K Street Newsletter :: Directions

February 2017    |    VOLUME 15, ISSUE 2

The Right to Disconnect

In most of the industrialized world, the popularity of mobile computing is driving an always-on culture, and it touches both our working and personal lives. On the work front, managers come to expect employees to be available 24/7, even on weekends and vacations. In our personal lives, we worry about missing the latest internet meme. Mental health professionals call it FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), and while it's generally thought of as a problem for younger people, FOMO can affect the work lives of experienced professionals, too. It's not a new phenomena, but until recently there were countermeasures built the realities of life. You couldn't stay connected while driving, or flying or in the subway. Social conventions discouraged the idea of letting work take time away from family. Little by little, though, those countermeasures are being whittled away.

France has recently enacted a law to address the problem, and requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish a "disconnection" rule for after-hour and vacation communications. It took effect January 1, and is not universally praised. Some feel it will undermine productivity relative to other Western countries. They point out that innovative ideas can pop up at any time, and may require immediate action. Others think it's a great policy, since if employees never get time to recharge, their long term effectiveness suffers. It's worth watching. If it seems to work well in France, the idea may prove contagious.
 

Courteous Competition

In the early days of Knowledge Street, you often saw articles about email etiquette. We wrote a few ourselves, in fact. You don't see them that much any more, but the reasons aren't obvious. Have we all just internalized the unwritten rules? That may be part of it. It's pretty rare now to find someone typing a message in all caps, or using REPLY ALL when it's not warranted. It might be that the advent of Instant Messaging and Twitter means email is no longer the least formal mode of communication. Maybe the act of writing an email now seems more significant, so people are putting more thought into them.

However, this article suggests that too many people still violate the rules of common courtesy in their electronic correspondence. They promise a response that never comes, and just leave people hanging. Beyond being simply rude, that's a foolish way to do business. The author cites his company's responsiveness as a competitive differentiator, and is sure that it's helped him win business over the years. When so many people ignore the principles of business etiquette, those who practice them have an edge. And burning the bridge of a relationship through casual discourtesy is just silly. Answer those emails!
 

 

Street Smarts 162: It starts with content.

In recent years, digital designers have tended to focus on the interface, building their designs directly in the code with tools like Sketch. And that's led to a fundamental problem, since the emphasis becomes the design of the frame. That is, designers spend their time thinking about the container instead of the content. This article wonders if the traditional skills of copy writing and art direction are getting left behind.

Ad agencies have always understood that copy writers are the key to effective content creation ("Got milk?"), but design agencies have tended to undervalue them. The best design firms will have content strategists and writers involved from the beginning of every project. They'll develop a plan for what kind of content is necessary and let the designers work with real copy that has the right style and tone. The intersection of design, technology and content is where the real magic happens.

 

 

Givers and Takers

This is a good TED Talk by organizational psychologist Adam Grant. (Now that TED Talks have become a punch line on late night TV, we assume you probably know what they are. If you don't, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and is also the name of a non-profit that's been around since 1984. Its mission is to make "great ideas accessible.")

In Grant's talk, he suggests that most workplaces can be broken down into three kinds of people. There are givers, who are happy to contribute to the greater good. They approach most interactions by looking for ways to help. In opposition to givers, you naturally have takers. People who'd rather ask for favors than return them. They're good at "kissing up and kicking down." Most people, though, are "matchers." They try to keep a balance between give and take. What Grant found surprising is that the worst performers tend to be givers. Because they do the most favors for others, they get the least work done. It's a principle he found in everything from the grades of medical students to the revenue of sales folks. What's ironic is that at the organizational level, the givers add the most value for the team. The most meaningful way to succeed is to help others succeed, and building a culture of givers is a goal worth pursing.

 

Soft Skills

It's a given that today's employers are looking for skill sets that didn't exist even a few years ago. They may want data scientists, or social media strategists or cloud computing experts. But according to Ernest Wilson at USC, companies are also looking for what he calls "third space" thinkers: people with outstanding soft skills. Those are the skills that drive many hiring decisions, and also lead to career advancement. And they will be increasingly important as we continue to move from an industrial economy to a distributed digital economy.

Third-space people excel at 360-degree thinking, cultural awareness and empathy. They are highly adaptable. They're the kind of people who make excellent leaders, can come up with new organizational models and can pull together all kinds of initiatives. Perhaps their most important quality is intellectual curiosity. Third-space people want the answers to questions, and are ready to pose questions of their own, too. You can see a video on this topic at entrepreneur.com.


 

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