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    Entries in career (81)

    Tuesday
    Sep162014

    Job Titles of the Future #11 - Minecraft Coach

    Directing you to this super piece on the Library of Economics and Liberty site, (Boy, that is a NAME for a site. I have no idea what this site is really about, someone just forwarded me the link), titled 'Will Minecraft Coaching be a 21st Century Job?'

    In the piece, author Art Carden runs down some of his and his kids' recent experiences playing and building in the interactive game Minecraft, which has been in the news this week more for the impeding acquisition of Mojang, the company that created and owns Minecraft by enterprise behemoth Microsoft.

    For the uninitiated, (or, people that are not regularly around kids from ages 6 to about 11 or 12), "Minecraft allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world. Other activities in the game include exploration, gathering resources, crafting, and combat. Multiple gameplay modes are available, including survival modes where the player must acquire resources to build and maintain his or her health and hunger, a creative mode where players have unlimited resources to build and the ability to fly, and an adventure mode where players can create custom maps for other players to play", (source Wikipedia).

    In Mr. Carden's piece, he speculates that soon 'Minecraft Coaches' will be a thing, or said differently, a service that parents will seek out for their kids, much like parents today spend (sometimes) significant amounts of money on sports, performing arts, or academic coaches and tutors for their kids. Those kinds of advanced levels of instruction and expertise that parents obtain for their kids are only partly about helping the kids to achieve their potential in these endeavours, they are also often investments in what parents hope might be a future career for their kids, or at least a shot at academic or athletic college scholarships.

    I think Mr. Carden is probably more right than wrong about this. The debate about whether or not video games, particularly ones that require advanced problem solving, team building, strategy development, patience, and leadership skills, can be beneficial for kids (and adults), and serve as a kind of both a development tool and predictor of career success, is largely being won by the gamers and their supporters.

    Harvard Business Review recently asked "Should You Put World of Warcraft on Your Resume?", (they answered 'Yes' by the way). Certainly, you could have substituted 'Minecraft' for 'World of Warcraft' in the HBR piece and come to the same conclusion.

    And if Minecraft or World of Warcraft or any other advanced video game does indeed become an item of value on a candidate's profile, then certainly, an industry of 'coaches' is likely to emerge.

    If Minecraft can help get little Joey into Yale, then there will be parents willing to pay to help make that happen.

    And that is why 'Minecraft Coach' qualifies for the latest installment of SFB's 'Job Titles of the Future'.

    Tuesday
    Aug262014

    You should never be surprised by someone that works for you

    Well, probably not 'never', but certainly not very much, and not when the 'surprise' is that the employee is really, really, really talented at something related either to their actual job or more generally to your business.

    The context of the notion that you, ('you' being a manager, leader, business owner, etc.), should have a strong sense of both the capabilities, and more importantly perhaps, the potential of the folks on your team. I know, not exactly some kind of breakthrough idea, right? HR and business leaders have been plotting folks on the 9-box Performance/Potential grid for years and years. In fact, there are at least a dozen really cool software programs that will help you automate and streamline and enhance the entire 9-box exercise.

    But so what, really? None of that matters if there aren't strategies in place to actually action the results of the exercise.

    Here's the specific example that I heard discussed recently on of all things, Bill Simmons' BS Report podcast, which is usually about sports topics. On this particular episode, Simmons and his guest were discussing TV talk shows, specifically the Daily Show on Comedy Central.

    Last Summer, The Daily Show's host John Stewart took an extended sabbatical from the show in order to work on a movie project. In his stead, Comedy Central slotted show contributor John Oliver in Stewart's place to host the show for a few months while Stewart was on leave.

    And long story short, Oliver killed it. He was funny, clever, and once his extended run was complete filling in for Stewart, he has suddenly in demand. He had many more options than perhaps he would have had he not been given this kind of showcase opportunity from Comedy Central. But once the guest run was completed, Comedy Central, perhaps surprised by how well Oliver performed in the 'top' job at the Daily Show, was left kind of stuck - at the they did not have a similar, high-profile kind of role to offer Oliver, and as was brought up by Bill Simmons on the podcast, they did not have Oliver contractually locked up into continuing on with Comedy Central at all.

