Me Inc. – A vocational adventure for the 21st century

Autonomy, or the condition of self-governing, is often associated with knowledge workers and knowledge work.  Typically autonomy is about how you DO your work. What if autonomy was about how you MANAGE yourself in relation to all your work? Enter the Me Incorporated (or Me Inc.) concept.

Essential to Me Inc. is the idea that you take the lead for your vocational adventure. It’s about you AT work, and you ABOUT work. It’s honouring the ‘voice’ inside that calls you to align what you do with your purpose. (The word ‘vocational’ is related to the word ‘voice’.)  It’s having a considered perspective about the Why, How, What, When, Who, Where of your workscape. It’s the mindset that “You are self-employed regardless of who pays you.” And this new mindset means new responsibilities, new actions, and new tools.

Why consider a Me Inc. adventure?

Work is literally and figuratively a huge part of our lives.  Work generates a source of income; it provides a place to exercise talents and skills; it’s where we often make friends; it’s a place to learn and grow; and it’s a way to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. With something so critical, shouldn’t there be substantial personal consideration about how work figures into our own life?

Catalysts for this adventure are often:
1. Desire to improve your professional and personal well-being. You need to shift out of a bad state and restore well-being; or you want to establish patterns of working to sustain well-being.

2. Major shifts about the idea and reality of work in response to political, economic, and social changes. You want to be prepared and capable to navigate these shifts. For more insights on the shifts, I recommend reading “The Shift, the future of work is already here” by Lynda Gratton

Are you seeking and ready for change?

Explaining Me Inc.

Me Inc. is separating You as an identity from your current job and employer. There is You (becomes Me Inc.) and The Job (becomes a job). Many employees find their identity so integrated into their current job that they can’t define themselves without that job. People on a Me Inc. adventure can define themselves without reference to any single job or employer.

Your current job is simply one ‘gig’ in a lifetime workscape of many serial gigs, as well as one gig in current workscape of potentially many co-existing gigs.

The diagram below illustrates Me Inc. as two perspectives of your vocational life.
A. Lifetime workscape (Blue box) with multiple eras (Green lines)
B. Current workscape with either a single (Black box) or multiple gigs (Red box)

Concept of workscape

A set of Me Inc. scenarios

The Me Inc. vocational adventure can be thought of as different scenarios. The scenarios are not necessarily progressive – you might go for No 1 and never go for No 3 or 4.

1. Reinvent your work.  A traditional way to change your current work is to negotiate with your current employer for a different set of responsibilities or a different scope of work and change what you do. The Me Inc. approach changes your mindset about yourself in relation to your current employer, i.e. you have a Client not an Employer, and you are a Service Provider rather than an Employee.

2. Add extracurricular.  This is an approach for when your current role doesn’t offer the opportunities you want, to use or develop particular talents, or the talents you want to develop or use have little relevance or value to your current employer, i.e. starting a business. The Me Inc. approach is for you to take the lead of adding activity you value into your vocational package. It is very likely this activity will be done outside current work hours and for another organisation or group.  Extracurricular could be taking a leadership role in a professional association group; doing volunteer work; tinkering with a hobby as a potential business; or starting up a group or exploring a venture with like-minded people.

3. Go somewhere different. This is an approach for when you decide to leave your current role to locate somewhere else, while reconceiving how you want to be or what you will do in a different role. The Me Inc. approach is for you to find and secure a role that is a good fit for your version of Me Inc. It’s not to simply take any role just because it’s available or offered.

4. Take a big leap. This is an approach for when your entrepreneurial spirit is so strong you simply must create your own business or organisation to realise your vocational adventure. You may be a business of one as a freelancer, or you may create a business that employs others.

In all scenarios above, you take on additional responsibilities for your vocation or career than if you were ‘simply’ an employee. You might call these ‘career management’ responsibilities; I invite you to think of them as ‘Me Inc.’ responsibilities. (By a different name, you may liberate new insights for yourself!)

Extra Responsibilities in Me Inc.

