Learning and working in teams

During the last two years at work I have learned, and have had to learn, a tremendous amount on different topics: negotiation, company organization and processes, presentation skills, new product development etc. Based on this experience I agree with David DeLong´s notion that learning on the job is not only a requirement in many today’s jobs, but also complex and potentially overwhelming.

Mr. DeLong’s description of a chief nursing officer’s struggles in getting to know the newest IT systems sounds familiar. Defining what one needs to know in order to be competent, let alone acquiring the knowledge and skills, is not always easy. In my experience this does not only lead to the occasional feeling of incompetence or inadequateness, but may also lead to a kind of paralysis: you do not take action, because you have the feeling that you never have enough information or understanding on the topic. This is well illustrated in one of Mr DeLong’s replies to a comment on his post: You helped make my argument when you wrote “It mystifies me how someone can write a post about learning without referring to…the neuroscience of learning.” The field of learning theory is massive, and if I had tried to cover enough bases to satisfy critics, I’d still be trying learn enough to write something. The point of my short post wasn’t about theories of how people learn, but about the phenomenon of needing to learn too much to be competent.

I think that part of the solution is working increasingly in teams and also being honest and open about the knowledge and skill gaps (and the resulting mistakes). In addition to defining the knowledge required from individuals and helping them acquire that knowledge, company management should also identify the required knowledge on an organizational level. By this I mean that the total pool of required knowledge should be clear, not only the required knowledge of single employees. By identifying the total required knowledge pool and combining that with the different employee networks inside a company, it should be possible to identify two things. First, what competences is the company missing as a whole? Second, what teams or projects are missing certain skills and how to import those skills in to the project?

Knowledge of individual employees can be used more wide-spreadedly through teams and also be disseminated through team work. This way a organization can have individuals with varying skills sets and all, or at least most, of the required total skills. Furthermore, disseminating and using knowledge through teams and team work addresses the aspects of learning on the job and learning sustainably, a point I am going to discuss in my next post.

All in all, as individuals we should have the courage to say two things, the first being “I do not know.” and the second “Could you please help me?”. This way we can bring individuals with the required skills in to teams, identify our knowledge and skill gaps and also foster learning to improve ourselves and our work.

 

Giving everyone something that nobody wants

Christmas is approaching, being only three weeks away. Last weekend my hometown had the annual Christmas fair and market with stands where mostly local craftsmen and agricultural producers sold their products. I paid a visit, in anticipation of finding something nice for the friends and family. I was looking for nothing special but was sure that I would know when I would find the right thing. After a quick 10-minute tour I had to leave with empty hands and thinking: why did I even go looking?

But I don’t even like chocolate

For some years I have been of the opinion that no one should give or a receive a gift that was not thought through. Just giving something out of social custom, without really thinking what to give and putting your heart into it, is something I see as waste, even counter-productive to a relationship. Gift giving with all its rituals is, I think, expected to deepen relationships and show mutual commitment. However, I think that this requires the gift’s being in some way tailored for the receiver, being chosen based on his character, tastes and interests.

Just getting a box of chocolates from the general grocer, so that you could give somebody something, does not include a personal element. It just forces the gift giver to acquire something that he may not even want to buy, and it also forces the receiver to accept something he probably does not want: time and money are wasted and what’s worse, is the potential damage done to the relationship, expressed in the wordless communication between the two persons. With an apologetic face the gift giver may be thinking: “Here, I got you something I know you do not like, and I hate having wasted money on it.” Meanwhile the receiver, with an awkward smile on his face, thinks: “I see you do not really know me, or at least you did not bother to think, what I really might want. Actually, your company would have been enough anyway.” Of course, the conversation on the surface follows the traditional lines, the gift and its features being praised by both sides. Does this sound familiar? Do you enjoy such situations? Do you think they improve your relationships?

Give some time, not something

I see gifts and gift giving as a physical manifestation of our feelings and thoughts, meaning that giving gifts without deeper thought is just passing an item on to another person. In the worst case, an item that nobody ever wanted or needed. On these grounds I have for some years now abstained from getting Christmas, or any other presents to anyone, unless I feel that the gift is somehow personalized. Sure, I might give a box of chocolates, but even then I have spent time choosing the right brand, selection, pack size and package, based on the receiving person’s preferences. I have even taken plain bread from my corner bakery as souvenirs, knowing that the receiver likes this one type of bread from this one bakery. And I can assure you, the reception has each and every time been sincerely warm and grateful.