    Long story short, Oliver moved on to HBO where his new show, 'Last Week Tonight with John Oliver', has launched to critical acclaim and pretty significant buzz (amongst folks who care about these things).

    And Comedy Central is left wondering just how they managed to let Oliver walk, particularly when just a few months later another network star, Stephen Colbert, announced he was leaving to eventually become the replacement for CBS legend David Letterman on his talk show.

    In theory, better planning and understanding of their talent on Comedy Central's part might have led to a much more beneficial outcome for the network all around. Their #1 star Stewart, gets a needed break to re-charge and explore some important personal projects, a highly capable team player, Oliver, gets a chance to prove himself, and eventually slot into the #2 role, Colbert's when he leaves.

    Except that is not, in fact, what is happening, and Comedy Central is left wondering how they let Oliver go to (possibly) become a bigger star somewhere else.

    Hey, it happens. Maybe Comedy Central did know just how talented Oliver was, and just did not care that much. That is pretty bad.

    But maybe they were actually surprised by how good he was, and if so, that is even worse, because if you are really managing and engaging with talent, and not just playing with names on a 9-box, you should never really be surprised by someone that works for you. 

    Friday
    Aug082014

    You have to get lighter as you get older

    Recent buzz around NBA circles, (no, this post is not ANOTHER one just about basketball, I promise - just hang with it for a second), has been the off-season weight loss of superstar player LeBron James, (see the new, slimmer LBJ from a crop of one of LBJ's Instagram pics for some visual evidence).

    The general line of thinking around LeBron's trim down this off season is that as NBA players get older (and LeBron is not 'old' in the normal sense, but he does have 10+ years in the NBA at this point), carrying less weight helps to keep knees, ankles, backs, etc. less likely to break down over the course of a long season. It is a pretty simple and obvious realization for basketball players and anyone else really - the less bulk you are dragging around makes it easier on the other parts of the body that are tasked with hauling that bulk. And for us non-NBA players, being lighter makes it infinitely easier to just navigate daily life - hustling through airports, getting in and out of your car, tossing the ball around with little Timmy or the frisbee to your adorable little dog. Being lighter just helps sometimes.

    But I think that advice, You have to get lighter as you get older, doesn't just apply in that literal, physical sense, it also has some value in a mental/emotional way as well. We are not just carrying around with us the physical accumulation of all the bad decisions we might have made at the buffet line or the donut shop, most of us our lugging around a pretty sizable collection of guilt or resentment or disappointment or even clinging for too long to some kind of romanticized version of the past that was probably never that romantic back then, and is certainly not ever coming back even if it did exist once. At work, we might be carrying around the excess weight of outdated processes, legacy technologies, and a history of 'that is the way we do things around here' that may no longer have value or relevance to what you and the organization really needs today.

    Letting go of things, both physical as in a weight loss or with cutting loose material possessions like cars or houses or old clothes, or simply dropping bad habits as a way to move forward is not some kind of new idea or concept, and certainly not one I claim any specific insight towards. It's been talked about and done for ages. But I do think in some ways modern technology and social networks and our tendency to want/need/have to be always connected, makes letting go a little bit harder than it used to be. It seems like sometimes the digital connections (combined with the ease of which most of us can be contacted via these networks), make getting lighter harder than in used to be, and harder than it should be. Someone is always out there on the the end of their iPhone and is either trying to actively hold us back or is just making it more difficult to move forward because we know they're watching. And that kind of stinks.

    But putting that aside, I also wanted to mention that LeBron looks really happy in most of these latest 'Slimmer LBJ' pictures. And while it is easy to say that LeBron should be happy all the time, after all he is a mega-rich superstar athlete, he is underneath it all a person like anyone else. He probably isn't happy all the time, even if most of the rest of us can't relate to that. He also, like most of the rest of us in our careers, need to make changes and adjustments to prepare for the next phase of his career that he is moving towards, one where he will soon be an aging player that needs to adapt to remain on top.  

    If getting lighter as you get older and to move forward works for the most famous athlete in the world it will probably work for you too. 

    Have a great weekend!

    Thursday
    Jul312014

    How far are you willing to go to get better?

