Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Why Best Buy's Employee Parking Lot is Empty

Nine Shift answers the question in greater depth, but I'll give away the punchline: Best Buy is encouraging employees to work from home.
"They have discovered (yes, it's true) that telecommuters are more productive than office workers."
An indicator of a larger trend? We can only hope. Driving around L.A. last week (and everyone apparently drives everywhere there) for the first time made me wonder if you could possibly conceive of a system that was any more dysfunctional than suburban sprawl combined with centralized offices.

Moms, Dads, Kids and Work

Penelope the Brazen Careerist should be queen of the work blogs. Maybe she is already. Anyway, I so often read her posts and nod along, thinking "wow, she really nailed it here." Then I save the post in Bloglines or Blogger and a month later it's still sitting there. In these two, she digs into the tensions, challenges and opportunities of how to divide up work and childcare in a family with two parents. It all rings so true to me, having spent the last five years attempting to find the magic formula that combines family and work bliss.

The new stay-at-home dad paves new paths for moms:
"In fact, most men do not set out to be stay-at-home dads. They just want to make sure they get to spend time with their kids. A survey by American Demographics revealed that eighty percent of men ages 18 to 39 said that a flexible job to accommodate kids takes a higher priority than doing challenging work or earning a high salary. The new stay-at-home version of dad is how they reach this goal."
The advice that jumps out at me in that post is to make sure the primary caregiver also has some work (or non-kid projects, at least) on the go. If I put all of my friends with young kids on a spectrum from happiest to most frustrated, the ones in the happy zone have kept working at least a few hours a week...not so much for the money, but for the sanity. At the other end are the ones who work full time or not at all.

Your family would be better off with a housewife. (So would mine.)
"The point is that marriage and family work best when one person is taking care of them full time. Duh. Everything in the world is best off when it is cared for very carefully. I wish everyone would stop trying to deny this."
I don't think many men would attempt to publish an article like this...but it's a shame, because the tone is spot on and honest to the core. The conversation should be happening, with a healthy questioning of values and what we're really trying to accomplish in our families, marriages and jobs. Lots of good thoughts in the comments to that one, too.

One of these articles pointed to stay-at-home-dad site Slowlane, and I followed a link to a very personal and enlightening article from a mom working full-time: Anatomy of a Working Mom's Brain. A quote, to give you the flavour:
"I was very overwhelmed, one of my experiences and I still experience this: I’m extremely overwhelmed being married to a work-at-home-dad. Are any of you work-at-home-dads and not stay-at-home-dads? It really makes a big difference. I don’t have a Mr. Mom at home. When I come home the laundry’s waiting for me, the dirty dishes are waiting for me, all of the housework is waiting for me. And that makes a big difference because not only do I work full time but that house is entirely my responsibility."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Try Bolivia

Think you're having a hard time balancing your work with your family and lifestyle desires? Bolivians head abroad looking for work, torn over families left back home:
"Every year, hundreds of thousands of migrants look to better their lives outside Bolivia, the poorest country in South America. With nearly 1.5 million Bolivians - a fifth of the population - living abroad, few families are untouched by the exodus.

Bolivia's story is like that of many other poor countries that ship off their only viable export product: their people. The migration often eases unemployment at home, but increases social pressures at their destinations."
Once in a while I need a reality check like this.

What a Printing Company in Montana Can Tell Us...

think:lab finds out What a Printing Company in Montana Can Tell Us About School Design and Leadership, but I think it's as fascinating from the perspective of envisioning effective workplaces. I especially loved his description of the company's approach to childcare:
"Day Care and 'family' is built in; there are no other options! The first thing you see when you come walk the parking lot to the front door are little kiddos playing under the Montana sky. All employees pay a pitance to have their young kids on site with them. It's a fundamental. Andrew made it a key design driver. And the # of Baby Bjorns in the office was an indicator that for many of the employees, a family 'quality of life' decision was made without compromising their careers. And its a spectacular daycare. Small adult/kid ratio. Healthy environment. Kids loved. And obviously very happy teachers and parents on site. It wins all visitors over the second they come into the building."
The company in question is Printing for Less, and they're really playing on lifestyle factors to attract skilled people -- check out the graphic comparison on their employment page.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Money Matters

Work from Within talks about how to get to the point where following your passion also pays the bills. Her advice? Be thankful for what you've got, and be patient:
"I regularly hear from people who are following their own authentic career path, 'So, I'm doing the work I love, but where's the money?' You know, Marcia Sinetar's classic book, Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow should add the word 'EVENTUALLY' at the end."
Harold also echoes what I've heard from many free agents in the time between contracts: "This year I don’t have any major projects scheduled for the Fall; which is not good from a financial perspective but it does mean that I can be open to any possibility." It seems like the work arrives eventually, too, but that uncertainty can be very hard on some people.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Career Planning Guideway

That last post reminded me of a feature we built last year in Choices Planner that lets a student integrate all kinds of personal assessment results into a career planning process. They start by completing the Interest Profiler (Holland codes) and Work Values Sorter (both career assessments), then combining those results with any other characteristics they want (earnings, job growth, working conditions, etc.). From there they choose a career from the resulting list and build a potential plan around it, including high school courses, post-secondary programs/paths, colleges, careers and lifestyle goals. The final step is to do a journal entry about the process. The student's final report might look something like this (pdf), and they can make as many different plans as they want to, or tweak existing ones.

