, Jamaica, New Zealand, Mozambique and the Netherland Antilles. Who knows over the top of many a republican’s dead body there might be a woman or black president in the United States?

Today women are making in roads in a number of fields that have been traditionally male dominated. Drew Faust is the first president of Harvard University; she succeeds the previous president Lawrence Summers who suggested there was a biological explanation for women failing to excel in the field of maths and science. He said this was not his own view and that he was being deliberately controversial. Never the less, it is interesting that following his appointment in 2001 the number of women offered tenured jobs declined dramatically. Out of 32 four were women.

In Australia women represent 17.2% of professors in Australian universities. According to Judith Bessant who has completed a study on gender in academia, the higher up the career ladder you go in Australian Universities the worse the situation gets. So much so that the University of NSW has launched a leadership program for women in academics.

Of course if we think academia is bad, imagine mining? Interestingly the number of women in this profession is increasing, mainly due to the number of women studying geology. As a matter of fact the head of technology at BHP Billiton is a woman, Dr Megan Clark. Megan did have to do a few hard yards; she got in some hot water for entering a mine in 1982. At that time she worked for WMC resources and was the mine geologist, the law at that time said that a woman could not work underground which made doing her job a bit difficult. After dodging the mine inspectors she finally said stuff it, and went through the mine with one of the inspectors. The inspector had her prosecuted for it. Clark appealed to the then governor-general Sir Zelman Cowan and in 1982 won a waver directly from the Queen which ended centuries of prejudice against women in mining.

Statistics are quite alarming for a number of other professions. In law firms the percentage of women partners 15.6% compares to 84.4% men, corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies have 15.7% women in the top jobs compared to 84.3% men. The worst profession is doctors where the top earning doctors are only 6.6% women compared to 93.4% men.

So why is it that there are so few women at the top? In Paths to Power: How Insiders and Outsiders Shaped American Business Leadership written by Harvard Business School’s Anthony J Mayo, Nitin Nohria and Laura
G. Singleton the authors claim that in all cultures there is a sense that some have won the “ovarian lottery” because they have been born to the right parents, get the right education, have the right skin colour, the right gender and belong to the right social institutions. It is true that in twentieth century America it was the wealthy, white, Protestant (especially Episcopalian or Presbyterian) men from the industrialized centres of the Northeast that had the greatest advantages and opportunities.

According to the authors there has been a gradual opening of access, with education being the greatest contributor. Unfortunately, they believe that there are still are three areas that will place a person on the outside path rather than the inside and those are: social class, gender and race. Like Ann Sherry at Westpac the authors of this book also believe that “the businesses that will succeed in the 21st century will be those that embrace the diversity of their workforce, that can compete in a global, competitive landscape and can differentiate their products and services for a more discriminating customer base.” Leaders of the future, men and women, will need a global perspective, managing this level of complexity will require a broader view.

There is another view as to why so few women are at the top, this view is shared by women and men alike, and that is that they simply don’t care to be. While there are many who will say that women don’t work as hard as men and it is true that the aggregate, statistics show, women work less. They also don’t compete as hard as most men (I guess Professor Green was right). I prefer to align with Charles A. O’Reilly III, professor of behaviour at Stanford Graduate School of Business, who has done studies to isolate the qualities that lead to a corner office. His conclusion: Success in a corporation is less a function of gender discrimination than of how hard a person chooses to compete and the folks that tend to compete the hardest are the stereotypical manly men.

In The Myth of Male Power author Warren Farrell says that “When a woman gets near the top, she starts asking herself the most intelligent questions” He goes on to say that the fact that women don’t make it to the top is a measure of their power and not their powerlessness. “They’ve learned they can get respect and love in a variety of different ways – from being a good parent, from being a top executive, or combination of both” Free from the ego that drives many males, women are more likely to consider the trade offs and opt for the saner path. According to Mary Lou Quinlan who stepped down as CEO of advertising agency N. W. Ayer says “ The reason a lot of women aren’t shooting for the corner office is that they’ve seen it up close, and its not a pretty scene … It’s about talent, dedication, experience or the ability to take heat. “

So I guess my mother was right when she would say “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”

Sources:

“Where Are the Women?”
Fast Company
By Linda Tischler
February 2004

“Women’s Role Receives Greater Recognition”
By Damien Lynch
The Australian Financial Review
January 16, 2007

“Who Rises to Power in American Business?”
By Sean Silverthorne
Harvard Business School
Working Knowledge
January 8, 2007

“Faust Track: Harvard Shows the Way”
By Catherine Fox
The Australian Financial Review
January 2007

“Women Strike the Mother Lode”
By Tim Treadgold
Australian Financial Review – BRW magazine
January 11 – 17 2007

“Stayers Make Their Working Life Work for Them”
By Catherine Fox
The Australian Financial Review
February 13, 2007

Wikipedia and Google for stats on countries and bio of Judith Chafee

iPods at Work – January 10, 2007

iPods at work

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 26 – January 10, 2007

 

Happy 2007!  I wanted to get this to you before Christmas because I am sure some of you had an iPod on your Christmas list – but it wasn’t meant to be.

My son’s grades arrived in the mail about a week ago, they were by no means bad, but I must admit that I expected them to be a bit better. After all this kid has been scoring top marks since he was six years old and even skipped ahead a year in school when we moved to Australia. If a person does not do as well at something as you know they can, you cannot help but wonder why. I suppose it is human nature to want to point the finger at something as a catalyst to the change and in this particular situation I am pointing my finger straight at the Sony Corporation. Why, because it is Sony who developed the iPod that is permanently attached to my son’s ear.

Soon to be 17, my son is quintessential Netgen – he blissfully multi-tasks, IMs, e –mails, reads and does all of this while he talks on the phone and listens to his iPod. Prior to this set of grades, it appeared he was quite capable of doing this all at the same time. I think extension English was what upset the apple cart, they made him read Dostoyevsky. Doing that and listening to the iPod appears to have tested the limit of his multi- tasking brain. Call me old fashioned, but being from a generation that believed it  risky to light a cigarette while holding an open beer for fear of spillage, it is difficult to comprehend how effective work can be done with so many distractions. Especially reading, even I miss important information when I try to read New Idea while watching Australia’s Biggest Loser, just imagine Dostoyevsky.