Leaving the local Christmas fair last weekend with these thoughts, I again recalled a quote from Rick Warren: “Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it….It is not enough to just say relationships are important; we must prove it by investing time in them.” I must admit that I have not read any of Mr. Warren’s books, nor am I familiar with his other work or any affiliations, but the quote I find to be true. I believe that people and relationships are among most important things in our daily lives and that investing our time in  relationships is essential for leading a good and happy life. Therefore, putting thought into gifts and investing time in selecting them shows your commitment to a relationship and is a way to nurture them.

I hope we could give a little more of our time and maybe a little less of all that garbage that gets hauled around the world especially during Christmas time. I am not against giving gifts, cheap or expensive, classical or modern, unique or mass-produced, novel or clichés. I am against giving gifts that were not chosen for a specific person and personality, but merely grabbed by a hand lacking thought only to be forwarded to another one lacking gratitude. If you cannot find a gift, maybe you can just give someone your time in its purest form: spend time with your closest ones, cook a meal with them, go for a walk. Be there and show that you care.

My revolution

My last, and already long due, blog post of the LYL blog challenge is about revolution: What revolution will I lead?

Seeing the question, I am already thinking if I even want to lead a revolution. Maybe just a small upheaval, or a demonstration, or just a harmless gang? At the same time I am confident, thanks to putting some thoughts on the proverbial paper, that I might actually be able to lead a revolution. The question just remains, which one?

Based on my elevator pitch and the difference I want to make, my revolution might be about empowering people through collaboration, getting people help one another more and work towards common goals. I know, this sound very far-reaching, abstract and more like a UN statement, but at the moment that’s all I have. I will work to get a clearer picture so that I can and eventually will  start my revolution. Maybe the goal will change, I do not know yet. In any case, I will not wait for a final, clear formulation, but just for enough to start a revolution I want to start. In the meantime, gaining experience on working together with people, bringing them together and encouraging them to reach together for common goals should give me the confidence and some of the skills I will need later.

The difference I want to make

As one of the last writing tasks of the LYL blog challenge we were asked to write about the change we want to make in the world. Reflecting on my elevator pitch I wrote earlier, the change I want to make would go along the lines of making a better society where everyone wants and can help others as permitted by their own capacity. I want to see a society with people working together to achieve more than anyone alone could achieve. Of this last point I was reminded just this weekend, as our gymnastics and sports club threw our bi-annual show comprising of acting, acrobatics, dance and other kinds of entertainment without forgetting food and beverages. Being not only on stage but also behind the scenes showed me, how enthusiastic and hard-working people with a common goal and a leader can achieve whatever they set out to do.

Having experienced this team-spirit and seen its results, I am sure that using more of the same approach in our society and politics we could achieve much more and at the same time also with less resources, be they natural or human. Sure, we are working towards common goals, but still we have too much antagonism that prevents us from working together to our full capacity. How this ideal will transform into a crystal clear goal and action, I have yet to define. On a personal level, the first step for me is to stay and become even more engaged in our gymnastics and sports club, and just do things together with friends. I believe that taking even one step in the right direction helps more than trying to plan out the whole trip before making a move.

I will keep doing things, learning and trying to be a zero. I am confident that the goal will become clear during this process and I can take the next, bigger step, when the time comes.

Being grateful and becoming happy

In his Ted talk Brother David Steindl-Rast advices us to be greatful in order to become happy. I watched this talk the first time a bit under a year ago and applied its lessons. Each morning I would get up and just decide to be grateful, even without a specific reason, for just being here and having this opportunity called life. This kind of “self-deception” helped me feel good and become happy. Feeling grateful made me look at things with a new perspective, helping me find reasons for my pre-existing gratefulness, thus inducing happiness. Pretty quickly it was easy to find reasons for being grateful everywhere: having a beautiful scenery on my way to work, having a cup of warm coffee after getting in from the cold winter weather and so on. Through gratefulness I was feeling happy, not the other way around.

Recently I noticed having forgotten this habit of starting the day with being grateful. I would be a bit down, occasionally moody and not feeling really happy. Now reflecting on this, I viewed the Ted talk again and will again concentrate on being grateful and through that becoming happy.

Enjoying single moments, coming as they are, has helped me to feel happy. I encourage you to try it too. Just be grateful and you will see, how the smallest of things become reasons for being grateful and bring you happiness. Be grateful for each opportunity to do whatever you want. As my university professor Esa Saarinen used to say (I suppose he still does): “Give the chance an opportunity.”

