Sunday, October 30, 2016

"Are we living in a social economy or precarious one?"/ "How to see yourself as your co-workers do"

Aug. 15, 2016 "Are we living in a social economy or a precarious one?":

This piece is part of a Globe and Mail/OCAD University summer series highlighting design thinking, issues and innovation.

Sarah Tranum is an assistant professor of social innovation design in the design faculty at OCAD University. Alia Weston is an assistant professor of creative and business enterprise in the faculty of liberal arts and sciences, school of interdisciplinary studies, at OCAD University. They co-lead the minor in entrepreneurship and social innovation.

The precarious economy, the project economy, the social economy – one is defined as scarce, underpaid, insecure employment while the others point to independent, interconnected, self-directed work. The first term underscores uncertainty while the others focus on potential opportunities.
Different names, different perspectives on one reality, namely the current job market in North America. This is a job market that no longer offers the same hope for full-time, long-term employment that it did even just a decade ago. It does offer flexible employment and greater opportunities to work on various projects of one’s own choosing, to even self-direct a career about creating impactful social change.

Call it what you will, but there is no doubt the economy and our understanding of employment has shifted significantly over the past two decades, and will continue to do so because of technology and changes in the global marketplace.

However it’s defined, people need the hard and soft skills to thrive in this new economy. Progressive education has a critical role in preparing the next generation of workers, but it’s just one piece. A range of supportive policies and programs is absolutely necessary if the supply and demand of the evolving job market are to be aligned – if Canadians, young and not so young, are to find meaningful places in the increasingly global employment market.

We all know the story: After the 2007-08 financial crisis, our economies tanked, companies tightened their belts and jobs were eliminated, while technology kept trucking ahead. By late 2009, the economy had stabilized and companies began seeing profits again. But the jobs lost and the changes made were never fully restored. The result has been fewer full-time jobs, more part-time and contract work, few benefits.

Up to this point, one’s skills, obligations, personal outlook and ability to navigate uncertainty and risk have determined how this reality is shaped on the individual level – whether the new reality is a precarious space of unemployment or a transformational space of opportunity. Moving forward, what’s most critical is recognizing the need to prepare, train and support job seekers for a different kind of market, then actually investing in it. This is the new reality, but instead of meeting it head on, too many in positions to help – in education, industry and government – are looking backward. The result is many workers going it alone, with varying degrees of success.

Some recognize the need to look forward and meet the new reality. In classes at OCAD University, undergraduate art and design students are taught about the historical contexts of work, about the precarious consequences of the Great Recession, about the technological revolutions taking place around us. They are encouraged to consider this history and question causes and implications. But what feels like just a blink to those of us who lived, worked and saw our investments shrink then is old news to most of these young students. So why is this so relevant to teach now?

These shifts have shaped the job market they will enter as graduates. This market looks very different from the one their parents entered, and if they are to navigate and succeed, they will need to understand how it came to be and how it continues to evolve. They need to navigate ambiguity, think entrepreneurially and engage in a socially responsible way. These qualities aren’t new, but the competency to create, launch a business or design solutions to pressing societal challenges is more critical now than ever before.

This is the impetus behind OCAD University’s new entrepreneurship and social innovation minor. The program is focused on teaching business and economic principles through a lens of critical and creative thinking and practice, but it’s rooted in community, ethics and social responsibility. It is not just market forces and analyses of long-term trends that led to its creation but the students, themselves, who have recognized the connection between their studio work and the realities of the marketplace. They are asking for entrepreneurship, leadership and social innovation-based courses to be part of their education and they are creating opportunities to further explore these areas as part of their university experience through student-led initiatives.

This curriculum includes real-world projects, international community engagement and critical analyses, combined with hands-on, studio-based work giving our students both depth and breadth across fields of study. The objective is to instill the ability to navigate a future that is global and digital while also being fluent in local, social realities and in the physicality of materials, processes and techniques of their chosen art and/or design discipline. This mixture of theory and practice, micro and macro, is the future of art and design education. It is the way forward for graduating students poised to create opportunities for themselves and others through their creative work and also make a living from this.

But even more can be done to prepare students – not just to help them carve out a niche in the new economic reality but to empower them to shape it. Canada abounds with people who are helping to chart the future of work, but there are many more who struggle to find their places, to launch their ideas, to secure sufficient income. For those left behind, the economic and social effects can be profound and troubling.

Pro-active and innovative university preparation is a critical piece of the puzzle, but more is needed: support from the business community, consumers and policy-makers to ensure that a generation isn’t lost.

Here’s what active participants – workers, entrepreneurs and social innovators – in the new economy need:

  • Paid internships and apprenticeship programs. Students and job-seekers alike need more access to paid experiential learning opportunities in the field. The more experience they have, the better prepared they are to choose and create successful career paths, often ones that have not yet been paved.

  • Support from businesses and consumers. More than lip service needs to be paid to small local businesses, artists and designers. Choosing quality over the bottom line in business and personal purchasing decisions helps small independent vendors stand a chance against big global competitors, which in turn leads to job creation and more money in local economies.

  • Policy and programs to mitigate risks. The new economic reality needs more supports for those working as consultants, independent contractors and small business owners. Policies and programs that facilitate benefits and retirement savings are critical. Being an active player in this changing economy should not require sacrificing security and piece of mind.

  • Funding and support for enterprise. We need stronger incentives for starting up independent businesses and social enterprises: more help with university tuition, greater student loan flexibility, enterprise funding, mentorship, market access. Innovation needs to be seeded and nurtured. Support is needed for those in the creative industries and social innovation, not just for researchers and innovators in high tech and biomedical fields.

