K Street Newsletter :: Directions

October 2020    |    VOLUME 18, ISSUE 10

Daydream Believer

There's neurological evidence that when our brains are idle, they can draw connections and access memories more easily than when working on a task. So it's actually good to let the mind wander. Innovation drives our modern economy and creative thinking is a critical skill for everyone. But you have to make time for it. Cultural pressures and our always-on lifestyles tend to fill every waking moment. We feel more productive if we're doing something, even if it's just solving a crossword. But your brain needs real down time, too. On your next commute, try leaving the radio off and resist the urge to make a few calls. Just let yourself drive, and let your mind follow its own path.

J. K. Rowling has written that the idea for the Harry Potter novels came to her in 1990 when she was stuck on a train with neither pen nor paper. So for several hours, she simply sat and thought about the boy who lived. Some of those thoughts would be lost by the time she was able to write them down, but the core of the story was clear enough. The first draft of The Philosopher's Stone emerged from that railway daydream. Idleness can boost inventiveness.


Remote Working Burnout

In the pre-pandemic days, most people saw their co-workers regularly. Managers could keep an eye on how people were performing, and through normal workplace interactions could spot when folks might be pushing themselves too hard. In the new, working-from-home normal, that's no longer the case. If you're working from home, you need to keep an eye on yourself. According to a recent survey, more than two-thirds of workers are experiencing burnout while working remotely.

This article mentions several things to watch for -- potential red flags that you're facing burnout yourself. One is that you don't take time off, even if you've earned it. Maybe you feel like you don't deserve a break, or maybe work seems less stressful than navigating the outside world of the pandemic. EIther way, it's a mistake. Take a break from work. The same principle applies if you don't have a dedicated home office. Don't let your office default be everywhere. Pick a corner or even a single chair and let that be the location for work mode. It's a new kind of world now, but it's one you can live with.


Street Smarts 203: Set boundaries.

For the last eight months, people have had to be more creative when it comes to striking a work-life balance. They've lost the social aspect of work, as well as the structure provided by a daily routine. They're learning how to make virtual meetings work, to a degree. It's a different kind of lifestyle, and the changes are likely to be permanent. Microsoft has recently announced that it intends to let employees work from home permanently, at least for several days a week. Microsoft is not alone, either, since Google and Twitter have made similar moves.

To stay sane while evolving from where we were then to where we are now, it's important to set boundaries. Commit as rigorously to windows of downtime as you to do windows for working. Don't let work creep into that non-work time when you should be making a meal or spending time with the family. You may not be able to go out for lunch, but you can still go out for a walk or a drive. It's not clear what will happen on the other side of COVID-19. But it's unlikely to be a return to what used to be considered normal. It's going to be something new.


Where Ideas Come From

They say nothing ever goes away in the age of the Internet, and this is a good example. Science fiction luminary Isaac Azimov died in 1992 and more than 20 years later a new essay of his was published for the first time. Aszimov worked in the 1960s as a consultant to what was then the Advanced Research Projects Agency, and in that context put down his thoughts on creativity and innovation.

Azimov's primary contention is that new ideas are generated by people who both have the requisite background knowledge, and the ability to make cross-connections between apparently unrelated concepts. Once the cross-connections are made, they seems reasonable or even obvious. Before, not so much. In Azimov's words, "it seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat." He also endorses the idea of innovation as a team sport, something that's central to much of the thinking around Knowledge Management. He suggests that an element of isolation is necessary because "the world in general disapproves of creativity." But for maximum return, creative people need a place to share ideas, as long as it's a place of "ease, relaxation and a general sense of permissiveness." He was ahead of his time.

Mentoring Advice from RBG

It's almost a month since the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was something of a liberal superstar, and over 120 of her former clerks travelled to Washington to pay their final respects. They praised her work ethic, unwavering support and even temperament. From their words, you can learn a lot about what it takes to be a good mentor. This article presents the recollections of five people who clerked for her.

She kept in touch with her clerks even after they moved on. She was always calm under pressure, and realized that you can disagree without being disagreeable. She understood that meaningful work can strengthen and sustain you.  Perhaps most important, she urged people to remember why they were doing the work. For RBG, it was to serve people, communities and the country.




Directions is an electronic newsletter about things related to KM & Communications, published on the second Wednesday of each month (check out the current issue above). It’s a double opt-in system, which means you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you really want it. Once you click on the link in that mail, you’ll be signed up. You can always unsubscribe using the same link (or by using the link provided in every issue). We will absolutely not give your address to any third parties. What are we, crazy?

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