    At the (continuing) risk of alienating blog readers who are not the least interested in the connections between sports and HR and the workplace (come on, get with it people), I felt compelled to go back to the NBA well one more time to share a sliver of a fantastic piece in Grantland about the Atlanta Hawks' Kyle Korver.

    For the uninitiated, Korver is a 33 year old veteran player about to enter his 12th season in the NBA, after completing 4 years as a college player at Creighton. He has played for 4 different teams in his career, and was notably traded before ever playing a game in the NBA by the Nets, the team that originally drafted him to the 76ers in exchange for $125,000 - enough cash to fund the Nets' summer league team and buy some office equipment. He then bounced around the league somewhat, making stops in Philly, Utah, and Chicago before joining the Hawks in 2012.

    Since becoming a Hawk, and in particular since the Hawks have adopted a more open, fast-paced, spread the court and shoot 3-pointers type of offensive style, Korver has enjoyed something almost unheard of with professional basketball players on the wrong side of 30 - he is getting better. Korver's scoring average, shooting percentages, and most notably his 3-point shooting percentages have all gone up each of the last 3 seasons, just when most players his age are declining to a point where few even remain in the league.

    To what can you attribute this remarkable late-career renaissance for Korver?

    Probably to three things, two that are basketball specific but have relevance to pretty much any kind of workplace, and one other that is strictly a personal development play, and too has relevance to anyone looking to improve their performance in their job.

    One - The league in general has adopted a style of play that suits Korver's natural talents more so than it did even just 5 or 7 years ago. Teams are favoring a more open game, are spacing the floor to free up 3 point shooting, and relying less on dominant center oriented offense. Through a combination of rule changes and a focus on analytics that values a high percentage 3 point shot over almost any other kind of shot, Korver has found himself a valuable niche in the current NBA. For the rest of us, the lesson is about finding that correct industry or type of work that fits with what we are naturally good at or inclined to enjoy. It sounds really simple, and it should be, but we all have probably spent longer than we care to admit in jobs or at companies that were not 'right.'

    Two - The Hawks, Korver's current team, and their head coach John Budenholzer are installing specific patterns and plays to take advantage of Korver's skills, and that more often than not place him in a position where he or his teammates have the best chance for success. Often non-star players do not get much opportunity to showcae their talents, as most NBA teams orient their game plans around the strengths and preferences of their star players. It is not that role players like Korver are not capable, it is just that they often get limited opportunities. Here is a quote from the Grantland piece:

    No coach has unleashed the full breadth of Korver’s game like Budenholzer. Korver isn’t a traditional pick-and-roll player; he can’t dribble the ball 25 feet to the rim, juking dudes along the way. But Budenholzer has tailored a sort of hybrid species of pick-and-roll to his secret star — a high-speed curling action in which Korver takes a pitch or a handoff, probes the defense with a dribble or two, and makes the next pass from there.

    This is the classic, 'never get a chance to show what I can do' problem that happens in many workplaces. You can either get stuck as too much of a specialist, thus becoming too valuable for the one thing that you do well, but might not be too excited about, or you can fight and push and volunteer for projects that will simultaneously energize you and raise your overall value. Even if you work for the man, sometimes you have to make the man work for you.

    Three - Korver probably works harder at getting better at his job than most of us work at getting better at ours. Work ethic is sometimes a tough thing to assess and then to value. Often it isn't about the level of effort that goes into doing the actual work, in Korver's case actually playing the games, but rather what someone is willing to do when they are 'off the clock' so to speak. What are they working on? What are they reading and researching? How far are they willing to push and explore in order to improve? One more bit from the Grantland piece shows what this means to a guy like Korver:

    Korver is also willing to test himself in unconventional ways. Elliott introduced him to misogi, the Japanese annual purification ritual some athletes have adapted into a once-a-year endurance challenge. Korver and Elliott stand-up paddled 25 miles from the Channel Islands to Santa Barbara last year. Korver may have one-upped himself with themisogi he did this summer.