Many of these ‘extra’ career responsibilities were previously owned and determined by the organisation you work for – and this won’t necessarily change. In a Me Inc. paradigm, You change to you have your own perspective: doing these by yourself, and for your direct benefit.

Here’s a list, brought to you by the letter R.
Reign  purpose, strategy, direction – the big picture stuff that will guide your choices
Reputation  branding, marketing – what you are about and getting the word out
Relationships  connections, networks, collaborations – who you know and how you leverage social ‘capital’
Rule  code of practice, processes, terms & conditions – your ‘operating system’ for doing and managing your style of work
Reform  performance, improvements, quality criteria – the What and How you will learn and transform
Resources  infrastructure (soft & hard) – the things you need to have and use
Revenue  delivery, multiple sources, administration – how you are going to get currency-of-choice for what you do

This translates into skills and resources you need that you probably won’t get with/from your current employer. On a Me Inc. adventure – it’s up to you!

Me Inc. adventurers

The Me Inc. adventure is for at least these three groups of people:

  • Young people starting their working life who want to set relevant useful patterns for themselves
  • Experienced employees seeking to approach work differently
  • Mature people who are exiting traditional working life and ready to reinvent themselves

Influences from my own journey

The Me Inc. idea was influenced by other people’s thinking. I’d like to take a moment to honour the sources of influence.

  • About 10 years ago, I saw a book on the bookstore shelf called “You Inc.” by John McGrath . The title and premise about personal responsibility, were sufficient to shift my thinking: To a view of myself as my own business even if I was an employee and not looking to start my own business/organisation.
  • About 8 years ago, I bought the book with the provocative title “Willing Slaves” by Madeleine Bunting, and was fuelled by the notion that modern organisations are not the benevolent employers they purport to be. My eyes were opened to the general lack of self-determination of employees about their relationship to work.
  • In reading the book “Slideology” by Nancy Duarte,  I was introduced to the elegant slides of Pamela Slim as designed for her Declaration of Independence message (viewable on YouTube) . I was particularly taken by the message, “I am self-employed regardless of who pays me”.

Ready, set, go

Are you ready to start a Me Inc. adventure?
A learning programme for Me Inc. adventurers is under development. For more details, contact me directly


Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge is valued and leveraged. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people and knowledge.


Mixing business with kindness (a ‘new knowledge’ recipe)

Growing or developing in a business context is usually about skill and performance of vocational ability. How about extending this attention to emotional or psychosocial ability like the character and practice of kindness?  How might you mix a cocktail of business with a strong serving of kindness?

Here are strategies for how an individual, or an organisation, can be an example and a contagion for the Practice of Kindness.

1. Imagination and intent. Imagine a kinder workplace and set out to intentionally create it. This is a task for leaders as well as followers. It has to be believed to be seen. (Why not write a ‘kindness policy’ as an exercise in crystallising your intent? Draft document available.)

2. Cultivate a community around kindness theme. Good attitudes spread. Give the kindness ‘infection’ a host environment where it can incubate and spread. Provide place and time for people to commune in kindness.

3. Foster conversation. Find ways to introduce Kindness into the conversation. Ask questions like: What is the kind thing to say here? What is the kind response? How can I speak kindly?

4. Tell stories of kindness. Find the small everyday deeds and tell others. It’s content for the conversations and ‘infectious’ material. It fuels the imagination of others. Share these inside and outside our organisation.

5. Design for kindness. In every action consider, what is the kind thing to do? How can we make this a kinder experience? Make Kindness a fundamental design principle for products, services and processes, even messages that we write.

6. Overwhelm the negative. It can take 5 positive actions to overcome a negative action. Don’t let a negative action go unattended without overwhelming it with at least one kindness response. Make this an imperative for everybody.

7. Forgive and learn. Create conditions where it’s okay to make a mistake; and where mistakes are always an opportunity for learning. Be the type of person that forgives mistakes and helps with the learning. Such a Kind attitude can enable quicker growth and innovation.