You can’t grow up surrounded by gadgets and not expect to bring some of your toys to work with you when you grow up.  Looking around the office I see I am pretty much alone, being one of the only people in my immediate area that is not supporting the Sony Corporation by listening to an iPod. The reality is that one in five workers is listing to iPods or similar listening devices at their desks. Obviously, the type of work that one does has an impact on whether they can listen to music:  80% of technical and creative workers listen to music more than 20% of their working hours, while at management level the proportion of workers listening to music drops to 20%. Clerical workers spend 40% of their working day listening to music.

With over 40 million people worldwide using iPods, there is bound to be an impact in the workplace. Determining the distraction level of these devices, and weighing their risks and benefits will be a challenge for many employers. Companies will struggle with drawing the line because many employees will argue that using a personal music player helps them concentrate and therefore improves productivity. It is true that in today’s ‘always on’ culture people find it difficult to concentrate. No wonder, a report from New Scientist noted that petty distractions: e mails, phone calls, people coming to your desk and computer generated reminders take up on average more than two hours of our working days. Another study by London’s Institute of Psychiatry found constant disruption had a greater effect on IQ than smoking marijuana.

Years ago while doing work for Netscape I was told that if a computer programmer was interrupted while writing code it would take him or her 30 minutes to get back to the same place. According to a University of California study, if you’re interrupted while trying to remember what it is you were doing you might as well go home. The study showed more than 20 percent of interrupted tasks were not resumed the same day. The same study found that most distractions in a typical work day are self- inflicted: sending e mails, playing with things on your desk, bothering your busy colleagues, getting 37 cups of tea.

Tuning out distraction is only one of the reasons people listen to music at work. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and you thought Aznavoorian was a mouthful) who directs the Quality of Life Research Center at Claremont Graduate University’s School of Management says workers are turning to music as a form of distraction from otherwise boring work. The implications here are far greater. If employees are so uninvolved in what they’re doing that their minds need to be distracted, at the least there will be losses in productivity, in the worst case scenario there may be safety risks. If our people, particularly the younger ones, are listening to music because they are bored what hope do we have of keeping them in the workplace?

Some of the problems with iPods at work are the real or perceived message wearing headphones sends of being inaccessible or not wanting to be bothered. Some believe that this is creating a wedge between older and younger workers due to the fact that it is predominantly younger people donning the headphones, making the older ones feel alienated. There can also be risks to the company’s network when employees connect MP3 players to their computer to download and store songs; those same players could be used to download other information making it possible to infect a network with a virus. In the event that you have not thought of this, MP3 players that have the video capability may be used to watch pornography or other inappropriate material on the job! Of course you would have to be pretty dumb to do that, the screen is too tiny and you would strain your eyes.

The more obvious issues are with not being able to hear people talking to you, or the phone ringing, which puts a real damper on the type of collaboration we are trying to encourage in many of the workplaces we design. In some industries not being able to hear can be a source of broader safety issues; particularly if it is critical to hear warning alarms and bells, warnings shouted by co workers or other workplace sounds such as moving forklifts. Some claim there are also problems with inaccuracies and mistakes on the job due to people being more mentally engaged in the music than the task at hand. If the TV dramas are accurate, this is not true because doctors always have rock music pumped up to the highest volume in the theater during surgery.

In the event an employee is tuned out a co workers may be forced to get their attention by other means. As an example when I want Josh I just throw one of my old imperial scale rules or an adjustable triangle at his head, it is good to put this obsolete drafting equipment to use. However, employees with poor aim may be required to get up to touch their co worker to get their attention. This can scare or startle the person, or in extreme cases (like if you live in the USA where suing others is as common as birth and death) the touching could be misconstrued as harassment. The lesson here is that if you want to get a co workers attention it is better to tap their shoulder and not their behind, breast or crotch area.

In some instances listening to music can be a distraction to others. Surely you have had the experience of being next to someone listening to music with the volume on so loud that it is clearly audible right through the earplugs. The only thing worse than this is those people who like to sing along, dance or drum on their desk.  Also not everyone likes the same music – Adam Weissman from DBA Public Relations says “Sometimes in those random occasions when someone is having an extremely bad day, there is nothing quite like scrolling through my iPod and cranking the Muppets theme song” Yep I bet there is nothing quite like that, thank goodness Adam does not work here. When you add  visual distraction to auditory, environmental distractions such as thermal comfort and air quality and the internal distractions we all have: your hungry, your sleepy, your feet hurt  –  there are so many distractions encountered in the typical work environment you wonder how we get anything done.

So what is an employer to do – ban the iPod?  Cary Cooper a professor of organizational psychology and health at LancasterUniversity said “It’s crucial to give workers autonomy and bans of any sort can alienate them. Bosses shouldn’t care about how employees accomplish their objectives as long as the job gets done” (sounds like something the late Kenneth Lay would have said). Others believe that if people spend time listening to music instead of working it is a firms right to ban MP3 players. In the end it is up to employers to establish protocol for personal electronic devices and enforce them.

Some companies are being quite innovative when it comes to iPods and are using them to their advantage. Capital One uses iPods as a part of an audio training program for employees. Pod casting enables companies to put training programs on files or shows, which enable employees to listen to them when it suits such as while riding to work. Other companies like Homestead Technologies in Menlo ParkCA have used iPods as a perk when they gave all 77 employees engraved devices as 10-year anniversary gifts.

Clearly office cultures vary, a technology company in the Silicon Valley will be different to a law firm. Either way the atmosphere in the workplace is changing by becoming more informal, more gadgetized, and more employee centric. The demands and expectations of the next generation of worker we hope to attract are having an impact on the work environment, and the rules are shifting for everyone.  As these shifts take place grey areas in workplace decorum will emerge, in sorting through those many employers will be put in the uncomfortable position many of us with children find ourselves in – determining whether something is really bad or just different to the way you did it.

