Believe it or not, one of my most productive work days this week was here.

At the risk of no one taking me seriously again, I wanted to write briefly about mobile working… from a water park.

Sometimes your kids have a day off, beg you to take them to Aqua Park because it is practically empty (they have a teacher’s in-service day and other schools/classes do not), but your husband is travelling and you still have work obligations.

Does this, or something like this, ever happen to you?

Well, I have actually (after an obligatory 1 hour of water slides to begin with) done several very productive hours of work. How? I carried my mobile office with me, including the following:

Aquapark mobile office 1

1) One Smart phone with internet;

2) One set of headphones with microphone for making discreet calls (I’m sure the lady sunbathing next to me never even noticed);

3) A Bluetooth keyboard that folds up into a small square. (This is amazing technology and allows for long, serious emails to be written on your phone instead of a computer or iPad – I wrote this entire blog post comfortably on my phone using this nearly fully-size keyboard.)

4) My GTD A4 mesh pouch, filled with Action and Project files, highlighter, pen, post-its etc.

5) The GTD files themselves – these are labeled folders with: In, Read/Review, Action Support, Waiting For, Filing, Expenses, and Trash (and a couple of blank ones). I needed this as I hurriedly emptied my in-box into another GTD A4 mesh pouch to organize on site;

6) My paper calendar (because I build in redundancy with both a paper and e-calendar, or just call me old fashioned);

7) My own GTD folder (below) with my lists (Next Action, Waiting For, Projects, Agendas, Someday/Maybe) to help me optimize my time – no wasting time trying to figure out what to do next;

GTD folder

This all packs into a small tote bag, that I then should have put into a plastic bag (being a water park and all) but so far so good.

It’s good to have this mobile system thought through and ready to go, especially when plans change and you find yourself working away from your office in some unusual place (e.g. café waiting for judo lesson to finish, car park at rainy football game, restaurant because hammering in house, airplane…I could go on).

I guess this means I can really work anywhere, anytime (Health Warning: Not that working everywhere, all the time is good! I promised and will enjoy going back to the water slides and wave pool again before we go, with a much freer and clearer conscience!)

Aquapark 2

“…Find out what it means to me,” began Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot in a speech (Boston, November 2008) which re-resonates with me as I reflect on it, thinking about core values. What are our core-values? Is respect amongst them? And what does respect mean to each of us? Do we confuse it with civility – with habit and ritual decorum? Do we confuse it with coded labels and other masks of political correctness? Do we think we should give it because of deference to status and hierarchy or out of a desire to avoid punishment, shame, or embarrassment? Respect. What is at its centre and what is its role in our work and lives?

I am not going answer all my questions. I want simply to capture and share some of Sara’s ‘Six dimensions of Respect’:

* Offering others the knowledge, skills and resources needed (Empowerment)
* Nourishing feelings of worthiness, wholeness and well-being (Healing)
* Feeling good about ourselves resulting from growing self-confidence that doesn’t seek external validation (Self-Respect)
* Encouraging authentic communication: listening carefully and responding authentically (Dialogue)
* Wanting to know who people are, their stories, dreams, thoughts and feelings (Curiosity)
* Offering full, undiluted attention; being fully present (Attention)

If respect is indeed one of our core-values, as individuals, teams or organizations, what more can we do in each of these dimensions? Sara provides some lessons of her own (see Respect: An Exploration), but rather than give those here I think this would be an interesting conversation to have amongst ourselves first. Any takers?

If we have 1500 staff members, what are 15 of them doing together that creates an interesting micro-trend in our organization that we should be paying attention to?

I enjoyed reading Mark J. Penn and E. Kinney Zalesne’s Micro Trends: Surprising Tales of the Way We Live Today (Penguin 2007), and found this intriguing paragraph to capture the essence of the book:

Today, changing lifestyles, the Internet, the balkanization of communications, and the global economy are all coming together to create a new sense of individualism that is powerfully transforming our society. The world may be getting flatter, in terms of globalization, but it is occupied by 6 billion little bumps who do not have to follow the herd to be heard. … In fact by the time a trend hits 1 percent , it is ready to spawn a hit movie, best selling book, or new political movement. The power of individual choice is increasingly influencing politics, religion, entertainment and even war. In today’s mass societies, it takes only 1 percent of people making a dedicated choice – contrary to the mainstream’s choice – to create a movement that can change the world.

…or an organization? I have the exciting challenge to facilitate a four-year, system-wide organizational development and change process in my organization. Many teams will be involved in this evolving process. At this early stage we are thinking about how best to inform and engage people so that they see and feel their own potential to catalyse change in their areas of concern. I have been thinking about how to get the majority on board, but reading this book makes me think that, in fact, there may be no “majority” in the organization. Maybe, just like in the outside world, as MicroTrends proposes, people are going hundreds of small directions at once, quickly.

So how can we harness that energy for this process? Where are the niches within the organization? Maybe trying to unify people around one macro-slogan, tagline, or end point, is not the most effective way to go. Maybe we need to make lots of customised, personalised products and processes that speak to and build tolerance for the different choices that people are making (like going to staff picnics and not going to staff picnics, or coming to free coffee or not coming to free coffee.) The book talks not so much about identifying Communities of Practice, but Communities of Choice.

