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    Vacation Rewind: Relative Creativity

    Note: I am on vacation and while away this week I will be re-running a few old posts that for whatever reason I think deserve a second chance. Hope everyone has a great week!


    (originally posted in November 2011)

    Take a look at the promotional posted for the 2009 movie 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' :

    I didn't see it eitherNot a bad looking promotional effort most would say - edgy, creative kind of typeface, clever use of the actual goat in the series of profile images, stars of the film staring out wisfully into the middle distance.

    Some big time names in the form of George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor, and Kevin Spacey also help the piece achieve a little bit more wow factor.

    I am pretty sure the movie was not what you'd call a smash hit, or even a 'hit', (the IMDB page for the movie indicates about a $32M gross on an estimated $25M budget). But surely any disappointment in the eventual box office receipts for the movie would not be attributed to the poster that you see on the left, after all, while perhaps not being incredibly artistic and memorable, it certainly is a solid, 'B' kind of effort.

    But take another look at the 'Men Who Stare at Goats' poster, this time in a larger context of very similar looking pieces, (courtesy of the Daily Inspiration site):


    Look closely at the 'collage' image on the right - the 'Goats' poster is in there, (second row, third from the left). Keep looking

    Weird how alike so many movie posters seem to be in terms of design, layout, color schemes, etc. If you take a longer look at the Daily Inspiration piece you'll see more examples of how similar movie genres, (Action, Romance, etc.), have consistently spawned similar looking promotional posters.

    What might be interpreted as interesting, attractive, and well-executed when approached individually, (like the 'Goats' poster), takes on a slightly different tone and feeling when viewed through this lens. When thrown together dozens of other pieces informed with the same mindset and sensibility, the 'Goats' poster simply vanishes into the sea of sameness, (and safety, I suppose).

    The point to all this? Not much of one admittedly, I saw the Daily Inspiration piece and it simply seemed interesting to me. I guess if there MUST be a point, (I think the Blogging for Dummies Book I read five years ago mentioned something about each post having some kind of point), it's that understanding context, and the ability of your audiences to compare the work we produce, the systems we design, and the strategies we devise and deploy with what else is being created, designed, and deployed is an important, and sometimes overlooked component of our success.  

    It can be really easy to spring something out to our internal customers with the mindset that they are a kind of captive audience, without the ability to make free choices from competing alternatives. Kind of like a movie-goer whose multiplex has the same film running on all 12 screens. And for many workplace systems or policies that is indeed true. Employees can't choose their own HRIS if they don't like the one the company has deployed, and they can't create and elect their own medical or dental plan coverage if yours are not to their liking. 

    But what they can do, and what has become increasingly easier in the age of social networking and open communication is have a much, much better understanding of competing alternatives and what is possible outside of your own organization. It has never been easier to compare almost everything about one organization's operations with others that are potential competitor's for a good employee's services. 

    The 'Goats' poster is fine. There is nothing wrong with it. It just looks like every other one you've ever seen. Whether or not that is good enough is really the question.


    Vacation Rewind: How much does the office furniture matter?

    Note: I am on vacation and while away this week I will be re-running a few old posts that for whatever reason I think deserve a second chance. Hope everyone has a great week!


    (originally posted in January 2012)

    Like most of you, I've worked in all kinds of office layouts over the years. Cube farms, open plan, private offices, 'hotel' desks for more transient workers. I am sure at one time or another I have spent time in all of them.

    And I probably don't have any really strong feelings about any of the office spaces I've worked in. They were, and are, mostly forgettable. Aside from the one consulting project years ago where my 'office' was a telecom equipment closet and an extra door propped up on some boxes was my desk. That one I still remember for some reason.Look like your office?

    But there is a growing awareness of the importance of design, intent, and function of things like desks, chairs, conference rooms, and common spaces in the modern office. While some think the future of work will eventually become almost completely virtual, (meaning everyone will work out of a Starbucks or Panera), for most desk jockeys today, the 'office' still is the central and most common place where work gets done.

