Explain It Simply…Please

January 25, 2010

Why?

When people are asking you to explain things to them, they are either testing you because they already know or they need to be taught.  If it’s the first case, they probably aren’t really listening to what you’re saying, but are just waiting for you to say something wrong so they can go on the attack.  If it’s the second case however, they legitimately want to learn from you.

Now I’m going to work on the assumption that you as the teacher and they as the teachee (Did I just create a new word?) are probably only going to want to run through things once if possible.  I know this personally bugs me.

So I suppose then it’s important to understand one of the most important things when teaching someone something new.

Obviously this guy knew what he was doing.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Albert Einstein

So ask yourself, do you really understand what is going on?  Before launching into an educating session, perhaps it’s best to re-evalute what you actually know and understand about the topic.  It will probably save you hopelessly confusing your poor victim.  But it’s tricky.  It’s what one blogger refers to as the ‘Curse of Knowledge‘.

So know your topic from the ground up, then teach in that direction.

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The decision you make at the end of your university/college studies will ultimately decide your entire future.

Let’s go even earlier, the end of high school?  The end of earlier schooling?

When written like this to me, it does sounds pretty silly.  But why do I think this?  I suppose all along it’s always been about delaying what ‘you’ll be when you grow up’.  Choosing my subjects in high school, choosing my subjects at uni, choosing my internship, choosing my rotations within my graduate program.  All along it seems as though I’ve been putting it off.

Is it a generational thing?  Talking to a lot of my friends and colleagues who are about my age, they think the same things.  We don’t know what we want.  But we do know that we want it soon.  And we definately know what we don’t want.

I lot of information I read says follow you passion, do what you like, make your dreams.  I think this is a load of rubbish…if…you don’t know what these actually are.  There is only so far a list can take you.

I suppose all this is to do with an inability to make some long term plans.  This scares me and my generation.  We are the adaptable, changing and fluctuating generation.  Long term doesn’t figure into the equation.  I don’t know if this is a bad thing or not.

So I might have a go at drawing up some medium term goals.  Perhaps this is my short term fix to a long term problem.

Curse of the Audit Trail

September 3, 2009

Being a young person in the work place does have advantages. Making mistakes is expected.

I’ve found that although people who have been working in an area for a long time may not make as many mistakes, they can certainly take a long time to get something done. Why?

“Please confirm.”

The dreaded sign off to an email. I find people these days can be too scared to make a decision themselves, so every step is double and triple checked with someone else.

An example from this morning. I had to close some accounts. Rather than getting someone to confirm they were zero, I did it myself. I then sent along the email.
A – Please close these 4 accounts.
B – Only three of those are redundant. Please confirm you want all four shut.
A – No, just the old ones (I copied and pasted the ones she had listed as redundant)
B – Sorry, I gave you the wrong list. Here is the amended one. Please confirm.
A – Yes, that looks fine, please close
B – I get a warning that the balance isn’t zero. Please confirm you want me to proceed.
A – (After a phone call to her, where I found out she had gone to the system and seen it was zero) – Yes
B – Done thanks

Argggg.

Technology Guru By Default

August 30, 2009

I’m Generation Y.  We’re the generation that understands technology.  We’re the generation that uses technology.  Are we?  Anyone else ever feel the pressure of being asked to provide a technological solution to something and having next to know idea where to start?  But then, somehow, we are able to deliver.

Well fear not, I’ve stumbled across a great www.xkcd.com picture at this blog.

tech_support_cheat_sheetThis cartoon perfectly describes how we as young professionals seem to be able to get those results.  But perhaps we shouldn’t be telling everyone about this.

Let’s take advantage of it.

Becoming the tech guru in your organisation is another source of professional advantage.  Besides the sometimes time consuming questions, there probably isn’t much wrong with being the ‘go-to’ person on these issues.

So as a young professional, if you’re not the default tech guru, follow this simple diagram and help out those poor, confused other colleagues.

Young professionals generally aren’t the boss.  We’re at the start of our career and have to follow the instructions of those in charge.  I’m involved in a graduate program which has a couple of rotations over two years.  Over this time, I’ve had the opportunity to experience several different management styles.

  1. The Phantom Manager – They are there, but not there.  These managers are it in name only.  They don’t control you, don’t guide you and generally don’t make their presence felt.  Approach – Continually and actively seek feedback.
  2. Outcomes Manager – “Get it done.”  I’ve had managers who seem to not worry about how you get it done, as long as it is.  This can be dangerous.  Don’t break rules that may get you in trouble.  Approach – Explain and justify why you don’t feel comfortable doing it.
  3. Manager Manager – This manager loves to manage.  Got an issue?  Meeting.  New week?  Meeting.  Meeting?  Meeting.  Approach – Refuse meetings without a purpose.  Focus on short term outcomes.
  4. Worker Manager – Are they your boss?  Sometimes it can be hard to tell with these managers.  They do your work, don’t delegate and generally fail to manage. Approach – Seek guidance from them to encourage management of you.

There are numerous posts, research, textbooks and university courses about the different types of management styles.  Over the next few weeks I’ll talk about the different approaches and my experiences of them in the work place.