Whether to allow flip flops to work, strappy tank tops, encourage properly punctuating e mails, allowing the use of  emoticons and acronyms in office correspondence, as well as when and how you can use your iPod all be a parts of the new work landscape companies will need to navigate their way through. As for me, my son can keep the iPod. After a summer working for Hoyts sweeping up popcorn off the floor he now understands the importance of getting better grades. He now recognizes that without a formal education the best he can hope for is being elevated to the Hoyts candy counter, and if he is really stellar, some day ticket sales.

Sources

“The Disrupting Influence of Technology”

By Tim Dowling

The Sydney Morning Herald

August 21, 2006

“MP3s Banned as Workers Switch on and Switch Off”

By Ben Quinn

The New Zealand Herald

November 2, 2006

“Going toe-to-toe in office etiquette”

By Olivia Barker and Sarah Bailey

USA Today

August 14, 2005

“iPod use in the workplace”

Employment Law Bits

August  28, 2006

“Are iPods Good for the Workplace?”

The Chicago Tribune

February 13, 2006

“Music Hath Charms for Some Workers – Others it Annoys”

By Stephanie Armour

USA Today

March 23, 2006

“iPod @ Work”

By Matt Krumrie

Star Tribune – Minneapolis – St. Paul Minnesota

October 30, 2006

Auditory, visual and physical distractions in the workplace

By Justin Mardex

Cornell University, Department of Design and Environmental Analysis

2004

 

Depression in the Workplace – October 18, 2006

Depression in the workplace

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 24 – October 18, 2006

Do you ever have those days where you feel like the black dog is getting the better of you? The black dog is the term Winston Churchill used to describe depression. Churchill, like many other famous people including Dawn Frasier, Buz Aldrin, Claude Monet, Mozart, John Cleese and even Prince Charles all suffered from depression. In fact 72% of famous writers, 42% of the artist, 36% of intellectuals, 35% of composers, 33% scientists and 41% of politicians suffer from depression.

In the past, if I had woken feeling a bit blue and decided the best way to remedy that was stick the pillow over my head and call in sick I would have felt like a complete loser.  Now that I know Buz Aldren does the same thing I feel a sense of empowerment that comes from having a special alignment with the FIRST MAN ON THE MOON CONSARNIT. Yep me and Buz Aldrin who said

“There were days I could not get out of bed.  Some mornings I responded to the doctor’s questions, other mornings, I ignored his questions and carried on my litany of self-doubt and self-hate. At times I felt hopelessly snarled in the tangle of my mind.

Okay so I am not in the hospital and you would be correct in pointing out that going to the moon is not tantamount to going to New Zealand – even though sometimes it can feel that way. Never the less,  there is something quite sobering about discovering the flight crew on the Qantas Sydney to Auckland route, the customs guys and cashiers at the duty free liquor counter all know your name, but your kids greet you with who are you? when you walk in the door after a business trip – Ouch.

Everyone experiences days when they feel a bit down, and most of us have pulled a sickie at some time in our working career, except for my pal Neil Shoebridge at the Financial Review who has NEVER called in sick in 18 years. The bigger issues is that the greater portion of the population  go to work when they are not emotionally prepared  – you could say a few bricks shy of a load, they have one oar in the water, or are one enchilada short of a combination meal –  they go anyway. It is these walking wounded, particularly those with serious depression or anxiety disorders, that are wreaking havoc with workplace productivity and that is what we need to pay closer attention to.

The leadership and workplace gurus don’t talk much about depression, it has been coined the last taboo of workplace issues. Having confronted discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, sexual orientation and religion, we are only just now beginning to scratch the surface on the implications that mental ill health has on business. I am not referring to days where there is a minor setback that ruins your morning, such as feeling like skipping work because your butt looks too big in these pants, or the baby puked down your back and the other suit is at the cleaners. I am talking about genuine physical illness which impacts ones ability to do their work the same way the old work -related illnesses did: coalminer’s lung, match girl’s jaw and chimney – sweep scrotum. Real stuff.

It is estimated that a quarter of workers will suffer some depression, anxiety or related substance abuse problem each year. One in five of us will experience this at some point in our adult lives (If the empty beer bottles after Friday night drinks are any indication I would say that substance abuse is affecting all of us here simultaneously – forget the one in five) Depression is the most common reason for people being off work in the public sector and it has the greatest negative impact on productivity for non manufacturing companies. In the UK Mental ill health is costing up to Pounds 9 billion a year in pay alone, in the US untreated mental illness cost the USA $105 billion in lost productivity each year, and in Australia it cost 3.3 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.

If those figures were not convincing, here are a few more to sober you up complements of Beyond Blue the National Depression Initiative:

  • Un healthy workers had 18 days sick leave compared with 2 day for healthy ones.
  • Unhealthy employees worked an average of 49 effective hours a month compared to 143 hours a month for healthy employees.
  • There are 6 million days lost each year due to absenteeism, and another 12 million days lost each year due to lack of productivity

At Geyer most of us work in teams so it will be no surprise to hear that the cost of a health related absence is often more than just lost wages paid to the worker who is out sick, there are broader implications to productivity. When it comes to measuring the cost of ailments to companies, diabetes, arthritis and circulatory disorders were responsible for higher direct medical costs; but interestingly depression / anxiety had the highest cost, particularly when “Impaired presenteeism” is taken into account. This is the term used for the impact on others, of those who come to work while ill. I love that term impaired presenteeism, you could take the idea much further: impaired jerkism, impaired moronism.

In Australia we have started to pay more attention to depression and mental health after the resignation of WA premier Geoff Gallops. More recently Queensland’s attorney general Linda Lavarch resigned from the ministry and Labor’s front bench for similar reasons. As has been mentioned, it is tough going for the politicians 41% are depressed. In fact Comcare the federal government’s mental health program has seen clams increase from 5.9% in 2004 to 22%. I would imagine these figures would be higher in the US given the dismal performance of the current administration there (if they were real men would go stick there head in the oven given their track record). By the way mid term elections in the US are in the next two weeks – I live in hope!!!!!!!!!!!

One of the biggest problems depression presents to an organization is the cost. In Australia mental stress claims have risen from 6813 in 2001 to 8093 in 2004 and that trend is likely to accelerate. For those with serious depression the average claim is $80,000. Naturally, with money to be earned the lawyers are not far behind, in the US you can sue your employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act, issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they do not account for your depression. In 2004 federal guidelines were issued in the US describing how employers could make ‘accommodation’ for employees with serious mood disorders, such as changing their work hours; and if they didn’t their employees could sue .