With these measures in place, our economy can become less uncertain and less perilous, and offer greater potential and freedom. While education and perspective attuned to the realities and opportunities of this job market are key, it shouldn’t just be up to the next generation’s work force to turn lemons into lemonade. Much more can and should be done to help new and current employment-seekers find their way and thrive. Broad-based supports and initiatives will help to shape a generation of professionals who can take on the challenges and potential of the new economy and a world that continues to evolve alongside creative, adaptable leaders and innovators.

Sept. 13, 2016 "How to see yourself as your co-workers do": I cut out this article by Harvey Schachter in the Globe and Mail on May. 20, 2015:

No One Understands You and What to Do About It
By Heidi Grant Halvorson
(Harvard Business Review Press, 212 pages, $27.50)

“You really do have to read this one, Jonathan.”
That’s how Columbia Business School social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson ends her latest book. Jonathan Halvorson is her husband, a successful executive who never reads books on management, innovation, motivation, and influence – including the ones she has written. She asked him one day what topic he would delve into.

“I suppose the one problem I haven’t figured out a good solution for – the one that keeps coming up again and again – is how I come across to other people. I get the feeling that sometimes people think I’m being critical, or aloof, or disengaged, and that’s not at all my intention. But I don’t know how to fix it, because I don’t understand what they are seeing,” he responded.

Unlike her husband, most of us haven’t given this issue much thought. We assume that people see us for the wonderful people we are. But they don’t.
“The uncomfortable truth is that most of us don’t come across in the way we intend. We can’t see ourselves objectively, and neither can anyone else, ” she writes in No One Understands You and What to Do About It. “Knowing how you are actually perceived – in an interview, on a sales call, in your everyday interactions with your boss and co-workers – can go a long way toward improving nearly every aspect of your working life.”

The first reason is that you are a riddle wrapped in an enigma. You are not an open book – people can’t read your mind. Indeed, when negotiators – who should be sharp at reading people – were asked about the other party’s intentions, they guessed correctly only 26 per cent of the time. You are far from transparent and to be judgable you need to make information about yourself available to others that will provide evidence of the particular qualities you are trying to convey.

However, you need to be careful because a second problem is that your actions are a matter of interpretation. Research shows that people who like Barack Obama consider him intelligent and competent, while those who dislike him consider the U.S. President incompetent and a failure. So perceptions are shaped by feelings toward the individual. “To borrow a bit from Tolstoy, it would appear that while all your fans see you similarly, the haters each hate you in their own unique way,” she said.

As well, we tend to be cognitive misers, wanting to think only as much as we feel necessary. So not only are you hard to understand, but people observing you aren’t willing to expend much effort puzzling you out. They succumb to assumptions, rules of thumb (people from an Ivy League university are smart), and stereotypes. They seek to confirm their biases.

Often they have an agenda that warps perception – in effect, a “lens” by which they view you. She focuses on three:

The trust lens: When people meet you for the first time or are still getting to know you, they are wondering whether they can trust you. Can they let their guard down with you? Are you friend or foe? And do you have what it takes to act on those positive or negative intentions? This is usually unconscious, happening very quickly – a primal response, dating back to prehistoric days when it could mean survival.

“Decades of research show that they are highly attuned into two particular aspects of your character, right from the get-go – your warmth and your competence. Your warmth – friendliness, loyalty, empathy – is taken as evidence that you have good intentions toward the perceiver. Your competence – intelligence, skill, effectiveness – is taken as evidence that you can act on your intentions if you want to,” she said.

The power lens: When the person you are interacting with has more power than you, they have a straightforward agenda: Prove yourself useful to me or get out of the way. And she stresses this is not just power in the sense of business or government, but all relationships. Your goal is to show how you can help the more powerful person reach his or her goals.

The ego lens: The perceiver wants to view you in a way that allows him or her to come out on top. We do this when we dismiss a celebrity, without much evidence, as a jerk – it makes us feel superior. People are less worried by other folks who aren’t that close to them, so their behaviour doesn’t matter much (like a second cousin rarely seen) or whose achievements don’t seem all that relevant (the friend who is an expert at playing the flute, something you care little about). But when the achievements are relevant and the relationship close, it can threaten the ego.

The book offers lots of advice on those three lenses and the broader issue of how you are perceived by others. It’s clearly written, based on research, with lots of examples. Perhaps Jonathan Halvorson should read it.


Leadership trainer Michael Lee Stallard explains the competitive advantage of empathy and understanding in Connection Culture (ATD Press, 134 pages, $29.95).

Innovation expert Rowan Gibson explores creative thinking in The 4 Lenses of Innovation (Wiley, 284 pages, $42).

In The Payoff Principle (Greenleaf, 264 pages, $29.95) Alan Zimmerman of the Institute for Management Studies presents a formula for success: Purpose + Passion + Process = Payoff.

My opinion: The Payoff Principle seems pretty interesting.  I will look it up.

By reading this article, it brought me this Apr. 2013 article.  There was a job interview with this woman:

Job interview: A few months ago, I did a job interview and I wrote about it.  Remember that time the interviewer was a woman who I felt like was "attacking" me?  Her tone of voice was kind of harsh.  The whole story is this: I was interviewing for a credit and collections agency.

Now I'm sure all you are like: "Oh yeah.  That explains her tone of voice.  She is probably so used to yelling at people on the phone to pay their bills, that this is how she normally talks now."

My 2016 opinion: She probably doesn't know or notice that she seems angry.  She didn't directly say anything mean to me, but I felt that she was coming off harsh.

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