    So while work is changing a lot, where we do work doesn't seem to be changing quite so rapidly. And while this is seems like it will continue, at least for the time being, creating spaces that are adaptable, comfortable, and effectively support the shifting demands of workers and organizations is still important and still should be something HR and talent professionals think about when designing spaces, creating work environments, and procuring office furniture. And if you are still trying to manage that balance between work that wants to be more fluid, collaborative, and virtual; and workplaces, that want to be more, well, static, rigid, and boring, then I suggest you check out this piece from the Workplace Design Magazine site.

    The article, a take on the challenges facing workplace designers, is valuable not only for some of the practical design ideas it might provide, but for the approach to design decisions it advocates. Namely, to think about design issue as more that tables, offices, and furniture. To think bigger. From the piece:

    In contrast, I believe your job as workplace professional is to support work, wherever and whenever it takes place. And for me “support” means focusing on the work itself, and how it’s being done, almost more than the workplace.

    Nice. A more expansive way to see the job of designer. In a way, it is a good piece of advice for any of the classical support functions - facilities, finance, IT, even HR. Focus on the work and not on the tools you want to bring to the table. 

    It is a really interesting way to look at things, and kind of instructive. If the best workplace designers don't start with blueprints and fabric swatches, what does that say about the way us technologists and talent pros approach our challenges?

    Are you thinking about the work first? Or your toolkit?


    READER QUESTION: Who is the new Dave Ulrich?

    I usually don't like these kind of 'Reader Question' type blog posts because the cynic in me secretly thinks that they really never cover an actual reader question, but the blogger just pitched it that way to have an excuse to write about a topic perhaps they would not normally cover, and they feel like somehow people will get the impression that the blogger gets all manner of back channel questions and comments from readers, which I also secretly think almost never happens.

    Having said all that, and asking you to put your natural cynicism aside*, I want to submit to you, dear readers, what I swear is an actual reader question that I received this week, one that I think is pretty interesting, and one that I (and the reader who hoped I'd have something intelligent to offer), could use some help from the crowd to try and answer.  Here is the question, in its entirety:

    Hi Steve. A question came up with the Sr. HR leadership team for my company "Who are the new thought leaders in HR?  Who is the new Dave Ulrich?", I thought - I bet Steve would know.  I would thrilled to recieve any thoughts you might have. Thanks!

    That's it, the Big $64,000 question for a Summer Friday. I did reply to the question, and offered up some thoughts, but after realizing that my views probably were not typical, (one of the names I submitted was Tim Sackett), I asked and received permission from the reader to post the question here, and see if we could crowdsource some additional responses or ideas.

    So I put it to you my friends - Who are the new thought leaders in HR as you see it?  Who is the new Dave Ulrich?

    And I think the answer could still be Tim Sackett. Or maybe it still is Dave Ulrich.

    I'd love to know your thoughts and many thanks to the actual reader who submitted an actual question, (I swear it really happened that way).



    * I am quietly working on a new presentation with a working title of 'Everyone is Lying to You', so I am even more cynical than usual lately.


    The important thing is not the idea

    A few days ago I re-watched the excellent documentary 'The Pixar Story', a 2007 film that chronicles the origins, the early struggles, and the eventual amazing successes of Pixar Studios.  While in 2012 it may seem obvious that computer generated animation can produce incredible images and lead to fantastic results, (like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Cars, etc.),  that belief was not widely held when Pixar was starting out.  The film does a superb job of profiling the early visionaries and eventual leaders in the computer animation field, namely John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, and even everyone's favorite tech titan Steve Jobs, whose investments and belief in Pixar allowed it to survive some tough early years.

    Watching the film again I was struck by the many simple, seemingly obvious yet hard to replicate, work practices and cultural influences that make creating great art and innovating more likely at Pixar than at the typical organization. The open, free-flowing office layout, the relentless focus on creating something even better than the last film, the self-awareness to know that they could not simply rely on their past reputation, that they had to continue to elevate their games in order to continue to succeed in the crowded entertainment space. All of this, combined with a really high talent level across the board, (the film gives the distinct impression that the best talent in computer animation is at Pixar, and thus continues to attract even more talent), help to at least attempt to offer reasons or explanations behind Pixar's story.