    Big-wave surfers build lung capacity by holding a large rock, sinking to the bottom of the ocean, and running short distances on the ocean floor. Korver and four friends decided to go back to the Channel Islands, find an 85-pound rock, and run a collective 5K holding the thing underwater. Each participant would dive down, find the rock, run with it as long as he could, and drop it for the next guy to find. Those waiting their turn wore weight belts and tread in water between five and 10 feet deep.

    It took five hours. “We were honestly worried about blacking out,” Korver says. They were also worried about sharks.

    “He wants to turn over every stone, and try every possible thing that might make him better — as a player and a person,” Elliott says.

    Get that? A group 5K, underwater, while carrying a 85 pound rock and hoping you don't black out and/or get eaten by a shark. That is work ethic. That is wanting to get better. That is the kind of approach, in combination with the right system and organization, that allows a 33 year old shooter to keep getting better when decades of NBA history says he should be getting worse.

    How far are you willing to go to get better? 

    Friday
    Jun132014

    How far would you commute each day for your dream job?

    How far would you be willing to commute, (to keep it simple let's assume we are talking about commuting via driving your personal car), in order to work at your dream company/job?

    I have to admit it is not a question I have personally thought about very much these last few years as my 'commute', if you could call it that, has typically been taking a short flight of stairs to my lower-level office/lair/Fortress of Solitude.  But lots of folks, heck still the large majority I think, are making the pretty much daily grind to an office, store, warehouse or whatnot. Despite how much we like to talk about the nature and practice of work and workplaces changing, for most of us 'work' remains a place we physically go to just about every day.

    So how far of a drive is too far?

    I only thought about the question this week after reading a post on the LinkedIn blog titled, Inside Story: LinkedIn’s VP of Mobile on Driving in the Snow, Houzz and Anticipatory Computing. I clicked through to the piece because of the 'Anticipatory Computing' phrase, that just sounded really interesting and cool, but as it turns out the more interesting nugget from the post was about how this VP from LinkedIn (Joff Redfern) had a ridiculous commute his first four years with the company.

    How ridiculous? Check this Q and A from the piece:

    Q: What’s not on your LinkedIn Profile?

    A: During my first four years at LinkedIn, I had one of the longest commutes. I lived in Lake Tahoe, California, but worked out of headquarters in Mountain View, California. It’s about 250 miles each way, so I put over 110,000 miles on my car. That’s the equivalent of driving around the world more than four times. It gave me lots of time to think and one of the benefits is that I’m pretty awesome at driving in the snow. 

    Did I read that correctly? 250 miles each way to get to the office? Even taking into account the fact that there was probably no way Mr. Redfern was making a 500 mile round trip every single work day, even still, just a couple of times a week that kind of a grind will be almost impossible to sustain.

    How someone could manage a commute that crazy, and not go insane is kind of an interesting question I think, and you could substitute '500 mile commute' with, 'Has to work 18-hour days for a year in order to ship our first product'. I think there are at least three key elements you'd have to have in place in order to make it work:

    1. The work itself has to be an ideal (for you) combination of challenge/excitement/opportunity/reward that will set you up perfectly for the next 10-15 years of your career such that you simply have to bite the bullet and devote yourself to that work for a year or two (or four).

    2. You either have to have just about zero responsibilities outside of work (no spouse/significant other/kids/dog etc.) that might either literally starve (in the case of a dog) or be starved for attention (every other person in your life), since you are working all of the time. Or, you have someone in your life who has decided that they will take care of everything outside of work for you while you are working all of the time. I suspect it would be really tough for anyone to pull off a regular 500 mile commute if they had a spouse, a couple of kids maybe, at home that they actually wanted to see awake once in a while.

    3.  You have to be (reasonably) healthy before taking on such a grind. The combination of working crazy long hours and a long commute will start to break you down physically (and likely mentally too). You will eventually start eating poorly, not getting enough exercise, definitely not enough sleep and that combination starts to take a toll. If you are not set up to reasonably handle that kind of physical punishment you are more likely to end up in an ER somewhere than accepting a fat bonus check or a bunch of stock options for your hard work. Everyone can handle a long day or two or maybe five, but keep stacking them up, week after week and month after month? Good luck with that.

    So how far are you willing to commute for your dream job?

    Ok, that's it - I'm out for the weekend.

    Happy Father's Day to all the Dads!