I like to tell random stories under the assumption that at the end the lessons can all be tied together (after all I am telling all of the stories).
Here is a summary in visual form which is mainly how I think these days ..
reformatted June 2014 in iMindMap 7.1
Annually I used to give a presentation to graduate students in clinical psychology (the “I hate data, I hate statistics” crowd) at a famous psychology professional school about how to research and write a doctoral dissertation. The number one question everyone had was (nnoooo, not how to do good research or how to pick an important topic) how long it takes to write a doctoral dissertation. All of the dissertation advisors in the room with their students would wince and make rude sounds. I would respond “I know the exact answer and it is 1200 hours (30 hours a week for 40 weeks).” And the students would all have relieved smiles. Then I would say, “but you cannot count the hours you spend kvetching, bitching, whining, going out for coffee with your friends, or on the phone talking about your dissertation blues.” (This was in the days before Twitter and Facebook or I would have included those too.) I think this applies to all writing and other creative work; the “kvetch factor” determines how successful you are. Control kvetching and it is pretty easy.
People in most work situations often waste a lot of time going out for coffee and kvetching. In the company I owned, I purchased an $1800 “grind and freshly brew every cup of coffee machine,” unlimited bags of gourmet coffee, expensive tea bags, a small refrigerator stocked with every kind of soda available, a designer water cooler, a microwave oven, unlimited popcorn to nuke, and fresh fruit on occasion when somebody complained that all theew was to eat was popcorn. All were available at no cost to the employees. The designer coffee machine paid for itself in a few weeks. Happier folks, more conversations among employees (good, they eventually lead to collaboration and creativity), more team building, more cross-fertilization of ideas and skills. Of course, you could still go out to Starbucks if you wanted to. Almost nobody did since we had all the Starbuck’s coffee you could drink in the office for free (the machine also made expresso, lattes, and all of the other trendy coffee drinks). Visiting clients liked the break room a lot too.
When employees, collaborators, clients, and others would call, email, or show up unannounced at my office door in a state of high agitation, anxiety, or general “lost in spaceness,” I found that reminding them that we were just social scientists and were not “building a nuclear weapon” almost immediately relieved tension and worry. Sadly, some folks are building and using weapons of mass destruction this week.
In the past 30 years, folks have always talked about innovation and creativity as coming from software and hardware. I always found that real advances come from people-ware (which initially surprised a hi-tech guy like me). Social media is good, telephone calls are better, face-to-face meetings of stakeholders are best. And lots of time needs to be provided for a nonlinear process to occur, re-occur, and grow. Instead of teaching students and new employees how to better avoid people with technology reducing interactions and directives by email never checked to make sure it WAS actually received, we should be teaching them how to work effectively with other creative people by actually sitting down together and hammering out differences and developing new strategies for cooperation. It’s so retro 1960s that it could be the next trend.
Most people work hard to develop products that are so new and fancy that they are “bleeding edge” or so advanced they scary ordinary people. In our company, I never sought to be at the bleeding edge. Rather, any time new bleeding edge methods were developed, I would immediately try to develop the “12 months after the bleeding edge” products that people could use now and understand because of my explicit assumption that there is not an awful lot of use for methods that nobody can use! There is a lot of use for methods that somebody with a reputable track record had simplified (but NOT dumbed-down) and explained. Being at the bleeding edge often means your fingers get cut; simplification and training make the use of the tool a way to discover and communicate.
Office toys are a great thing. Over the years in my company we had a huge blow up clown you could kick when everything was not going perfectly (expressing verbally what had gone wrong and encouraging those within ear shot to suggest solutions). Games (the weekly contest on how many blue m&ms were in the packages being taken from the company chocolate stash; yes we had free chocolate some days, too) helped build communication. There was a talking and rockin’ parrot toy in my office often turned on during meetings.
We weren’t developing thermonuclear devices by email; we were counting and enjoying blue m&ms.