    But probably the most telling point raised in the documentary was an observation made by Ed Catmull, who was Pixar's Chief Technology Officer and later became the President of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, on what he felt like was the key factor or 'secret' behind Pixar's success.  Here's the quote from Mr. Catmull:

    "The important thing is not the idea, the important thing is the people its how they work together, who they are that matters most."
    It's not the idea. Or, it's not enough anyway. Sure, someone has to come up with that initial bit of inspiration, like, 'What if the toys came to life when no one is in the room?', but then all you have is just that idea. Nothing, or at least not much else. And while having that great idea is essential, and everything in the process flows from there. Even in an ideas business like Pixar, the idea is never the end its just the beginning, and creating an environment where ideas can find capable, empowered, competitive, and motivated people is the only way you win.

    Which is probably why there are so few companies like Pixar out in the wild - it's pretty easy to generate ideas, it's even easier to poke holes in other people's ideas, but the toughest nut to crack is to create the conditions where good ideas have a chance to emerge and have the potential to actually be improved upon when exposed to the larger community.

    Catch 'The Pixar Story' sometime, I think you will be glad you did.

    #NEXTCHAT: Is HR Tech Really Making Our Jobs Easier?

    Note: Today at 3:00PM ET, I will participate in SHRM's We Know Next #Nextchat, a Twitter conversation that SHRM has created to continue to explore important issues in the workplace. Below is the 'preview' post I wrote for today's #Nextchat.

    There is no doubt that HR Technology plays an increasingly important role inside our organizations today. Whether simple, in-house developed tools for tracking employees in a very small organization, more complex and comprehensive ‘enterprise grade’ systems in use by most large organizations, or any of the myriad of newer HR technology solutions that are deployed via the web, in a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model - the influence and importance of workplace technology continues to grow.

    But making sense of this fast-moving and changing market can be tough for the HR pro that has about a thousand other worries on their plate, and it can be easy, tempting, and expedient to only think about technology solutions as a kind of band-aid, or worse, as a necessary evil, deployed only to ensure essential processes like Payroll and Time Tracking get carried out correctly. And while today’s savvy HR professional knows there are a growing number of areas where new -- and existing -- solutions offer them, and the organization, fantastic opportunities to increase efficiency, gain better insights on their talent, and help leaders, managers, and employees make better decisions, it still can seem like a long climb -- and possibly an insurmountable one -- to get where they really want to be.

    For several years, I taught in an HR Master’s degree program conducting a kind of seminar, or overview, of HR Technology, a pretty wide and deep subject, that’s getting more complex with each passing year. While we don’t have a 13-week semester together to talk and learn from each other about the state of HR Technology, we will try to hit some of the more important questions, ideas, and concepts in the HR Technology space today.

    I’d like to see that the chat not be about specific solutions, really. Simply shouting out one product name or solution provider that you like or use, while it might make sense for you, often makes no sense at all, or doesn’t fit well in another organization. Rather, I think it will be more useful and beneficial to talk about the reasons behind why certain decisions were taken and certain projects were pursued, and to share more universal tips around getting a great return on your investment and supporting and promoting user adoption. That way we can focus on what matters more to HR professionals, and how to better think about, understand, and hopefully utilize HR Technology solutions in our organizations.

    I am looking forward to the chat on August 15, and I hope you will be able to join in!


    Please join @weknownext on August 15 at 3 p.m. ET for #Nextchat with Steve Boese (@SteveBoese). We’ll be chatting about HR Technology and will want to know your thoughts on the following questions:

    Q1. What is ‘HR Technology’ anyway? What does HR technology encompass, and how is that changing?

    Q2. What are some of the key considerations when making an investment in HR technology?

    Q3. What are some ways HR can realize the expected benefits of technology investments?

    Q4. How can the HR professional become better educated on the current HR technology market?

    Q5. What are some of the leading-edge developments in workplace technology that the HR professional should understand?

    Q6. What single HR or recruiting technology has made the largest positive impact in your organization?