In 2004 the EEOC took in $469,000 in financial settlements for employees who complained they were discriminated against because of their depression, this has ballooned to more that 3 million in 2005. Wipe that smug look off of your face, its not just happening in the US! In 2003 the WA Supreme Court awarded an employee $856,742 after they were diagnosed with depressive illness. The employer was found negligent for not heeding the warnings that the employees work load was too great.

As an example of how this could work, my niece who is a university student in PhoenixArizona works part time at a department store where she is a manger of her area. As the manger she has no recourse over an employee who frequently decides not to come in to work or is late, because the other girl has gone on record as being ‘depressed’. The other girl shows up when she pleases and leaves when she pleases and there is nothing that her manager can do about it. Just imagine trying to run one of our projects with a team like that.

The last thing I want to do here is make light of depression, but it would be safe to say it is tricky situation when the symptoms pretty much describe a typical work week for many of us. Unfortunately for some of you in Melbourne, and you know who you are, traits like irritability, anal pickneyness or chronic lateness are considered behaviours and not mental impairments that would require ‘accommodation’ by your employer. The real symptoms are:

  • Persistent sadness or anxious mood
  • Loss of interest in or pleasure from ordinary activities (I know I am in trouble when I lose the will to be cynical)
  • Decreased energy, fatigue or feelings of being slowed down
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Eating disturbances
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or attempts at suicide – interesting they don’t mention thoughts of boss homicide
  • Irritability
  • Excessive crying
  • Chronic aches and pains
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions.

If Australia follows in the footsteps of the US, as it often does, employers will need to make accommodation in the workplace for those with mental health issues. If the lost productivity doesn’t drive such initiatives then potential legal ramifications will. Commonwealth Bank is already taking depression in the workplace seriously. Commonwealth Bank Chief Executive Ralph Norris says “Commonwealth Bank is committed to the health and well being of our staff and is proud to offer our employees access to information and advice about depression and how to identify it or seek treatment for it,” he goes on to say “We are pleased to provide the resources and information for our staff and to be recognised as leading edge within the finance sector for this type of initiative.” “The program will ultimately lead to positive outcomes across the Bank – first and foremost for our people – in addition to increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and reduced direct and indirect costs.”

I am going to leave you with an assignment.  I would like all of you to go away and challenge yourself to come up with ways, even seemingly insignificant ones, that the physical environment could be used to combat workplace depression. Send them back to me and the futures team will distribute prizes for the best ones. You see, I am feeling a bit depressed, I heard through the grapevine that there is an expectation that Future’s identify new workplace trends. Well I’ll be gosh darn, that’s why I write these Futures Ramblings! (I would use other words but you know how picky that mail marshal is)

So to be perfectly clear – one of the trends you should think about when designing a work environment is the possibility that employees may be depressed.  If the environment you create can in anyway elevate that, for instance through happy face upholstery fabrics, that would put Geyer on the leading edge.

Sources

“Depression, a disease that we must defeat”

By Richard Layard

The Observer

une 18, 2006

“Aetna to Pay For Program To Manage Depression”

New York times

November 2, 2005

“Stressed Out”

By Amita Tandukar

BRW

23/02/06

“Depression Knows No Boundaries”

By Shane Nichols

The Australian Financial Review

February 23, 2006

“Third of men drink to drown out job stress: Survey links depression to long hours and insecurity”

By John Carvel

The Guardian London, England

June 8, 2006

“Sick Job Syndrome – The Office Psychologist”

By John Nash

The Times – London England

March 30, 2006

“Beyond Blue: Opening our Eyes to the Cost of Depression in the Workplace”

Web site

Multiplier Effect: The Financial Consequences of Worker Absences

Knowledge at Wharton

December 14, 2005

“Workplaces Quit Quietly Ignoring Mental Illness”

By Stephanie Armour

USA Today

August 22, 2006

Making Mistakes – August 14, 2006

Making Mistakes

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 22 – August 14, 2006

Alexander Pope said ‘A man should never be ashamed to own he has been wrong, which is but saying in other words that he is wiser today than he was yesterday’. I came across this quote at the same time that I saw the July 2006 AFR Boss Magazine on CEO Mistakes, which oddly coincided with the passing of Kenneth Lay the former CEO of Enron. (Did you know that if you type in hugs and a kiss on an e mail –XXOO- the spell checker comes back asking if you really mean Enron? Interesting don’t you think?)

My misguided belief about CEO’s is that they should know all of the answers and not be making any mistakes. After all, some of them earn an average salary which exceeds our company’s yearly earning. That doesn’t even include their bloody bonuses – I see in the AFR today that Sol Trujillo got a $2.6 million dollar bonus, Allan Moss from Macquarie Bank rakes in 21.2 million a year salary, and our client Wal King from Leighton Holdings earns the pittance of 12.8 million per year. Therefore my reaction to seeing a magazine about CEO mistakes is “what the”.

In researching the topic of mistake making in greater depth I discovered that making mistakes in business can have high payoffs, but only if the mistakes are smart.  Great business ideas such as Fed Ex’s distribution system were the happy outcome of what many in that business considered to be a major blunder. Along the same lines, Thomas Edison pursued the ideal of the phonograph even though he considered the idea to have little commercial value. Organizations need to make mistakes in order to improve and to challenge themselves to discover new things.

Mistakes are a critical part of our learning which can help us avoid traps in our thinking and decision making. By intentionally taking the wrong road, high payoffs can be achieved. In his book “Celebrate Your Mistakes” author John W. Holt Jr. says “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking risks, and that means you’re not going anywhere” “The key is to make errors faster than the competition, so you have more chances to learn and win”. It is through the process of making mistakes that great ideas are born. It is unfortunate that many business today create organizations where mistakes are rare; rather than creating cultures where it is understood that the process of trial and error is not only a necessary cost of doing business, but can also ensure you remain competitive.