It's a pretty cool way to "try on" possible selves, and I keep wondering why we aren't hearing more feedback about the feature. In less than an hour, anyone could create a pretty solid career plan matching their unique personality and needs.

Do What You Are

There are lots of these online, but I thought this Personality Type Quiz was simple and smart, letting you find your Myers-Briggs type with four quick choices and then exploring the implications of your type. I'm solid INTP, meaning that I tend to be (quite accurately):
"quiet, independent, and private; logical and unemotional; creative, ingenious, and innovative, global thinkers; curious and driven to increase their competence; casual, and adaptive; nonconforming and unpredictable."
My list of suggested careers and the advice on how to love me seem pretty close, overall.

A lot of people make fun of these quizzes, but I think they're good tools to get you reflecting about who you are and to trigger ideas for how to align various parts of your life (work, especially) with your identity. Bridges Transitions (my current employer) also offers a subscription-based version for schools that has a similar flow, but with more in-depth questions, richer reports and professional resources.

Thanks to Penelope for reminding me to dig around in this stuff some more.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Soul Owner

7 Rules For Going Solo is a quickie article from the founder of Clif Bar on the benefits of entirely owning your own company (as opposed to partnerships, venture capital or IPO), but the part I'd like to hear more about is this:
"Nearly five years ago, I came within hours of selling Clif Bar Inc., the energy and nutrition foods company I had co-founded, for $120 million. Instead, I chose to buy out a 50 percent partner and go it alone."
So he left $60 million sitting on the table (I'm assuming half of the sale proceeds) and decided to go into huge debt to take full control of the company instead? Dude must really love his job. I did some googling and found this more detailed account of his decision:
He told his parents, his friends, his wife. They all supported him. They all knew he wasn't being honest with himself. As he waited to sign the contract that would make him rich, Erickson started to shake. He couldn't breathe. He took a walk around the block and began to weep.

"I felt in my gut, 'I'm not done,' " he writes in his book, and then, "I don't have to do this." He felt free "instantly." Back at the office, he told his partner, "Send them home. I can't sell the company."

It was a bet-the-company move. He needed $80 million to buy out his partner and service the debt. Clif Bar had to grow fast to handle it. He took back the CEO reins from his partner and ran Clif Bar for four years.

Another Life Planner

GoalsUnlimited is a for-fee online life planner (but you can play with some of it in the free trial). It's got some very smart, slick features that help you focus on the important characteristics of goals you want to achieve, complete with reminders and other tools to help you make future decisions.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Choose Your High School Archetype

So, which character from the the John Hughes filmography did you relate to best: Criminal, Basket Case, Jock, Princess or Brain? This article is a few years old, and I post it mostly for fun...but I've always been fascinated by how we perceive ourselves in high school and how those perceptions change as we grow up. A quote:
"Life is like high school, according to two researchers who tracked a sample of high schoolers through their early 20s to see if the teenagers' perceptions of themselves accurately predicted what they would be like as young adults."
For a more official account, check out the associated academic paper (pdf) with some conclusions about the impact of engagement in extracurricular activities (sports, clubs, bands) for teens:
"We have found that our measure of activity participation at grade 10 is related to identity, peer group composition, and to achievement-related values. It is also an important predictor of alcohol use, GPA, educational and occupational attainment, civic engagement, and psychological adjustment."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Road Trip Nation

I can't remember how I arrived back at the Road Trip Nation site, three years after reading the book and loving their project, but it's worth a visit for pure inspiration. The initial road trip was five years ago, with a few college students touring around the U.S. in a green RV interviewing interesting people about their life paths. Apparently there have been follow-up trips as well, and the collection of video interviews is extensive. Looks like they released a new book last year as well.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Moving With the Brazen Careerist

Brazen Careerist says, "I'm moving out of New York City", which by itself wouldn't interest me much, but the post is a rich mine of lifestye values and choices, all with happiness as the goal. She wisely leans on Daniel Gilbert's genius to try to apply what he's learning about happiness to her decision on where to move.

This reminded me of my enthusiasm last year about about Find Your Spot. I wonder if Penelope would have arrived at Madison, WI if she had done their quiz? Probably would have been somewhere on the list. My obsession with mountains seems to plant me firmly in Oregon when I do the quiz.

It's cool to have the freedom to choose from anywhere in the country (or the world!) to live, based on school quality, crime rates, real estate prices, or whatever...but I have two main reservations about this approach.

The first also comes from research that shows that meaningful relationships are probably the greatest predictors of happiness. Moving away from friends and family might satisfy other lifestyle values (leisure, work, climate, culture), and I guess most people are better at making new friends than I am...but it would seriously compromise my happiness to start new somewhere, for relationships alone. It's probably true that "People are happy if they earn what their friends earn", but I don't think it follows that having no friends in your new location is going to make you feel rich (financially or otherwise).