We need to start micro-trend spotting – what are those 15 people doing right now?

Watch Mark Penn’s GoogleTalks Video on YouTube.

It is not always easy to get new ideas and practice embedded into an established work environment. How can we use existing “energy” flows to promote new ideas as well, and in the process help us change the current system?

We recently had a competition with a neighbouring institution, a large international conservation NGO, to reduce our institutional carbon emissions from transportation over a week as a part of a national awareness raising campaign. Our internal Green Team did the math and calculated how much carbon we all emit from our weekly commute to work, the other organization did the same. Then for a designated week, we did everything we could to reduce this. People carpooled, they took the train or bus, they rode their bikes, they walked. We did very well, but sadly we did not win the competition this time, although we really wanted to win.

If we do it again next year I have an idea how we might win. I wrote a post a few months back on technology enhanced mobility in the workplace of the future. I think it would be a great thing to experiment with for many of the reasons that are discussed in that post, however, there seems to be no immediately compelling reason to try it out. Maybe this is one that connects the existing interest of the institution to cut carbon and to win this competition in the future, with an interest to explore new ways of working. We could test it out first with a few “Work At Home” days where everyone possible works from home, to get used to this new work modality, and then we could launch a “Work At Home Week” that would coincide with this competition. If we did that, we could explore a more flexible work environment, get our technology tools in place to support it, and win that carbon emissions competition! (unless of course someone from WWF also reads this post…)

I was interested to hear last week, from the Regional HR Director at Dupont, that for many companies the virtual office is now the norm and that companies are turning their attention to helping employees maintain connectivity, not only of the technical kind but also of the interpersonal kind.

This may be the case for the private sector, but as far as I can tell it is still in an experimental stage for the not-for-profit sector. My organization for example, has a few people (only women I believe) who are working less than 100%, that gives them some flexibility, but no one (but me I think) is working part of my time from home as a rule. Experimenting with mobility has been interesting in an institutional culture which is very immediate and in some cases inpromptu. My observation is that dividing your time between a physical office and a home office demands a level of organization that is not always necessary if you routinely go into an office every day (for about 10 hours). You need to define and set some boundaries, and then keep both yourself and your colleagues mindful of them.

The Dupont spokesperson said that the golden rule of mobile working, especially if you are doing it for work/life balance reasons, was to set limits, but still focus on a) flexibility and b) the customer. To make this work, particularly if you are a part of an office-based team, is to identify your customer (your immediate colleagues, your line manager, the top boss but probably not everybody) and keep your customers happy. It also seems that if you are in a results-based environment, it is easier to show that this distributed team system can work and be productive (perhaps even more productive than a traditional office-based team).

It is also, ultimately, a perk. As the best people have more choice (HR is quickly becoming known as Talent Management in some industries), stay in the workforce longer (so salaries can reach their cap long before retirement), and the technology exists, I guess we will be seeing more people becoming mobile workers even in the non-profit sector. Institutions can also see that non-financial benefits work for employee retention and overall staff satisfaction. Still, there is a little fear about the empty institution; that social connections will be replaced by internet connections. So how can we make sure that the time people do spend together at work is really quality time, and not just coming in those big doors and going into a small office for the rest of the day (sending email to each other)? A workplace revolution needs to be accompanied by a workspace revolution….(and perhaps a small shift in institutional culture?)

It’s January and for many of us that means yearly work planning. We get together and we think about what we need to accomplish in the year ahead. How do you feel at the end of this planning process? Ready to go, or tired already? How can we get excited about the year ahead?

We may not always have a choice about the work we do, but we can choose the way we do it is a well-known statement that managers often use in efforts to help motivate team members. But maybe there is more. Maybe we have more latitude for choice about what work we do than we think.

Even within set organizational programmes, teams can always ask the question – What do we want to do this year? What do we want to learn and what do we want to achieve for ourselves and our team? There will always be the ‘reality check’ team member that will remind us of the programmed goals. The creative process then focuses on how to weave these together. How much more motivation, energy and enthusiasm does it create when people get to bring into the workday some of their passions, personal avenues of enquiry, and the opportunity to develop some longer term capacities they are building?

One week into 2007, I’m back to work and Gillian and I are looking at all we have planned for the year ahead. Wow! We have a long list of things we want to do and achieve. How are going to ensure that – come the end of the year – we stand the best chance of finding ourselves looking back and happily reflecting on our successes?

Going through the deluge in my inbox, I come across an end of year email from Mind Tools entitled ‘Keeping Your New Year Resolutions’ . It raises some interesting questions for us to ask ourselves, including: Why are New Years’ resolutions often about what we should give up and not do?

This made me think back to two earlier, related posts: What Do Change and Strip Poker Have in Common? and Our Story, Our Choice. As explored in these previous posts, we don’t have to focus on what we should give up and not do. We have a choice.