It is not hard to understand why companies don’t like making mistakes, after all they are made of people, and people don’t want to make mistakes. Generally as humans our driver is fear, the fear of failing, of looking like a jerk, of being rejected, or not being liked, and of course the fear of making a mistake. On a human level the reason we don’t like to make mistakes has much more to do with our own psychology, but we see the same expressions in the culture and strategy of organizations. The main reasons we avoid mistakes are that we as individuals are:

1. Overconfident and often blind to our limitations.

2. We do not effectively challenge ourselves to get the best because we are risk adverse and are rewarded        for good decisions and penalized for bad ones.

3. We look for confirming evidence to support our self serving perceptions; we favor data that supports our         beliefs and don’t see alternatives.

4. We assume that the feedback we get is reliable (which it can’t be if we do number three, it is tantamount to determining how cute you are by only asking your mother, sister and grandma who will of course vote for the affirmative).

The experts say that to get the most out of them, your mistakes must be deliberate. It is a bit of a paradox in that a mistake committed on purpose is what many of us would call an experiment, but the experts don’t agree. The Harvard Business Review explains that conducting experiments to confirm your assumptions is quite different from making a mistake; the difference is that deliberate mistakes are expected to fail, because they are based on your current assumptions. When a deliberate mistake unexpectantly succeeds, your assumptions are turned on their side, and that is when break through innovation happens. A good example is the advertising pioneer David Ogilvy, who deliberately included ads that he thought, would not work in order to test and improve his rules for evaluating advertising. More often than not the ads were failures, but the few that succeeded led to innovative approaches in advertising.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article “Israel admits mistake in Qana attack” The article described the attack on a residential building in the southern Lebanese town of Qana, causing the collapse that killed dozens, mostly women and children. Clearly this was not a deliberate or good mistake to make. The expense of a failed mistake should not be too high in comparison with the reward; naturally companies need to limit their risks in their mistake making. A company like Qantas would be foolish to test their jet engines on airplanes full of people, but would be really smart to test them in a simulator or wind tunnel.

To analise the trade off between making mistakes and the potential risk of those mistakes, companies should consider the following:

  • The potential gain outweighs the cost of the mistake.
  • Decisions are made repeatedly – e.g. Geyer would be better off making a deliberate mistake in the selection of a chair, than of a new headquarters sight for a client. The chair decision will be repeated again, so if we were wrong we could learn and make adjustments. The building decision is something our client will live with for 15 to 20 years; you don’t get a second shot.
  • The environment has dramatically changed – there is a new competitive landscape and the current approach may no longer work
  • The problem is complex and the solutions are numerous, the more complex the problem the less likely you will be to understand it completely. Your chances of getting it wrong are increased.
  • Your organizations experience with a problem is limited – if you are unfamiliar you should be open minded in your approach again your chances of getting it wrong are high.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates noted that “every company needs people who have made mistakes – and then made the most of them”. This is really the key to mistakes isn’t it? We must learn from them and hopefully be smarter the next time round.  Executive coaches, customer service gurus and people on the front lines of business offer the following six steps to help you learn from mistakes

  • The surest way to diffuse a mistake is to fess up early. However they advise against using highly charged phrases like “I screwed up” or it is “all my fault” because people will remember such phrases and may well come back to haunt you. Apparently some companies prefer to call these “teachable moments” or “opportunities for improvement” but being from the ‘call a spade a spade camp’ I am the sort that needs to hit over the head pretty hard to get it. If someone told me I had just experienced a ‘teachable moment’ I would worry they were trying to get me to join the Church of Scientology or something.
  • If it is your team, it is your mistake – If you lead a team or business unit and a mistake happens it is yours whether or not you had a direct role in creating it. Guess that points to the end of Ji Wei being my scapegoat.
  • Follow – up and follow through – Mistakes don’t always have simple causes, they can be the result of a systemic problem that will happen again if not corrected. Since mistakes often involve more than one person it is worthwhile to conduct a thorough evaluation, which may well reveal something about you, or your colleagues work process.
  • Isolate the ‘moment of truth’ these are the rare times when people can gather to learn from their mistakes. To do this you must act quickly and gather people for a play – by – play analysis of what went wrong to avert similar errors in the future. It is recommended that if you embed learning in your process you will not make the same mistake twice.
  • The smartest mistakes you make are the ones you make yourself. However, avid supporters of doing things for yourself must acknowledge that there is danger in doing this too often. You must pick your lessons and learn from them, you can’t have 15,000 lessons.
  • The best fix is a quick fix. For most of us who are struggling with keeping up with the pace of work it is difficult to find time for post mortems or learning plans. According to Bill Rosenzweig a partner at the San   Francisco based Venture Strategy Group which consults with emerging companies on brand marketing and organizational development we at Geyer should pay particular attention to this. Rosenzweig says that “in companies that value passion and creativity over discipline and focus, people often claim they don’t have the time to evaluate their mistakes. I would argue that you don’t not have the time”

It is the people who most need to make mistakes that are the ones least likely to admit they have made one. Over confident individuals, and businesses, are generally not interested in subjecting themselves to being proven wrong. Such views are shortsighted, and can often impact the ability to succeed in the long run. Around the turn of the century Thomas Edison created a place where people could tinker, test their ideas and in some cases blow things up and try again. It is in this kind of environment that a tolerance for failure can be developed, and in turn real progress can be made. If a company wants its people to come up with ideas quickly, they need to cut some slack and tolerate failure.

I will leave you with a quote from the American baseball player Babe Ruth “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way”.

Speaking of baseball, I will be heading back to the United States this Thursday to watch my son participate in the Babe Ruth Junior World Series. Unlike the real World Series this tournament includes other countries such as Australia. My next Rambling will be from the road and may be less about workplace and business and more about airport security, perhaps supporting Peter Ruehl’s suggestion in this weekend’s AFR that the only solution to the airport security issues is “that people board planes in only their underwear. This should speed things up, make the trip more interesting and boost Mile High Club membership”

Sources

The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes

By Paul J. H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther

The Harvard Business Review   June, 2006

CEO Mistakes

By Mike Hanley

Financial Review BOSS Magazine July, 2006

When NOT to Trust Your Gut

By Max H. Bazerman and Deepak Malhotra

HarvardBusinessSchool Working Knowledge

July 31, 2006

Undies Only, the Safest Way to Fly

By Peter Ruehl

The Weekend Australian Financial Review

August 12 -13 2006

Big Rewards Can Stick in the Craw, Howard Admits

By Fleur Anderson

The Weekend Australian Financial Review

August 12 -13 2006

It’s OK to Make a Mistake

By Robyn Henderson

www. Positivepath.net

Israel Admits Mistake in Qana Attack

By AP Digital – breaking news

The Sydney Morning Herald

August 3, 2006

My Smartest Mistakes

By Pamela Krueger

Fast Company October, 1997

Make Smarter Mistakes

By Pamela Krueger

Fast Company October, 1997

Why Can’t We Get Anything Done?