8. Be disciplined. Be mindful and purposeful about developing the habit of practicing kindness. Discipline and regular practice creates results. Kindness is not a soft option; an attitude of kindness is sure to be tested in trying circumstances. Know what you will do or who you want to be in a crisis or conflict before it strikes.

9. Catalyse goodwill. One way to show goodwill is to be thankful, and to say Thanks. A kind word can create goodwill that immunises against future unkind acts.

10. Make connections. Partner with others outside our organisation in doing kindness and promoting kindness. Work with others worthy of our socially responsible activity. Leverage the events and campaigns of organisations like World Kindness Day (Nov 13) led by World Kindness Movement.

Your help is sought to create and mobilise useful knowledge on mixing kindness with business: Add your ideas in the comments below and share this post.


Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to create conditions where knowledge is created and mobilised for business and social good. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.


Creatively packaging knowledge

A common response to the risk of losing knowledge is to capture or document it.  This is a worthy activity. However, how often is what is captured or documented, actually read or used? One factor may be the format or medium used to present the knowledge. This blog presents some creative  ways you might package knowledge to make it appealing, and more importantly easy to digest and thus apply.

A selection

* Recipe metaphor

One expertise I have and use is in designing and leading the change process for an organisational change.  I like to employ creative ways of engaging with people in change to providing a meaningful experience while also addressing their wellbeing (physical, mental and emotional).  I redefined a ‘go-live preparation’ activity using the analogy of air travel.  In order to share the idea with other practitioners, I used the metaphor of a recipe to explain the essential elements and thus enable others to easily replicate and even adapt the idea for other contexts.

Sample ‘Fly away together – change activity’

* Game show presentation

When the opportunity arose to present a client case-study at a conference on ‘managing change (as a designed user experience)’ , I gave the conference participants their own user experience with a game-show format. I packaged the knowledge of the case study into 12 mini packages (1 slide, 3-4 min of talking points) that become elements of the game-show. The audience chose from the 12 about the aspects of the case study they were most interested in.

Sample ‘Managing change as a designed user experience’ [45 min audio with video of the slide deck]

* Graphical resume with timeline

Somebody has already down the work of curating a small collection of resumes to inspire doing things differently. A key idea is turning your chronological work history into a graphical timeline.

Samples ‘7 Cool Resumes Found on Pinterest’

* Graphical rich report of survey results

Kea New Zealand exists to connect ‘talented Kiwis and Friends of New Zealand’ around the world. (I’m a Kiwi!) One of their activities is to survey expatriates to understand their choices about living away from NZ and engaging with NZ from a distance.  The 2013 report of this survey is visually rich in graphics, colour and icons. How more compelling is this to read and understand than pages of prose, plain tables and bullet points?

Sample ‘Kea Every Kiwi Counts 2013 Report’

* Advice about better practice in an infographic

There are often arguments that if you want to motivate people to change their behaviour you need to offer social proof; or use facts and figures; or use colourful images. Here is an example combining all of these.

Sample ‘Taking Breaks at Work’

Other advice includes provide a compelling narrative (aka story); or a large dose of humour that might trigger awareness of a reality we haven’t been prepared to face – we are laughing at ourselves!

Sample ‘How to lead a creative Life’

* Graphic recording of group conversation

One master of the art of graphic recording is Lynne Cazaly. She offers a worthwhile and recommended learning sessions called ‘Catch-It’. Learn how to visually think and record the conversation of a group in real-time. Rather than read about this – experience it!

Sample ‘Video showing graphic recording by Lynne’ (1:45 min)

Recommended reading

These references in my collection have been a source of inspiration and practical guidance to me in creatively packaging knowledge. .

I hope this selection has got your creative juices humming. As a knowledge worker we often create knowledge products – let’s find and use ways to do this innovatively.  I hope you will share other examples you have created or have seen.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning, so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Image credit: Microsoft Online Clipart

Work is where you are

Where does work take place? In the office? At home? Maybe in a café, or on the train? More importantly, should we define work only as what we do at a desk?