When a chance knocks on your door, be grateful for having been offered such a chance to do something. If you decide to seize the chance, to give it an opportunity, be grateful for having the strength and courage to grasp it, to try something. If you grasp the opportunity and fail in your pursuits, be grateful for the lessons you will have received. Be proud of taking action and exposing yourself.  If you seize an opportunity and succeed, be grateful for the fruits of your work and that of other’s who have helped you succeed. No matter where you end up in your endeavors, be grateful and you will become happy.

Be grateful, grasp chances and become happy. Try it, give this thought an opportunity.

My elevator pitch

Being inspired by the blog challenge from Living Your Legend, I have created my own elevator pitch. Although it is a bit longer than a regular elevator ride, I also hope it to be more informative, more tangible and more entertaining.

The three questions I want to answer with my elevator talk are: What am I building? What do I care about? What am I excited about?

I am building a person, who is active in his own small town community, helping organize great events and letting others experience the small everyday moments of happiness. I am building a person who helps people learn and grow as persons.

I care about people and their well-being. Seeing someone smile, hearing them say thank you, even in their own head, makes me happy, makes me want to do more for them. Knowing that I do matter, that I can help make a difference, keeps me going further. I also care about myself, knowing that I have to help myself before being able to help others.

I am excited about sports, about nature, about good books, about writing. I am excited about hearing people’s wild, even crazy ideas and making them come true. Unfortunately I have lost some of this characteristic after my university times, but I can still feel the flame and hope to bring it again to its full force. Being unconventional, unpredictable and uncommonly good is an exciting and challenging ideal.

Reading the lines above, I would formulate the short version of my elevator pitch as follows: “I want to keep my own town community alive and bring its people joy through sports. The sincere joy on peoples’ faces makes me happy, and helping people learn will enable them to grow into even better persons, personalities and citizens. My playful attitude and integrity should serve me well in doing this.”

 

I am proud of trying, even if I do not succeed

First I have a confession to make. I started my blog as part of this year’s blog challenge from Living Your Legend. Another confession is that I have already fallen behind on the schedule, not having been writing every day as prescribed. Nevertheless, I am proud of having taken this step to start trying to write on a regular basis and also eventually participating and engaging in discussions. I have never been the first to say my opinion in a discussion, not to mention starting a one. Therefore this blog is for me a step forward in taking part and contributing to the community and society.

I feel do feel strongly about some societal issues and feel that I might have a lot to give in tis area. Let’s see if this blog is only the first in a long series leading to a deeper participation of social activity. At least I am already participating more in the activities of my local sports club, actually considering volunteering as the club treasurer for 2016, something I have done before. Yet, now in a new country this would be another small step in building a new social network and establishing friendships. It is also a way to try my wings in a sports-related environment and on working with children as an instructor. Who knows, maybe I will find there a new passion.

After becoming acquainted with Living Your Legend, for about two months ago, I have read many testimonies where people have told about their procrastination and hesitation to seek their passion and change the direction of their lives when they have been dissatisfied, even miserable. These testimonies also contain success stories, where people have started to look for their true passion, and already that process has made them happier and feeling better about themselves. Now I have also started my search, partially with the help of this blog that I wish to use as a tool for documenting and reflecting my thoughts and feelings.

At the moment I am proud of taking the step towards my dream and passion, whatever they may be. Just actively looking for them is on its own something worth doing, since I have a clear goal and meaning for the actions I take. I hope that those of you, unsure of their direction in life, will also take the step towards finding your passion and purpose. The trip will be worth it. Not trying is failure without alternatives. Trying and not succeeding is not failure, just success in a different form as initially envisioned.

On showing and experiencing gratitude

I presume that everyone thanks someone at least once a day for something. Living a bit under two years in central Europe now, I have learned a culture of saying “please” and “thank you” even in the most mundane occasions and actions. In the beginning it caught my attention, since such frequent expression of gratitude is not prevalent in my home country. However, during the last six months it has become a second nature to me and I have noted how it makes the social interaction much pleasurable and smoother, when people thank each other for almost everything.*

I also get thanked a lot everyday, be it a quick response to an email, taking five minutes to help a colleague spontaneously, or just giving a simple yes or no answer to a question, presented as passing a colleague in the hallway. I believe and hope that people thank me for my sincerity and integrity, for being honest and standing true to my word. That is something I was taught as a child, something that is the main motive and motor for many of my actions.

Sincere gratitude and sincerely helping others make each day a great one.

 

*Someone might argue that saying thank you for everything reduces the value of the expression and the idea of gratitude. I would argue, however, that people expressing their gratitude for nearly everything are brought up to actually be grateful for everything they get and also express it openly. Therefore I do believe that this custom is an expression of sincere gratitude and helps foster social interaction, making it also easier to approach people and ask them for help.

