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@rhxgroup.com.au

 

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.

 

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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.

 

Managing your Attention capacity with 4Cs Attention Filter

An important personal resource for knowledge workers is Attention. It can be difficult to decide what gets attention and what doesn’t. In an information-rich world, there is more and more competing for your attention.

The merchandise of the information economy is not information; it is attention.
~ James Gleick

Quick and confident decisions about your Attention can be particularly difficult when you want to be open to what is emerging around you. Common advice to minimise overload is “Just say No”. However, a simple “Yes” or “No” doesn’t work when things aren’t black or white but rather shades of grey.

Attention is a precious resource not to be squandered on trivial things that don’t matter to you – things that are distractions, or noise that unwittingly caught your attention. By setting meaningful boundaries, you can create criteria to aid purposeful decision-making about what is worthy of your attention.

What kind of attention to give

The 4Cs Attention Filter can be helpful for organising your attention by defining the type of attention to be given. The Filter categories are Committed, Contributing, Curious and Cease. Three of the Cs are shades of grey for when you want to say “Yes – with limits” and the fourth C is the classic “No”.

COMMITTED – Things that get ongoing deep attention; things to which you have a strong and pervasive commitment; things where the buck stops with you; things where you are actively scanning for new information.
CONTRIBUTING – Things that get momentary deep attention; things to which you have some strong attachment, however, you can care about with little or no responsibility.
CURIOUS – Things that get light and occasional attention, mostly when something crosses your path, not things you are actively pursuing.
CEASE – Things not worthy of any attention at all.

Think of the Filter as organising ‘Things I am interested in’ rather than ‘Things I am doing’, that is, ‘Topics’ rather than ‘Activity’.

Here’s an example of how my Filter is currently set (as at March 2012) for vocational or professional interests.

This is a reflection of where my interests currently lie; it isn’t a reflection of the depth of my competencies. With this filter, I can quickly make decisions about which meetings and conferences I attend, which groups I belong to, which blogs and books I subscribe or read, which conversations I contribute to, and to which people/conversations I’ll give priority.

With the Filter set, things that attract my attention pass through the Filter and stick to the category to which they match and therefore get the type of Attention associated with that category.

The 4Cs Attention Filter is not intended for planning or organising an action list, though it may contribute to setting some scope for a list of activities. For a technique to organise and prioritise your activities, read Mastering your workload.

Determining your Attention Capacity

Your capacity for purposeful Attention is a factor of breadth and depth. To use a scuba diving analogy: the oxygen you have available in your tank is a factor of how deep you dive as well as how long you dive. Deeper dives require more oxygen than shallower dives, even if the duration of the dive is the same. With a finite underwater oxygen capacity, a diver makes life-dependent decisions about how many dives can be made and to what depth.

So it is with your attention capacity. You need to factor how many things you will give deep attention (i.e. Committed) in relation to the breadth of things to which you will give attention.

Set limits for each ‘Yes’ category about the number of things to which you can purposefully attend. Typically there will be less items in categories characterised by deeper attention, i.e. Committed, and Contributing. To get started, a useful rule of thumb might be 3 things in Committed, 4 in Contributing, 10 in Curious.

The Limit is designed to help you maintain a sustainable Attention load. Be sure not to add items to a category without first considering what must be subtracted from that category.

What kind of attention you have been giving

Check where your attention is, and has been going, with a quick audit. Of the things that currently have your attention, in which Attention category do they fit?

Look at your list. If you have been feeling overwhelmed, you may have too many things in the Committed category which need a depth of attention you can’t give. Or maybe you have too many things across all categories which need a breadth of attention you haven’t got.

To reduce your attention load, downgrade items to another Attention category, either permanently or for a defined period of time.

To control attention means to control experience, and therefore the quality of life.
~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Attention is a precious personal resource. So manage it in a sustainable manner, and be sure to spend it on what matters to you.

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.

Turning off, tuning out work email outside business hours

I recently broke one of my knowledge-work rules: Do not receive, read or send business emails outside business hours.  As with many rules, exceptions are made.  So in making the exception, I told the colleague who was the recipient of said ‘exceptional’ email, that I was breaking my rule and not to expect future email correspondence outside business hours.

He responded: “I have to learn your secret for having the discipline to stay away from work emails outside of business hours!”

My first thought: My secret is discipline. He had it in one!
My second thought:  If he wants to make a change, it would probably be useful if I explained the substance of my discipline.

