Become an Expert in Your Field

Geneticist Eric Schadt is the quintessential expert. He’s redirecting the practice of biology from a reductionist model to a systems model, which means he knows that finding the cure to a disease is more likely to be done by studying whole systems of genes rather than individual genes. And as if blazing a trail through this new frontier weren’t enough, the way he demonstrates all his expertise is really remarkable.

Dr. Schadt works to make all of his research findings freely accessible to everybody, including profit-seeking drug companies.  He realizes that the information he shares reflects the information he actually knows, which is what comprises his expertise, natch.

To this end, he co-founded Sage Bionetworks, a non-profit biomedical research firm with a mission “to create an open access, integrative bionetwork evolved by contributor scientists working to eliminate human disease.” Not only is he making his own knowledge available, he’s creating a repository for all biologists to make their knowledge accessible, too. Radical!

Just how much intellectual wealth does he share? Alot, all over the Web. Is there a better place to broadcast yourself in 2011? To Schadt, the Chief Scientific Officer of Pacific Biosciences, the answer appears to be “no.” Take a look at:

We glean so much by studying this guru’s example.  Mainly, to be open about the information you have is to show the scope of your expertise. The more information you share, the more expertise you have. So what about you? Read more

Follow Whims, Increase Productivity?

Admit it: at work you sometimes wander over to YouTube to “conduct research.”  And there are times when you’ve played solitaire to distract yourself from a mundane–or especially complex–task.

Well good for you! When you listen to your whims, you often increase your productivity.

James Surowiecki writes in the New Yorker about the benefits of distraction, and cites some interesting studies which conclude that a worker’s impulse to take a break is typically aligned with an organization’s pursuit of higher output. Consider this:

A new study, done at the University of Copenhagen, asked participants to perform a simple task—watch videos of people passing balls and count the number of passes. … One group of participants had a funny video [first] come up on their screens; the rest saw a message telling them that a funny video was available if they clicked a button, but they were told not to watch it. … The curious result was that those who hadn’t watched the comedy video made significantly more mistakes than those who had.

Turns out that following rules can sometimes be more problematic than following personal desire–in this case, to watch a humorous video.

To be sure, we’re not advocating the total disregard of organizational policies in favor of doing whatever you wish. We’re thinking critically about how to match your internal drives with workplace realities, knowing it’s almost always possible to find a fit.

Sometimes, our brain needs a rest to process abundant or complicated data. Time reported on a study about our brains at rest by neuroscientist Lila Davachi at New York University. “Your brain is doing work for you even when you’re resting,” says Davachi. “Taking a rest may actually contribute to your success at work or school,” she adds.

So don’t feel bad about taking a short respite from the daily grind to read Whole Wide Work. Rest assured, you and your place of work will be better off.

What benefits of resting on the job have you experienced?

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Apple Inc. to Employees: “Bring It” [video]

Revealing your internal world on the job is usually a product of your own efforts. Your environment can play a part in your opening up, too, and some organizations are better at this than others.

Enter Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) contribution to the “It Gets Better” Project, started by Dan Savage to help prevent the suicide of teenagers and young adults who feel threatened because of their sexual identity.

Employees of Apple have created a truly heartfelt video, one that dares to depict the pain–and tears–of coming out to oneself and to others. In doing so, they’ve produced a powerful recruiting tool, as elements of Apple’s culture are fully on display.

What company values are inherent in the 6-minute segment?

  • Community service. Apple dedicated financial, personnel, and technological resources to offer their take on a societal problem.
  • Verbal ability. Everybody is so well-spoken, to be a member of the organization is to have top-notch oral communication skills.
  • Integration of multiple identities. Within the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender population at Apple, we see diversity in visible attributes such as race, age, gender and ability. It sounds like every individual’s voice is heard, too.

In this manner, the executive leadership encourages employees to “bring it.” Bring your invisible identities, bring your life stories, bring the intensity of your feelings–so profound!–and bring the corresponding tears, too. The prompt to bring all of your strengths and vulnerabilities must bring about a certain freedom in employees. Now when was the last time you felt free at work?

Indeed the open culture pays off. Apple maintains legions of consumers who breathlessly await the launch of the next uber-cool product, the iPad2 has been an instant best-seller, and the stock currently hovers around $330 a share.

UPDATE 5/2/11: Even though in 2010 Apple took over Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company, in the first quarter of 2011 it surpassed Microsoft in net income, too. Not surprising from a company that encourages employees to leverage their full humanity on the job.

What do you think of the video?

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Come Out at Work: As an Immigrant [video]

Call us American-ist. Every time we’ve seen a picture of Arianna Huffington, we expected she spoke with an American accent. Her skin undertone seems pink, her hair is blondish, the Huffington name sounds WASP, really American dominant culture, wouldn’t you say?