Networking, food and relationships

Why does “networking” bother me?

Building our professional network is often talked about and the importance of networks has multiple reasons. With good networks you can find help to many problems, shorter and more uncertain careers require networks for seamless transition between jobs and networks also help you to improve your skill set and stay competitive on the job market.

Although the many benefits of wide social networks and networking are obvious, I have always found the word “networking” somewhat repulsive. To me networking often sounds like the act of trying to get to exchange a few words with as many people as possible during a cocktail party and trying to make your face stick in their minds, the final goal being the broadening of the circle of people who could possibly help you. What bothers me here, is approaching people as tools, as means to fulfill my own goals. But that is hardly a basis for building any long-lasting relationships, especially if those people are to help you sometime in the future. I personally prefer a more Kantian approach, where I get to know a person because I take genuine interest in him as a person. A second aspect is possible cooperation in some field, but even then it is about me helping the other person or doing something together, not trying to extract value from him.

Networking is often done informally, meaning that it takes place alongside some other activity, like lunch or sports. In business, networking quite naturally happens over a cup of coffee or lunch. Until recently I was never really comfortable with networking over lunch. Somehow the idea of getting to know a person over lunch was unappealing, but just a few weeks ago I understood what was bothering me.

Networking vs. relationship building

Networking is about building relationships, but I would call networking as the first phase in building and maintaining a relationship, the initial test drive, if you will. For me networking is the initial meeting with another person, nothing more. It’s about establishing a new node. If that succeeds I have “networked”, but from there on I have to build a relationship.

When meeting a new person, it is natural to be more alert than among friends. The discussion starts from very general topics and the parties seek to find a common denominator. Doing something this over lunch is for me very unnatural. Sharing food is actually a somewhat intimate social interaction, even if both parties are having their own dedicated meal. Nevertheless, the symbolic act of sharing a meal indicates, at least for me, an existing bond between the persons. Now how am I supposed to feel comfortable or secure sharing a meal with a stranger? When my primal instincts tell me not to do it, any deeper relationship building can hardly take place. On the other hand, if I already know the other person, sharing food is a good way to deepen the relationship.

Three stages of sharing food for relationship building

When meeting a stranger, one question is, if there is any basis for a deeper relationship. If sharing a lunch on the very first meeting, it might be that both parties would after the initial sentences rather concentrate on their food and have the meeting over as soon as possible. If this is the case, the sharing of food is even more awkward and, if both have the intent of finishing their meal, the whole meeting can be a disaster. Therefore something less intimate and flexible would be my first choice for the first meeting, say, a cup of coffee. Over a coffee cup you can get to know a person and still have the opportunity to prolong the meeting, if both feel like it. After the initial networking phase, or node creation, sharing lunch would be a good option for deepening the relationship. Between strangers and casual acceptances I would see these two alternatives as good, complementary ways for building your social network.

When with friends, I often lover to cook a good meal from scratch. It is very relaxing and strengthens a relationship, when you cook your meal from the beginning and share it with friends. During cooking you also have time to discuss anything you like, and the atmosphere is allowing for even very deep discussions.  You can also adjust the length of the meeting by choosing an appropriate dish to be cooked.

Summary

Networking is only the first step in building relationships, and networking should take place on the basis of being genuinely interested in people and wanting to get to know them and help them. Food and the many rituals associated with it are a great way to broaden your social network and deepen your relationships. Just pick the right ritual based on the relationship. In short:

  • sip coffee with strangers and build new nodes
  • enjoy lunch with acquaintances and deepen the relationships
  • cook with friends and foster your companionships

 

 

My blog: learn from others and be a zero

Dear reader,

After enough thinking I got into doing and started my own blog. The purpose of my blog is to get me in the habit of writing regularly. I believe that regularly writing down and publishing thoughts and ideas helps to more objectively evaluate and cultivate them. I am hoping to engage in good discussion with you and learning from you and your thoughts.

Another purpose of this blog is provide me with a platform for publishing fiction. I like to write and on occasion and come up with a short story every once in a while. I figured that getting them out to the public would help me improve my writing.

These two goals obviously require a large contribution from other people, meaning that I also have to participate actively in the discussions on other blogs and forums to have people a reason to notice me. For that I have no definite plan yet, rather I am taking a step at a time and seeing where I end up.

At the moment I am just “aiming to be a zero”, as Chris Hadfield puts it in his book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and aspiring to become “a plus one”.

Best regards

Mikko