So here goes …  My discipline consists of three interrelated parts: conditions, techniques and precepts.

Conditions

1. I have separate email addresses for work and personal email. Work emails go to work email address. Personal to personal.

2. I utilise two separate computers: work and home. My work computer is setup to receive work emails, not personal. My home computer is setup to receive personal emails, not work. When I finish work, I turn off work computer. When I am at work (or in work mode at home), I don’t access my home computer.

3. I don’t have constant delivery of work email. I’ve turned on the software option to Send-and-Receive messages when I explicitly request, or to automatically Send-Receive on 45 minute cycle rather than instantly. This helps me limit my attention to incoming email.  (I’ve also turned off the You’ve-got-mail alerts.)

Techniques

4. I don’t receive, read or send emails outside business hours. Except on very rare occasions when I’ve agreed to break the rule.
I don’t work on a global scene, and I appreciate that some people have the 24/5 challenge of a constant business day somewhere in the world. Still, I think there is room to turn-off for a period at weekends (or when you decide is down-time.)

5. Sometimes, outside business hours, I think about an email message I want to compose (either new or in response to an existing message). On such rare occasions, I may quickly create an email message with some rough points … BUT I save it to Drafts, and finish and send it when the next business-hours window opens.

6. I consciously write emails to fully address a matter, with an aim to reduce the back-and-forth message traffic that often results from quick and often incomplete emails.

7. As email correspondence is collaborative, I’ve informed others of my email practice. I’m aware that I am going against convention, so I’ve had to repeat myself and stick to my desired behaviour to be believed.
This means a) telling family and friends to use personal email address for personal matters;
b) not sharing personal email address with professional contacts;
c) not providing personal email address to professional social networking sites, i.e. LinkedIn;
d) sometimes moving the errant message from the ‘wrong’ account to ‘right’ email account, so it gets the appropriate attention;
e) setting the Reply-to option in the reply-message to the ‘correct’ email address, so future correspondence from the ‘other’ is routed to the right email account.
The last two actions can be a bit of work at first, but necessary to ‘train’ myself and others in the desired email habits.

8. I tune-out from incoming email correspondence inside work hours as well:
• I don’t have my email account open during meetings.
• I don’t rush to read emails between meetings (I’m probably using between-meetings-time to reflect or make notes about the meeting).

9. I have limited scheduled period of time per day for processing incoming work email. (Processing = read, decide what action is needed, and organise appropriately). Email received after the current processing window, is mostly likely to get attention during the next processing window.

Precepts

10. I hold the following to be true:
• Email correspondence is not instant messaging.
• Business email is business correspondence and is managed as business-time work.
• Email is not my core work, it serves my core work.
• Email serves me, I don’t serve email.
• Email is communication with intent – there is an effect to achieve, i.e. persuade, inform,  entertain, enable, arrange, etc.
• Other people’s lack of planning and organisation should not have an undue influence on how I plan and organise my work.

If you adopt these ways, then expect to have to be vigilant and not afraid to inform (and repeatedly remind) people of your stance.

For people with whom I have a limited or initial correspondence, I’ve considered writing a short manifesto to put in an email signature, as a way to set expectations. I’ve yet to figure out a simple, succinct and inoffensive statement.  A link to this blog entry may well be an interim solution.

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.

Processing and organising information is real work

David’s Allen’s latest Productive Living newsletter [1] arrived in my email box with a pertinent reminder: (paraphrasing) processing and organisation information is real and valuable work, so make time to do it, and reduce your stress in not doing it. As David says “most people behave as if this stuff is relatively unimportant, and frankly a pain to have to deal with. I argue that it’s where much of their primary value lies. Knowledge workers are paid to bring their intelligence to bear on input, and improve things by doing that. The decision about what to do with an email and its contents, what it means in terms of the work and standards at hand, is knowledge work.”

And for the challenge of having too many flows and topics of information to manage, I remember the sage advice of John Naisbitt in his book, “Mindset – Reset your thinking and see the future“: Don’t add unless you subtract. As John says “Focus on what really meets your needs and interests … [the] goal should not be to create cemeteries of information but cradles of knowledge and inspiration.”

[1] “What do you consider your work”, Productivity Living, 2 June 2011, David Allen

Sign up for David’s newsletter at http://www.davidco.com/productive_living.php

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and ways 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.