By Alan M. Webber

Fast Company May, 2000

 

Middlescence – June 27, 2006

Middlescence

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 21 – June 27, 2006

A lot of you know that I do Bikram yoga, it is the type done in a room heated to 39C. This past weekend I went to a special class with one of Bikram’s most experienced instructors who came over from the US to teach a handful of masters’ classes in Australia. I found this teacher very inspiring, not only did she have a great command of the postures and their medical benefits but she looked great too. As you might imagine, when one exercises in that kind of heat they wear as little as is legally possible, and the teacher from the US was no exception in a black one piece bathing suit. Watching her move through the room I couldn’t help but want to be like her, be as smart, as peaceful and look that good. Fortunately for me, I still have some time to catch up, she is in her 80s. When I wasn’t thinking about being nauseous and on the verge of fainting from the heat, I was thinking I would like to have the confidence to walk around in a bathing suit,  do an effortless sit up and be a yoga teacher when I am 80. Doing the math, I could go to the 8 week Bikram training in Los Angeles now and still get in a solid thirty plus years teaching before I hit 80.

I thought the fixation about what I should do next in my career was just a passing phase; I seem to have an insatiable quest to find things that give me a greater sense of purpose in life. Naively, I thought that I was the only one who did this and assumed the rest of you were content with your chosen professions. I imagined you were all like my old boss Art Gensler, once when I said good morning to him he replied “if I was any better there would be two of me”.  It was surprising and disappointing to suddenly read that I am not the only one who spends time thinking about what’s next.  In fact it is quite common. Go figure, my crisis is not even my own, and it is not even unique, it is so common with people my age that it even has a name.  Middlescence!

Like adolescence, middlescence can be a time of great frustration and confusion which explains the poor state of my household with a pair of each. People like me, mid career employees, between the ages of 35 and 54 make up more than half the workforce and we work longer hours than our older and younger counterparts. Unfortunately, only 43% of us are passionate about our jobs, 33% of us feel energised by our work, 36% say they feel they are in dead- end jobs and 40% feel burnt out. As a group we have the lowest satisfaction rates with our immediate managers and the least confidence in top executives.  We are working more, enjoying it less and looking for something else to do that may put a little joy back in our lives.

When it comes to mid career employees, the companies they work for mistakenly believe they are settled and content, the solid backbones of the organisation; and unfortunately often ignore them. This can lead to middlescents becoming so dissatisfied that they will leave their jobs, or worse stay and fester with a bad attitude. Every day companies all over the world are paying the price of lost energy, enthusiasm and a lack of innovation and focus from their middlescent employees, which is often more threatening to productivity than employee turnover. The Harvard business review states “companies are ill- prepared to manage middlescence because it is so pervasive, largely invisible, and culturally uncharted”.

The outcomes for business are not good, with fewer emergent workers entering the workforce and those that are, planning their exit, many companies could be caught out by their valuable experienced people quitting sooner than necessary. As workforce demographics shift over the next ten years, it would be wise for any company that wishes to control its fate to learn to recognise the early warning signs of middlescence frustration, and to actively develop strategies to combat it.

For obvious reasons I will not disclose which of these symptoms that I still have or had. However I will confess to having already gone through one middlescent crisis. Because it was more than shrimps on the Barby and distaste of the Republican administration that got me to: move around the world, switch jobs, and do something completely different. In the event you in the 35 to 54 age group and fear you may have this condition, here are some signs of middlescence:

  • Being stuck in a bottleneck – you are competing for too few leadership positions in an organisation
  • Stuck in work life tension, once referred to as the sandwich generation you’re caught between caring for the kids and the parents
  • Burnt out, being in a career for 20 or more years, you are stretched and stressed and find your work unexciting or repetitive.
  • Disappointment, realising that you haven’t achieved what you thought you would and probably never will.
  • Unimpressive boss, distrust of the company, great gaps in compensation between you and those above
  • Lengthening horizon, realising that you can’t retire and will have to work for quite a while longer.

As most of you know, Bill Gates has retired from Microsoft. While he plans to maintain a large holding in the company, he and Melinda are going to put all of their energy into the philanthropic organisation they founded several years ago. His primary motivation in retiring is a desire to spend more time on the issues that he really cared about. Whadaya reckon, Middlescence? Yes it is perhaps easier to search for greater purpose in life when you are worth 50 billion US, and you are the boss. Never the less, it is somewhat comforting to see that this condition can happen to just about anyone regardless of your position in a company or the number of noughts on your pay cheque.

For those of us without a spare billion let alone million to finance our pursuit of greater meaning, there are other strategies for revitalizing careers that are more attainable for us commoners. First is what the employer can do, followed by a few tips on how to take matters into your own hands.

For employers, it is advised that two preliminary steps are taken before embarking on the six following ideas. The first preliminary step is to remove barriers to occupational mobility, such as the policies within your company that may block employees. Second, it is advised that you ‘find the keepers’ and this means going beyond the stars in your organisation, who are probably already recognised, to identify the people whose skills and experience you need and want to retain. Once you have done that you can zip up a mid career employee by doing the following:

  • Offer fresh assignments in different geographical locations or other parts of the company.
  • Offer an internal career change, allow the employee to assume a different job.
  • Put experienced employees into mentoring, teaching and other knowledge sharing roles
  • Offer fresh training, refresher courses, in depth education to develop new skills in new areas
  • Let your people take Sabbaticals, (only 5% of the 500 organisations surveyed by Hewitt Associates offered sabbaticals)
  • Expand leadership development; there are shortages in leadership succession. Corporate restructuring and flattening of organisations has eroded career paths. The result is people can’t accumulate needed leadership skills on the job anymore.

