motivation

The Olympics, Part I: Insights from Marc Kennedy

The 2016 Summer Olympics happened while the blog was on vacation. I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about the event, for many of the same reasons that were so eloquently expressed by fellow blogger Caitlin Constantine. And after the event ended, I read a very thoughtful and critical article which got me thinking about how the Olympics  affect the structure and funding of amateur sports in Canada.

So I’m going to write two posts related to the Olympics. This, the first post, is about a wonderful speech by an Olympic athlete that I heard earlier this year. The second, which I’ll post later on, is about how, while the Olympics are supposed to inspire people to get active, their effects on amateur sport may be making it more difficult for non-elite athletes to do that.

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In June, I had the privilege of hearing a talk by world and Olympic champion curler Marc Kennedy.

This wasn’t the first time that I’ve been at a presentation by a high-achieving athlete. My cynical self was expecting a recycling of the usual themes in these speeches: “work hard”, ”have a dream”, ”fight through setbacks”, ”never give up”. But instead, Kennedy’s speech was a very insightful and honest look at the realities of performance at an elite level  – and a lot of what he said has relevance to work and to life, as well as to sports. These are the points from what Kennedy said that really stuck with me. (more…)

Letting the Sunshine In

How much light should a “sunshine list” shine?

Public sector compensation disclosure lists – “sunshine lists” – are lists of individuals in public sector jobs that are paid more than a certain amount. These annual lists usually include the person’s name, the public sector organization they work for, their job title, and their annual earnings for that fiscal year.  In Canada, five provinces have some version of a legislated “sunshine list”: Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick. (Other provinces publish salary information in their public accounts, but don’t produce a single comprehensive list.)

The reasons for publishing these lists usually involve “accountability” and “transparency” – but recently there has been pushback from some of the workers included on the lists. (more…)

“Passion”

On networking sites like LinkedIn, and in biographies for keynote speakers – and in way too many other work-related contexts – it’s now almost obligatory for people to state their “passion”. However, these “passions” are, in many cases, so generic as to be meaningless – seriously, who doesn’t want to do something like make other people happy? And many statements of “passion” are often so jargon-laden that it’s difficult to tell exactly what the person gets excited about.

I was going to write a post about the awful superficiality of this expectation to be “passionate”. But then I came across a post on the same topic by Mark Manson. He says everything I was going to say – and he expresses it with genuine passion. Enjoy!

 

Feedback at Work

Giving feedback – to employees, peers, or even bosses – is a tricky but essential process in almost every organization. It’s important to let people know how they’re doing in their work, but it’s often difficult to figure out the best way to tell them, especially if there are problems with their performance.  And we all know organizations that loudly proclaim how much feedback and improvement are valued in their workplaces, but that don’t actually do much to make those processes happen.

My friend Allison Manley has recently starting hosting a podcast for Palantir.net, the web design, development and strategy firm where she works. The most recent episode of the podcast has a fascinating discussion on the topic of feedback. Allison talks with Colleen Carroll, Palantir’s director of operations, about Palantir’s commitment to having a “culture of feedback” and how the company actually makes that happen. What I found particularly interesting about this discussion is that it doesn’t repeat any of the usual clichés about feedback, like “focus on the problem, not the person”, and that it emphasizes the role of the sender of the feedback – a part of the process that often gets overlooked. Here are some of Colleen’s thoughtful insights into what makes feedback work. (more…)

“What Makes You Happy?”

My friend Kimbirli Macchiaverna has been a nurse for 20 years, and was a certified nursing assistant for a decade before that. Even though she works in an extremely challenging occupation – one with difficult demands and tasks that change every day – she has a great sense of humour and an unfailingly positive attitude toward life that I really admire.

A few weeks ago, Kimbirli wrote a Facebook post on the advice she gave to another nurse about “liking” her job even when it was tough. With Kimbirli’s permission, I’m reproducing her post here. Although her comments are in the context of nursing,  anyone in any kind of job can find something to think about in what she has to say. (more…)

Songwriters on Success

As much as I love music, the process of songwriting has always been a complete and utter mystery to me. I understand how to put words together, I understand how melodies and chords work, but combining all of those into something listenable is a skill I just don’t have. And I think that’s why I’m so interested in interviews with songwriters talking about their work.

I recently finished reading Jake Brown’s book Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits. I have to admit that I mostly stopped listening to country music around 2005 or so. I just got tired of artists that were pushed because of their looks rather than the quality of their music. And I was fed up with too many formulaic songs about trucks, beer and girls (or guys), and “country” songs that were substandard pop songs dressed up with a fiddle or lap steel guitar. So my choices for “country music’s greatest hits” would probably be quite different from Brown’s; here’s one that would definitely be on my list.