Earlier this year the company Yahoo asked all work-from-home staff to return to working only at the office. They cited the collaboration, the interactions, and the experiences that are only possible when you’re in the building.

After reading Eileen Brown’s blog supporting the Yahoo decision I reflected on how and where work gets done. Putting aside a discussion about whether Yahoo’s decision will achieve what they want, I wondered about the assumptions made: ‘Work is (only) done in the workplace, i.e. office’; and ‘Work (only) gets done with a computer and internet connection’.

Many 21st century knowledge workers are not confined to the same four walls each day. And they aren’t necessarily freelancers or working for themselves. They have some choice as to where and when they work, and can make the most of different locations, timing and mobile devices.

A typical day on the move


Recently, I kept a log of my activity on a fairly typical business day. I noted where I was, what I was doing and what devices I used:

8:25am: On train platform; reviewing calendar and sending text messages; with smartphone
8:40am: On train; reading articles/material in my notebook and making notes; with laptop (no wi-fi) & paper notebook
9:30am: On tram; musing and people-watching; with no IT
10:00am: Seminar for client; with laptop and paper notes
11:30am: At Café; processing emails and note-making; with laptop and WI-FI
1:30pm: At Library shared table with others; writing resources and reading articles; with laptop (no WI-FI)
3:30pm: At Co-working space with collaborator; writing proposal; with laptop and wi-fi
4:30pm: At Café bar; meeting with prospective client and taking notes; with paper notebook
6:00pm: On train; reflecting and note-making; with laptop (no WI-FI)

Different locations, different possibilities

I work as I move about. Each location brings different opportunities – and limitations. So I adapt to where I am, or go somewhere else. Some examples:

* I needed to type and send a timely email message to a client after a seminar I give, so I sought out a local venue with a suitable table surface and WI-FI connectivity.
* Internet access is tricky on the train or bus, but I can draft emails or write in my paper notebook. If I’m sitting, I read and annotate on my laptop – typically articles I have set aside just for such times.
* For deep thinking or creating content while in between appointments, I headed for a quiet spot with good seating and lighting at a local library.
* For taking a phone call I received when on the street, I sought out the foyer of nearby building to remove background street noise.
* To have a sense-making conversation with people I knew and felt safe to I toss around emerging (crazy?) thoughts, I headed to my co-working space and entrepreneurial community at Hub Melbourne.

Park benchNot mentioned on my list above is my car (in stationary mode, of course!); or a local park bench. I’ve been known to use these spaces too if they are the most convenient and the climate is acceptable. The likely context? When I’ve just finished up a meeting and I’ve got things on my mind I need to quickly capture – else they might distract me when driving the longer distance from the city to my country home.

I also get inspiration just being in the outside world. Walking or on public transport I see posters and flyers, observe activities and hear conversations, which get me wondering about what others care about and are paying attention to. This in turn shapes my emerging ideas and influences how I might approach an unrelated current situation.

There are things that might be better done if you are not sitting at a desk, not tied to a computer. Activities like reflection, cultivating relationships, taking mental and physical breaks and conceptualising new things (often done best with whiteboard or blank sheets of paper).

My mobility and the variety of place, time and activity also supports an ebb-and-flow approach to sustaining good energy for work. Mindful of the conditions that increase or reduce my energy, I make choices about where I need to be or where I need to leave.

Organisations making change about where people can work

There is a growing trend for organisations to provision and support a variety of work spaces both within and without the organisation. In these spaces lie the hopes of greater collaborative activity, innovative outcomes and happier engaged employees.

Some thoughts about how to get moving:
1. Start with a conversation about individual styles and preferences. Talk about the different contexts and how preferences might change in relation to context.
2. Discover some new possibilities to mentally or physically explore. Find stories or examples on web. Visit places that provide non-traditional experiences – local co-working spaces often have open day tours or try-for-a-day arrangements, i.e. Check out Hub Melbourne and what people are saying about such places.
3. Setup some temporary options to experience. Observe what happens; note what you liked or disliked, and how you felt energy-wise.
4. Use what you now know to make wise decisions in defining the practices and acquiring the resources to make effective change in where you work.