In the event the company you work for does not recognise the signs or worse chooses to ignore them.  How can you take charge of your own work/life and find meaningful absorbing work?

Richard Leider founding partner of the Inventure Group has over three decades of experience as a career coach and counsellor. He believes that each individual is born with a reason for being and that life is a quest to discover that purpose. To help people decide where they are going he asks his clients to answer two questions honestly: What do you want? And how will you know when you get it? Leider believes that people have their own solutions; they just don’t know how to discover them or avoid that discovery. He goes on to say that if you want to make good decisions for your work in life, it all comes down feeding your three hungers.

The first hunger is to connect deeply with the creative spirit of life; not in the classic sense but to “touch creative energy and be touched by it” this could come from bringing a child into the world or introducing playfulness and creativity to the workplace.  (or for you clients might I suggest you could just hire Geyer) The second is to know how to express your gifts and talents, each of us has something to contribute we just need to figure out what that is. Aristotle said “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation” Determine what needs doing in your organisation? What needs doing in the world?  Finally you must know that our lives matter, we are here to leave behind something of ourselves. Work can and should give you a sense of joy, you spend 60% of your life doing it, make the most of it.

Many of us know all too well that there is nothing like a few kids, aging parents to care for, a mortgage and school tuition to make you feel like you have lost the opportunity to search for meaning and purpose.  We all want and need money but we also want to use our talents and want the ability to control our own time. We want to work on something we feel is worthwhile. Sadly, many of us measure our worth by our work. The good news is we don’t always measure this in dollars anymore. “The search for meaningful work is the heart of middlessence, just as the search for an identity – a calling – marks adolescence.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us” From the time we are small children we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. Looking at my children, both teenagers, it is hard for me to imagine them making a career choice now that will satisfy them for another 50 or 60 years. They’re not bad kids; it is just the chance of getting it right the first time is slim.  If research on career choice has any validity, they will not be the only ones.  The reality is that most people don’t choose their career their career chose them; they start down a path and never stop to ask what their calling might be.

According to Leider you need to understand your choices as well as understand the different points in life. He likens it to a spiral, there are times when you’re on a plateau and all is balanced and then something comes along and knocks you off balance. It is when these events occur that you need to take stock. You need to look at everything you’ve been carrying with you, unpack your bag and then repack it considering these four elements: discover how to live from the inside out, discover your gifts, discover what moves you and finally discover solitude because it is there that you will be able to deal with the first three.

I will leave you with a letter written to Fast Company magazine in response to the article “Are You Deciding On Purpose” Now, at 78, retired from major industry, I was stuck with the profound truth and beauty of your philosophy. In retrospect, you could have been writing about me… Now that I am retired and doing what I truly enjoy, looking back I wish that I had taken a few more risks and dealt with the opportunities that I chose to ignore. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

One last question, following the popularity of Big Brother can you e mail me back you thoughts on what you feel would be the best opportunity for me:

Vote A or B

A – Laurie should be a yoga teacher in her next career

B – Laurie should become a romance novelist, focusing on sleazy workplace trysts (keeping with my passion for the workplace and its issues)

Sources

Managing Middlescence

By Robert Morison, Tamara Erickson and Ken Dychtwald

The Harvard Business Review   March, 2006

My Battle with the Misery and Malaise of Middlescence

By Lucy Kellaway

The Financial Times May 15, 2006

Are you deciding on Purpose (extended interview with Richard Leider)

By Alan M Webber

Fast Company  February, 1998

Are you leading two lives?

By Richard Leider

The Inventure Group On Purpose Journal Vol. 6 No. 1

Gates to Reduce Microsoft Role as Era Changes

By John Markoff and Steve Lohr

The New York Times June 16, 2006

Personal Business; A Burnout Cure That Few Companies Prescribe

By Lynnley Browning

The New York times June 6, 2003

Downsizing Worm turns

By Deirdre Macken

The Australian Financial Review October 7, 2005

 

Talking Up – May 29, 2006

Talking Up

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 20 – May 29, 2006

At the recent opening party of our Brisbane office someone overheard me greeting Peter Geyer. Later they confessed surprise at my greeting, I am not sure whether they had an expectation that I curtsied or lay prostrate on the floor, but telling Peter that I had prepared myself for seeing him by taking a double dose of anti depressants that morning was not what they expected. The person said “you talk like that to your boss”? My reply, actually I report to Peter Mac but hell yeah why not just because the guy’s name is on the door doesn’t mean he’s not up for a laugh. Maybe it is the camaraderie built from catching 6am flights from NZ together that has given me this sense of comfort; on the other hand Eliza has been ill so perhaps there has been a delay in issuing my pink slip.

It is great to have fun at work and I confess to be the kind of person who likes to laugh which is why I have not chosen a profession where joking is prohibited. You will never see me working at the X-ray machines at the airport. I am lucky I can keep my mouth closed long enough about the Bush administration to walk through the machine; if the queue is long the pressure on me to not make a smart mouth remark is almost unbearable. For many of us, it is unimaginable to think of a day going by without sharing jokes or our thoughts with co workers, regardless of their rank with in the organisation. Unfortunately, in many businesses ‘talking up’ is discouraged; and those companies that do not encourage free and open interaction between all workers can suffer greatly for the loss of knowledge and experience.

Last year I wrote about my brother the rocket scientist and the little mishap they had at NASA with the space shuttle. You may recall that the disintegration of the shuttle was blamed on damage caused to the heat shields of the ship that occurred when a piece of insulating foam hit the hull on take off? Junior engineers at NASA expressed concern about the damage, but their superiors told them to mind their own business and shut up. This is an extreme example of the negative impact of not being able to speak up at work; fortunately for most companies the stakes are not so high.

According to Julie Cogan from the Australian Graduate School of Management, office culture can encourage or discourage employees from speaking up. Organisations need a culture and process for employees to voice dissent or bad news. “If you don’t – you keep vital information under wraps” Cogan says. There are a number of ways companies can encourage employees to share their views. One is to appoint a rotating devils advocate, another is to  employ some of Edward De Bono’s techniques of provocation –  the six hats theory or introducing a process of presenting alternative views such as the ‘fishbone diagram’. What ever a business uses, it is important to encourage employees to speak up and communicate positive and negative ideas at work.

