K Street Newsletter :: Directions

January 2018    |    VOLUME 16, ISSUE 1

Happy New Year!

The New Year is traditionally a time for resolutions, as we push a magical reset button and try to become better versions of ourselves. That means January is also a month when the media is full to overflowing with self-help articles. There are simple, common sense tips, lists of resolution ideas, psychological analysis and (of course) reviews of apps that promise to make this year's resolutions a success! For all of that sound and fury, Americans consistently come in with one resolution on top: Get in shape (lose weight, exercise more, drink less and eat a healthier diet, being variations on that theme.)

For a really deep dive, read this link-filled New Yorker article, which considers the fundamental human desire to turn a new leaf at the new year. It warns that this desire makes us vulnerable to various snake-oil salesmen and self-help gurus.The desire to achieve some kind of perfection is more than a little stressful, and the game may not be worth the candle. After considering the advice of a dozen self-improvement programs, the author observes that things don’t need to be of concrete use in order to have value. So put away the self-help guides, and read a novel instead. "Go to a museum and look at art, secure in the knowledge that it will not improve you in any measurable way."

 

Cultivating Self Awareness

Speaking of New Year's resolutions, you might consider working to become more self-aware. According to this post at the Harvard Business Review, research suggests that people who are highly self-aware are more confident and creative. They make better decisions, build better relationships and are more effective leaders. The author reviews her own years of research on the topic, involving ten separate studies covering more than 5,000 participants. Even though most people believe they are self-aware, self-awareness is a rare quality: Only 10% to 15% of participants actually fit the criteria developed to identify it.

Self-awareness can be considered in both internal and external terms. Internal self-awareness has to do with how clearly people understand their own values, aspirations, strengths and weaknesses. External self-awareness has to do with understanding how other people appreciate those same qualities. Good leaders need to develop both kinds of self-awareness. They need to both see themselves clearly and solicit feedback to better understand how they are seen by others. It's something individuals can cultivate, too, by focusing on what people think, instead of why.

 

 

Street Smarts 171: Ask for feedback.

Winning teams often share a particular characteristic: they are hungry for feedback. They don't operate in a bubble, and are always interested in learning more about how they're seen in the eyes of their stakeholders. They want to know how well they're meeting today's needs, and what needs they could address tomorrow. They may go for surveys or focus groups, from time to time, but sometimes just having good conversations can deliver a lot of the same value.

Winning teams are good at questioning, active listening and have a strong ability to emphasize. They also work to build environments where people feel free to say what they really think and know their opinions will be heard. This article builds on the basic idea that feedback matters, and offers some tips for getting started. The tips themselves are not ground-breaking, but their power is in their simplicity. Any team can try one or more on for size, without investing a lot of time or money. The important thing is to appreciate the value of good, ongoing feedback, and make a start.
 

 

The Staying Power of Infographics

From time to time, people ask us if we do infographics. The answer is yes. In fact, while infographics are newly trendy, the idea has been around for hundreds of years. One of the things that led us to Knowledge Management as a trade was an interest in "information design," as beautifully explored by Ed Tufte. With the right insight and skill, you can pack a tremendous amount of information into a single image. The famous graphic of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, drawn by Charles Joseph Minard in 1869, includes six different variables in one integrated display (latitude, longitude, temperature, time, troop strength, and direction of travel).

What makes the best infographics work is their simplicity. You can't make them too dense, and can't fold in too many disparate elements. So we recommend this post, that breaks down the theory of infographics in a very straightforward way. It uses the Star Wars franchise as a metaphor, attributing its success to the simplicity of its basic narrative. Infographics are here to stay, because they let you communicate many things in a visually compelling way. They're more likely to be shared on social media, and people will almost always favor graphically enhanced content over blocks of text. And of course, if you're looking to build one of your own, drop us a note!

 

Fusing the Old with the New

You probably don't spend a lot of time reading about cement and concrete technology. Probably. But we came across this article when scouting out content for the January issue of Directions. Like many other communities of practice, civil engineering is working to bring younger professionals into the mix, so they can help design the cities of the future. Generation Z wants to be involved in everything from concept, to design to construction. It's a new challenge for this sector, which has traditionally been the realm of experienced, older engineers.

As more members of Generation Z consider civil engineering as a career, they're questioning assumptions about what's possible with cement and concrete. They need to be schooled in the realities of working with such unforgiving materials, without having their creativity quashed. A number of programs are under way to make that happen. For example, the Concrete Society of Southern Africa is partnering with local universities to engage students in direct learning opportunities. One of them is an annual concrete canoe race, where students design, build and race canoes in collaboration with project management and other tech students. Meaningful engagement with younger engineers is considered a key objective for civil engineering.

 

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