The second reservation is more of an observation triggered by The Clustered World, which basically translates into the idea that we tend to have more in common with people in our lifestyle cluster no matter which city they live in. There are a few neighborhoods in nearly every city on the continent that would fit my preferences and values. I wonder if we'd be better off finding the best (for us) neighborhoods close to our families and friends, rather than looking at the averages for entire cities far away from our networks and resources.

All of this said, I love Penelope's approach to this adventure. I also strongly agree with the belief that people are terrible at predicting what will make them happy. Even if you had the perfect tool for simulating your life in a new place, it would be very, very difficult to figure out how you'd really feel about it in the real world, in real time. At some point, you just have to try it and see.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

An Introduction to the Commons

Harold Jarche explaining the background and purpose of his excellent third-space project: An Introduction to the Commons.
"Take a look in any city and you will see people working with wireless enabled computers in what has become the default third-space – the coffee shop. Now, a new third-space, the work commons, is being created where workers pay a monthly membership to have access to shared work areas and business services. No one owns an office, because no one needs a full-time space. It would be a waste."
I love this concept -- it seems to be one more piece in the puzzle in helping people find better integration of their work, learning, community and family lives. You can see how the availability and use of these spaces could cascade through individuals' lifestyle choices.

Perhaps easy access to offices, equipment and interesting colleagues makes it that much easier to envision and facilitate self-employment. And maybe more self-employed people could live in smaller homes, closer to city centers if they didn't require home offices contained inside, saving energy and other costs. Maybe these commons will all integrate short-term drop-in childcare so Mom or Dad can finish a project or have a meeting when the need arises. It seems like these things could emerge as a sort of dynamic community center.

Reminds me that I SO need to visit the Queen Street Commons.

Update: Rob points to a new organization in Vancouver called Workspace, which looks more business- oriented (as opposed to community/social-oriented, I guess) and posher than some of the others, and the higher prices reflect that. Lots to love about this model, and you'd think that there will be the critical mass within Vancouver to make it work.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Global Happiness

Garth has been finding some goodies lately on global comparisons of happiness: The World's Happiest Country and Another Study of Well-Being, both linking to some fascinating articles and resources like this world map of subjective well being (PDF). Of course these overviews of national mood don't tend to tell you much about how individuals are faring in these countries; only that their averages are higher or lower...but still interesting to think about.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Other Side of Self-Employment

Brazen Careerist also linked to David G. Blanchflower, another economist looking at happiness. From Self-employment: more may not be better (PDF):
"It does seem likely that people have an unrealistically rosy view of what it is like to be running their own business rather than staying with the comparative security of being an employee. A surprisingly high proportion of employees say they would prefer to be self-employed. Despite the fact that very high proportions of employees say they would like to set up their own business the reality is something else."

Theory of Well-Being

Brazen Careerist linked to Richard Easterlin, an economist doing some interesting cross-discipline work researching happiness and economics. His article Building a Better Theory of Well-Being (PDF) is powerful stuff, slicing and dicing existing research on happiness and blazing a new path. A lengthy quote, to help me remember later why this matters:
"More income may contribute to a more comfortable family life, and may facilitate health through exercise machines and recreational expenditures. But time spent in the pursuit of income takes away from the time available for family, exercise, and recreation. Moreover, the net balance of
effects tends to be negative. This is because of the inability of people to foresee the differential change in aspirations by domain. This failure to anticipate the change in aspirations assures that the allocation of time to the pecuniary domain will be excessive and that the more rewarding domains of family and health will consequently receive insufficient attention. In family life, the result is a substitution of goods for time spent with one’s spouse and children.

One may ask if social learning occurs – don’t people eventually realize how their material aspirations escalate with economic achievement, and become aware of the self-defeating nature of the pursuit of pecuniary goals? Perhaps, but the evidence on material aspirations that I have given fails to show evidence of such social learning. Moreover, the change in material aspirations itself works against social learning. When asked how happy they were five years ago, people, on average, systematically underestimate their well-being at that time, because they evaluate their past situation in terms, not of the lower material aspirations they actually had at that time, but on the basis of the new higher level of aspirations they have now acquired (Easterlin 2001a, 2002). As a result, they tend to think they are better off than they were in the past, rather than realizing that there has been no net improvement."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Freedom vs Your Job

Rob pulls together some great resources and personal experiences in More on Freedom vs Your Job, providing a much needed kick in the ass.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Navigating the Quarterlife Crisis

You've already heard of the "quarterlife crisis", but check out this great overview from Brazen Careerist, including links to books and interviews on the topic. I followed one link to The Lost Girls, an account of three young career women quitting their jobs and taking off on a world tour to find themselves -- great, great stuff.

Prepare for Uselessness

A fairly gloomy article about coming changes in work, focusing on skill obsolescence and aging: Out with the old. A quote:
"The education system turns out large numbers of graduates who will not find work in the jobs for which they trained; more people will lose work to those in other countries who work for less; still others will find that as they age, their experience matters ever less. These are the spectres of uselessness today - images not of people confronting a broken economic machine, but of their own irrelevance in a system that works efficiently, and profitably."
Via Mark Lloyd.