Ever find yourself drifting along, enjoying the moment, then getting suddenly snapped back into reality by realising that someone has been speaking to you for quite some time?

Two options.

  1. Fake it through.  This is the common school kid trick.  If you can manage to repeat back to them the last thing they said to you, you must have been listening.  Right?
  2. Confess.  “Sorry, I got lost for a moment there.  You were talking about such and such…”

Obviously it would be better to avoid these awkward little predicaments in the first place.  So for my pearl of wisdom, over the next few days try out a few different listening techniques.

  • Repeat back what has been covered at the end of the conversation in a mini, one to two line summary.
  • Pause after they’ve finished speaking.  It shows (or at least gives the illusion) that you’re considering the next move.
  • Engage in active listening.  A massively important skill.  For a pretty good summary of this check out this blog.

People spend a lot of their time at work.  Too much maybe.  But do we have to like the people around us?  As we are hanging around our colleagues up to 50% of our day, casual conversation comes in.  Not necessarily being a bad thing, it can sometimes put people in awkward situations.

Now I’m not saying that making friends with people at work is bad.  Far from it.  Being more social with the people around you can definately be rewarding.  What I’ve found though is that I may not have anything in common with the people around me except we do similar work.  Moreover, they may do things that we don’t like.  And that can be trouble.efin742l

Different ages.  Different backgrounds.  Different interests.  Different.  And different around each other today creates, for me at least, well just awkward times.  Idle chit chat about the weekend.  The weather.  Now I know what you’re thinking, that diversity is great in the workplace.  It is…but for work purposes.  If you’re trying to have a social conversation though, there needs to be some type of common ground.

So I suppose my answer is that we can talk about our common ground, which is work.  It may not be exact things, but general terms about trends in the industry, movements around the floor or what’s interesting in their cubicle.  Or you may even look for things that you can get involved with together outside of work.  But I definately don’t stress anymore that I might not be getting along with the people around me beyond a professional level.

I haven’t been working long, but I know that office people love to talk.  They love it!  If people think that you’ll listen to them, eventually they’ll tell you a lot of things.  Some of these things they may regret telling you later and some you may wish that you hadn’t heard.  I think that though it may be tough to avoid being the ‘hearer’, it’s a pretty straight forward job to avoid being the ‘talker’.  Easier said than done, I know I’ve definately been guilty of it.

I think the line lies between gossiping, small talk and networking.  Check out this picture I stole from this blog.

gossip Is what you’re saying worthwhile?  Is it value adding?  Is there an actual point to the discussion?

Then I wouldn’t call it  ‘networking’.

Is what you’re saying based on little fact?  Is it malicious?  Would you say it to your boss?  Your other colleagues?

Then I wouldn’t call it ‘small-talk’.

I don’t think you want to be answering no to any of these and then try and kid yourself that you’re engaging anything other than some form of gossip.  You may not even need to ask yourself these pretty vague questions.  Generally people realise that their gossiping, but sometimes it comes down to what I was talking about at the beginning (people just love to talk !)

Each of these three ‘methods’ are a huge topic.  I suppose I’ll address them individually in the future.  Generally I think it’s better to tend on the side of silence and not give these office gossips any more ammunition than they have already.  You never know when you may become the next victim!

It’s the buzz at the moment.  Web 2.0.  Social networking.  You know all the sites, I don’t have to list them again.  Though check out this blog post if you want to know more.

What I want to talk about is the restriction of them within the corporate world.  The pace of their development seems to have outstripped the policies controlling them, at least within the world I work in.  Other corporations seem to have been a little more foresighted with their creation.  Nonetheless, can documentation governing the use of a media platform ever hope to possibly keep up with something that is continually evolving? At the moment no.  So at my work, in some regional areas, there is a blanket blocking.

I can understand it.  And I believe it comes from higher up, that is external regulators are demanding we adhere to seemingly outdated restrictions.  Other types of business’ seem to be able to have a bit more control.  Another blogger has made some excellent points about the creation of policies being dictated by the employees that will be subjected to them.

So what can I, and we, do about it?  I’m currently involved in a pilot study at my job where the aim is to bring these collaboration tools into the workspace.  We can push the advantages.  We can use them outside of work for work purposes.  And we can continue to push the internal and external regulators to come up to speed.

It’s On A List

August 5, 2009

I use a To-Do list.  Unique.  Mind-blowing.  Earth-shattering.  Not.  My list is none of these things.  It’s a simple rolling list; if I don’t do something on that day it gets added to the next days list.  I get some sort of satisfaction by crossing things out.  My book is full of lists for each day, with each line scratched off.

Anyway, if you don’t use a To-Do list, a WIP (Work In Progress) or some variation you either should or you don’t have enough going on (in which case you should find something to do).  They are very handy.my-desk

But the problem I find is that some things, the hard things, get rolled over day after day.  I have some tasks that the only progress I make with them is to write them down each day.  This is pretty hopeless.  I obviously need to do something about this.

So what I’ve decided is to write a tiny, tiny action plan next to each.  I’m not talking about the full SMART principle (if you’re interested in that, see this handy blog post).  More like a name, a verb, some key point.  Hopefully this will point me and keep me in the right direction.

Do you have any hints or tips?