Rather than thinking of change and what we resolve to do differently as a loss and pain, let’s frame our new intentions more positively, more ‘appreciatively’. In our personal resolutions, and looking at the list of things we want to do and achieve professionally in 2007, let’s first resolve to ensure that we frame our new intentions as a pleasure and get motivated to succeed!

Arriving at my desk this morning, I was greeted by a delightful surprise. In fact, it was a surprise that made my day. Stood proud on my desk was a bottle of wine, wrapped in a paper bag sealed with a staple, with a small, silver, star-shaped sticker attaching a little note. On the front of the note – a friendly graphic, carefully chosen from our photo bank, and my name in hand-written calligraphy. Inside – a simple, personal sentence of thanks. Following a few ‘delicate’ weeks at work, this touched me greatly. I went to my colleague to thank them for the gift – more for the words than the wine. What I didn’t tell them was that they made my day.

I recently read a wonderful little book called Fish! in which it is suggested that organizations introduce a ‘box’ which isn’t for complaints or suggestions, but rather for people to acknowledge others in an organization who make their day. We don’t have such a box in our organization – yet. If we did, I know who would have got my vote today, and in the absence of a box I am just going to have to tell them myself! A little, genuine appreciation can go a long way.

Whose day did you make today? And who made yours?

What was your experience? Dumisani Nyoni asks. What did you think and feel as you were playing the game?

The game had been simple. All thirty people in the room were asked to select (secretly) two others and stay equidistant from them throughout the game. Meanwhile two ‘outsiders’, unaware of the rules of the game, would come in and try and figure out the rules of the game. The reactions of the ‘inside’ players were diverse:

• I was simply focused on the task of keeping equidistant from the two players I had selected without letting them know I had picked them. It felt very egocentric and at the same time I found it fun.

• I found the game frustrating. I just wanted everyone to stop moving in the hope that I could stop also. I was frustrated by the effect of the other players on my game.

• Whilst playing the game, I wondered which of the other players had selected me and was trying to figure out what effect my movement was therefore having on others in the game.

• Finding the task simple and a little boring, I considered how the game might be changed and how I might bend the rules in order the achieve this.

• I puzzled over the relationship between the game, my life and work, asking myself how much choice I have and considering the implications of breaking the rules.

I found this really interesting. One game; one rule; multiple experiences. What a complex thing a game can be. Like with most systems in which we live and work, we make sense of it and interact with it in so many different ways. Sometimes we ‘go with the flow’. Sometimes we want the system to change and yet make no effort to change it. Sometimes we try to understand the system and figure out how we can change the system into one that works better for us, or for others involved. Other times we don’t want to be a part and ask ourselves – how can I get out?

How can the game metaphor help me think about the systems in which I am living and working? What game(s) am I playing? How am I playing the game? And what do I think and feel about it?

What’s my game? And what’s yours?

Multiple definitions exist for the transitive verb ‘to generate’, all of which have to do with positive change and the emergence of something new. When we talk about positive change in the world, we talk of generating new relationships and new behaviours. Yet to what extent are our personal and professional practices generative?

Many of our interactions centre around dialogue – bringing together people seeking to make change through conversation and agreement. Indeed this is the focus of the Generative Dialogue Project (, and on Friday, Bettye Pruitt joined our meeting exploring change processes and ran a session considering the extent to which our dialogue practices are and could be generative.

Following a short breathing exercise to calm and focus everyone after the coffee break, Bettye grouped us into small ‘pods’ of four chairs in a tight circle. She posed three questions:

1) What opportunities do you see for generative dialogue processes in your work? And what are your highest aspirations for what these might produce?

2) What factors are supporting a shift to using more generative dialogue processes in your work? And what are the challenges?

3) What do you personally need to change in order to implement more generative processes in your work?

Within each group of four, we explored these questions, one at a time in rotating pairs with one person in the pair talking for three minutes, followed by the other person in the pair. Returning to plenary, the group then came together to answer a further question:

From this experience, what is different? What new knowledge do you have and how are you going to use it going forward (i) in this meeting; and (ii) beyond?

This was a great, generative exercise for the morning of the first day of the meeting. Why? Because we had the opportunity to get to know one another as we spoke (uninterrupted) and listened to another (without interrupting), sharing thoughts for three minutes on each of the three questions. Because we focused on opportunities, aspirations and supporting factors (very appreciative!). Because we had a space and time for reflection. And, most importantly, because we focused on what we personally need to change.

I found the focus on the ‘I’ extremely powerful and empowering – helping me to see more clearly my personal role in my professional environment and making me articulate what I, personally, need to start changing today if I want my work to be more generative!

The notion of the Trojan Horse approach stuck in my mind following the earlier post. What is the relationship between the way an initiative is framed, the extent to which the objectives are made explicit, and participation in it? And what is the ‘right’, socially responsible approach to take?

Change is constant and we are all participants (whether aware and willing or otherwise) in multiple, simultaneous change processes. How are these processes framed? How aware are we of the objectives? And are we (actively) participating or (passively) being participated ?

The idea of participating or being participated is one that recurred during the World Congress on Communication Development ( I wonder now – How does the framing of initiatives determine our active participation in them and affect the amount of energy and enthusiasm we choose to bring? And how are we framing our initiatives?