Research done by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson and Professor James Detert from Penn State explores the reasons we are hesitant to speak up to internal authorities in the workplace. They believe that it is possible to create environments that encourage employees to engage both their “latent voice” and “upward voice”. The latent voice is when an employee considers speaking up about an issue, problem or an improvement opportunity and chooses not to. It is all of the potential communications that may not in fact occur. Having exposed you to this term, we can now have a secret language within Geyer. Similar to the way that mothers gently correct a loud child with “honey lets use our inside voices” we can softly urge one another “Can you please make that statement with your latent voice” in other words time for you to shut up already.

Where latent voice refers to the things we thought of saying but didn’t,” upward voice” refers to the fear or hesitancy in communicating with people higher up in the company, those with the perceived power to actually act on your suggestion. The hesitation comes from not wanting to subject yourself to embarrassment or the fear of losing your job. The research suggests that it is in this area that the signals leaders send are important. To encourage communication a leader must be open, interested and most important, willing to act on a subordinate’s voice. Anything an organization can do to prevent the widespread belief that voice is unsafe or not worth your time is likely to increase the upward communication flow. This in turn will create greater value by getting more ideas on the table by utilizing the knowledge and experience that exists within.

There are two factors that lead people to feel more or less safe in speaking up in the workplace: individual differences and contextual factors. Not everyone has the personality or disposition to communicate to the boss and having the ability to challenge in a way that does not cause others to become defensive is a developed skill. Context refers to the type of organisation we work for, is it hierarchical or egalitarian, does the company make the time or have a venue for such conversations, a suggestion box or gripe session? Interestingly, one of the reasons we are hesitant to speak up is instinctive human behaviour. Since living in caves we knew it was better for survival to avoid risks or threats, therefore according to Edmosdson and Deterts research we have “inherited emotional cognitive mechanisms that motivate us to avoid perceived risks to our psychological and material well-being”

It is critical to note that in encouraging people to express their ‘upward voice’ may not produce what some people think is a “nice” workplace. Receiving direct criticism or comments from your co-workers whether they are senior or junior can make you feel pretty bad. It is important to remember that the bad comes with the good and to grow and learn and progress in our careers we need open and honest feedback. At my last job I was responsible for leading several groups of designers, once they all banded together to let me know how “mean” I was because I had told them that the vinyl wall coverings they were considering were inappropriate. After I explained that it had nothing to do with them personally, it was and issue of choosing a high maintenance product for low maintenance client they still did not get it. I had to knock them over the head with a club; workplace violence is a terrific motivator!

To grow and learn as an organisation, or as individuals, it is important to get honest feedback about the work we do. Responding to issues we are unaware of is good for the psychics amongst us, but for the rest of us poor sods we need the facts. For many the prospect of directly challenging or delivering bad news, is so uncomfortable they figure why bother? I suppose you bother because you really want to go out there and make a difference. We should all consider ourselves lucky in that in our line of work we will never have to deliver really bad news to anyone, not yet at least. “Sorry Mr. client we need to inform you that the groovy paint we specified has been emitting higher than normal  VOC levels and it is likely to cause brain damage to most if not all of your staff ”  Laurie’s latent voice

Some of the changes that we can make in environments to encourage upward voice are obvious. Creating workspaces with fewer barriers, allowing people to interact with greater frequency. It has also been proven that people speak up more in smaller groups and in settings that are more intimate. For companies where there is physical distance between sites, along with the added burden of cultural and generational differences there is a real challenge. As we begin to design more spaces on larger floor plates, and those with side cores we may want to think hard about creating intimacy.

Last year we designed a space for a company that had merged with another, we created wonderful lounges that provide the organisation physical space to connect with one another, unfortunately we heard that the two groups remain distinct to the point they will not even share a beer together on Friday nights. One group has their drinks an hour before the other!  In addition, there is further division created by people speaking different languages in the office. Before the merger, the reigning CEO felt it was the companies point of differentiation to hire people who spoke different languages, the new CEO did not. What had been a good thing quickly turned to a bad thing. The point is that a lot of this has nothing to do with the physical space; a company may change leaders as they did in the example above, leaders can change philosophies, they can be arrogant or too busy or lack the interpersonal skills. All of these factors contribute to an organisations ability to speak up.

From the research that I have done for this piece the most disturbing thing I learned is the degree of fear that appears to be the present in many people’s work life. Being older and have a bit more experience under my expanding belt, it is unimaginable to think that many workers are too scared to challenge their boss and as a result are put in harms way. The Sydney Morning Herald did a feature article on the risks younger workers are at because they are hesitant to question or challenge their bosses: one kid had his arm caught in a dough mixer in a bakery, another fell from an unfenced platform, another died when the forklift he drove tipped over on a ramp. The risk is not only for youthful employees but also for those that are part time. Unfortunately the new industrial relations legislation will exacerbate the vulnerability of the young and temporary workers; this could lead to Australian businesses being slow to innovate.

We must consider ourselves very lucky that in our line of work the dangers are minimal; yes I know that Ella Lee almost broke her foot when she dropped a stack – perhaps she should avoid the materials library after the two martini supplier lunch. Oh I’m just joking and I was joking when I told PG I needed a double dose of antidepressants to face him. The real message is that we should not fear sharing and talking and being honest with one another and in the likely event we go out and hurt someone’s feeling we just need to go back and say I’m sorry. Even if it hurts, it is what makes us great.

Sources

Do I Dare Say Something

By Sarah Jane Gilbert

Working Knowledge – HarvardBusinessSchool Publication   March 20, 2006

Latent Voice Episodes: The Situation – Specific Nature of Speaking up at Work (Research Abstract)

By Amy Edmondson and James Detert

Double Whammy under New Industrial Laws for the Young Worker

By Michael Quinlan

The Sydney Morning Herald April 24, 2006

Dissent Vital Part of Organisations

By Fiona Smith

The Australian Financial Review May 16, 2006