Because I don’t pay a lot of attention to country music any more, I don’t know all of the songs and artists that are mentioned in Brown’s interviews with 20 different songwriters. But nevertheless, the book was a fascinating read – and I found it particularly interesting that (more…)

“Why I F***ing Hate Unicorns and the Culture They Breed”

Short cuts are one path to success, but they’re a very perilous path. And when a short-cut mentality starts to dominate an industry like tech startups, it not only threatens the stability of the entire industry – it also downplays the reality of the day-to-day gruntwork that builds a sustainable, solid product. In the words of venture capitalist Mark Suster,

I blame unicorns. Not the successful companies themselves but the entire bullshit culture of swash-buckling startups who define themselves by hitting some magical $1 billion valuation number and the financiers who back them irrespective of metrics that justify it. Unicorn has become part of our lexicon in a sickening way and will no doubt become part of the history we tell about how things got so out of control again….

Victory on the field is more often a result of three yards and a cloud of dust. I like that. So, too, startups. It’s not about being on stage at a Demo Day or featured in an article in TechCrunch or closing a $20 million round. It’s about continually shipping code. It’s about putting out menacing bugs. It’s about a 6:15am flight to a customer in Detroit in Winter for a $200k deal to hit your budget for the quarter….

It’s really about love. And sacrifice. And hard work. And putting in the daily things that it takes to achieve great things. And how in the daily routine of being yourself, committing to goals and just living life, you realize that goals were easier to obtain than you had imagined.

Suster expresses his frustration in this brilliant blog post. Please read the whole thing – it’s worth your time.

(H/t Allison Manley)

A Tribute to Bill Watterson’s Perspective on Success

The work of cartoonist Bill Watterson is widely loved and respected, but Watterson has had a most unconventional career path. His comic strip Calvin and Hobbes was one of the most successful cartoons of the late 1980s and early 1990s – but Watterson resisted all attempts to commercialize the strip and its characters. No animated movie, no TV series, no stuffed toys or other merchandise. And when Watterson felt the comic strip had “said all it had to say”, he graciously ended it. Other than a few unexpected projects and guest appearances since then – like in 2014,  when Watterson anonymously took over a week of Stephan Pastis’ comic strip Pearls Before Swine – Watterson has worked on whatever he wants to, whenever he feels like it, and stayed out of the public eye.

One of my friends showed me this comic by artist Gavin Aung Than, who runs a website called Zen Pencils. Than was frustrated with working in corporate graphic design, and quit his job to create a career in what he found personally rewarding: choosing inspirational quotes and drawing cartoons to illustrate them. Zen Pencil is a wonderful site; the quotes are carefully selected, and Than’s artwork is astounding – especially when he is illustrating the words of another artist (Calvin and Hobbes fans will recognize the visual reference in the last panel of this comic). Than’s commentary on his Watterson comic explains very eloquently why Watterson’s work is so highly regarded by other cartoonists, and why Than personally was inspired in his work by Watterson’s unconventional choices. Here’s Watterson’s words and Than’s images, in a beautiful and profound commentary on what “success” really looks like. (more…)

D.F.L. (Dead F***ing Last)

When you look at competition results, there are several acronyms that you might see next to athletes’ names, such as DNQ (did not qualify), DNF (did not finish), and WD (withdrew). But there’s also an unofficial acronym, and it represents a placement that most competitors will experience at least once in their careers. That acronym is DFL – dead f***ing last.

In the “winning is everything” ethos of competing, DFLing is something to be ashamed of, to avoid, to move on from. We assume that the DFLer choked, or didn’t train hard enough, or shouldn’t have entered the event in the first place. Sometimes we celebrate DFLers for their persistence and determination, like ski jumper Eddie the Eagle at the 1988 Winter Olympics. But more often than not DFLing is an embarrassment, and the only response that’s considered appropriate from the DFLer is either to quit competing or to work extra hard so as not to finish last again.

However, there’s another way to think about DFLs. As described in a recent article by runner Lauren Fleshman, a DFL placing can turn out to be (more…)

Management and Leadership Lessons from Skating Parents

As an adult skater, and as someone who only started skating seriously as an adult, having a parent involved in my skating career is something I missed out on entirely. But for many parents, having a child in skating is like managing an organization. The parent has to recruit and hire staff to work with their child (coaches, choreographers, off-ice trainers, dance teachers, costume designers); they have to schedule their child’s training and other activities related to the sport; they have to make sure the child gets to everything on time and is prepared for the activity they’re going to; and they are the “investor” in the business, i.e. the one that pays for everything (which can be very expensive).

And the questions that skating parents often struggle with are very similar to the questions faced by many business leaders and managers. How intensely should they be involved with someone’s progress or skill development, particularly if that person is going through a difficult time? How can they facilitate a positive experience for everyone involved in the organization? How can they help people become independent and responsible, and to develop the ability to make the best decisions for themselves? (more…)