May you be productive and effective where-ever you find yourself working.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning, so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Image credit (woman on train): Shutterstock

Origami: working in three dimensions

My girlfriend’s a viticulturist. Her work product is grapes and wine. I’m a knowledge worker – what I produce is less tangible: content and process (messages, documents and conversations). So when I have a hankering to make something ‘real’, I turn to origami (Japanese craft; literally, ‘to fold paper’). It’s a pastime I picked up while living in Japan.

You might be tempted to think of paper-folding as simply a hobby (to do while drinking my girlfriend’s great wine), but working with coloured squares of paper can have quite an impact on how you think and behave. To my surprise, I’ve found a place for it in my work practice.

Unfold your potential

Origami is not just for children or playing. Scientists and researchers are taking it seriously.

‘Diversifying experiences enhances cognitive flexibility’ argue researchers in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. So why not fold paper in strange and beautiful ways, to expand your usual thought patterns?

A recent article in Business Week explains: ‘Flowers, leaves, wings, proteins, mountain ranges, eyelids, ears, DNA—all are created by folding. Today researchers in robotics, biology, math, and computer science are immersing themselves in [folding] methods. Scientists are looking at how materials and molecules wrinkle, drape, flex, and crease. They’re using folding to design everything from robots to cancer drugs, from airbags to mirrors for satellite telescopes.’
This is a great example of using an art form in a surprising way. Like Jeff Jarvis’s definition of serendipity: it’s unexpected relevance!

Origami and my work

So how does paper-folding bring a new dimension to life at the office? My job is facilitating change and learning, particularly in knowledge and other organisational initiatives. I’ve discovered that origami has a place beyond my leisure time, and that there are workplace benefits from this offbeat form of paper trail:

  • Play – you have fun, experiment, create at your desk. It takes only a short time to produce a new piece. You use your hands in a tactile way and develop your hand–eye co-ordination, which is a welcome break from tapping the keyboard and digital work. Play is big as a workplace activity, as is gamification.
  • Relationships – you can make friends, build rapport and trust. It’s non-threatening. You can try it one-to-one or in a group. Anyone can do it – it cuts through boundaries. (Side thought: Origami as offline social medium?)
  • Object lesson – you learn something new, and collaborate. It’s also about creativity, about choices and detail.

Here’s an example. Before a workshop with dense technical content, we used origami as a fun starter. The aim was to make a set of building blocks, each one folded by an individual and then assembled into a single object. All the pieces had to be right, for the assembly to work. Some people saw the paper and instructions on the table and started without waiting for the demonstration. Others ignored the verbal instructions and raced ahead, failing to fully comprehend what was required. Both approaches hindered successful collaboration, as they resulted in pieces that wouldn’t fit in.

During a business coaching session with an entrepreneur who was overwhelmed by work and needed to step back for a short break, we did origami together. He felt as if he was being productive and learning something new, all the while having guilt-free time playing.

A useful model

I taught a colleague how to do origami during lunchbreaks. She enjoyed it, and she can see links between the creative process and her work. In her own words:

‘I was asked to talk about how I build an academic timetable. I quickly found a connection to origami. Just like the timetable, origami starts with something small that one can’t immediately see as part of a larger entity. I was able to relate different elements of origami (e.g. coloured paper, pattern to follow, building blocks, etc) to timetable concepts. It was the right approach – not everybody knew timetable terminology but they were successful in understanding the process.’

Ending on a happy note

At the end of a consulting session, I’ve produced a folded creation to show my gratitude or simply lighten the mood. I invite the client to choose a piece of paper, and I make a paper swan, a butterfly or a flower as they watch. The unexpected fun and the gesture of a handmade gift enhances our rapport and generates goodwill.

Ready to fold?

For origami paper and instructions in English, I recommend the online store:
For inspiration, see some of the creations in my Facebook photo album.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning, so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.