Then at last we heard Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington speak in a video produced by Dreams Across America, below, in which she describes her experience as an immigrant.

Upon closer inspection, we see some slight olive undertones in her skin, Huffington is her married name, plus hair color is easy to change. And lo and behold, she has a glorious Greek accent.

The new chief executive of the Huffington Media Group talks in the video about being born in Greece and going to Cambridge on a scholarship. She recounts moving to America and trying to get rid of her accent–which we interpret as trying to adopt an American accent–because as an immigrant, an accent sets you apart. She says:

I actually tried for a while to get rid of my accent–I haven’t done a very good job as you can hear–and then I kind of embraced it. I realized it was really complicated, changing your accent, and in a sense it’s now part of my identity.

Even the brightest among us sometimes work to change ourselves and fit in, to varying degrees of success, and much of the time–certainly in Huffington’s case–it’s energy wasted. Today she’s known as a charismatic leader, and her accent is part of her charm. She uses her immigrant status to engaging effect, referring to herself as a “Greek peasant girl,” for example.

An accent typically represents so much of who we are. It hints at multi-lingual capabilities, for example.  Those who speak more than one language use a part of their brain that monolingual folks often do not. An accent may also indicate a bi-cultural worldview. A broad perspective like this can be extremely helpful in solving complex problems.

So coming out at work as an immigrant can establish your worldliness, bring out your inner charms, and then land you a $315M merger deal. A pretty sweet realization of the American dream.

Were you born in a country outside of where you live? Are you out at work as an immigrant? How does this influence your work experience?

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The Best Way to Work With an Angry Colleague

Yay research! A study conducted at Temple University concluded that instead of punishing employees who exhibit extreme anger, supportive responses by managers and co-workers can promote positive change.

Published in the journal Human Relations, the authors of “The trouble with sanctions: Organizational responses to deviant anger displays at work” state:

when companies choose to sanction organizational members expressing deviant anger, these actions may divert attention and resources from correcting the initial, anger-provoking event that triggered the employee’s emotional outburst.

So rather than engage with your colleagues in a superficial manner, it helps to relate with them more deeply. Listen to the emotional tenor of your conversations, and you may hear a whole spectrum of feelings — anger, sorrow, defeat, uncertainty, excitement, hope, we could go on.

And when you do, you may be in a position to help your coworkers cope with their difficulties. You’re also better equipped to manage your own workload because:

1) you glean useful information about the organization’s projects by being so attuned, and
2) you build closer relationships, which will serve you when you’re the one looking for help.

What about your own anger? We’ve been asked by a reader to explore concrete ways to channel anger more productively.

Start by acknowledging your irate feelings, then identify the specific source or target of your fury. Once you’re able to understand what has ticked you off, and why, we can then apply these researchers’ findings to your experience. Have compassion for your self, which will likely bring about compassion for your colleagues, in turn. This emotional intelligence becomes the basis on which to resolve the situation and your related bad feelings.

We’ll revisit the topic of managing anger at work; there’s so much to discuss when it comes to leveraging at work everything you have inside you.

Under what circumstances have you worked with an angry colleague? How did you manage?

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How to Get on the D-List at Work

Wall Street (subway stop, not the film)

Remember Gordon Gekko’s “greed is good” speech in the film Wall Street? Michael Douglas played Gekko, whose credo got etched inside us in the late 80s when the film about corporate excess was released. We were reminded of it recently at a lecture on raising compassionate kids, during which the presenter used video of Gekko’s outburst as context for the world we live in. The most memorable segment went like this:

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.
Greed is right.
Greed works.
Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.
And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you very much.

Cute that so much money surrounded a paper company, no? Gekko’s thesis — greed is good — was outrageous, mostly because greed has negative connotations. If we accept his digression “for lack of a better word,” we see he’s really talking about desire. And desire is good — desire for life, for money, for love, knowledge, all of it.

Especially in the workplace. Read more

3 “A”s of Ambition

Last week we sat on a panel at Pace University discussing “diversity in the workplace.”  Panelists talked about corporate and non-profit initiatives that exist to promote more integrated places of work, and how students can prepare themselves to talk about issues of identity and organizational dynamics during interviews.

It was an even-keeled evening for a theme that many folks have been socialized to avoid:  essentially how race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability, ethnicity and age relate to the American social structure. Panelists focused on how students can excel within this reality.

The final discussion prompt was “what career advice do you have for students?” This is what we had to say, in essence:

The upper echelons of organizations still largely lack diversity. While companies write policies about recruiting a fully representative workforce, and many have “diversity offices,” this sometimes allows the top brass to feel they’re working enough to create an integrated environment.  And yet, the pool of Fortune 500 CEOs is comprised mostly of straight White males. How can a young upstart work her way up? Read more