Category Archives: Business

Get Ahead At Work: Be Selfish

As performance reviews loom on the horizon, it’s a great time for all of us to step back and ask ourselves:

How can I be a better employee?

A lot of the career advice out there will tell you how to communicate more effectively with co-workers, make your boss look good or provide unexpected value for the company. The experts tell you to focus on finding ways you can help others in order to help yourself. This will probably help you climb up the ladder a bit, gain some favor with folks at the office. Your boss will look good, your co-workers will look good and the company’s bottom line will look good. But what about you?

I suggest a more radical approach to career betterment. I propose we stop focusing so much on what we can do for others and more on what we can do for ourselves.

The 10,000-Hour Rule

Two blogs, Career Realism and The Writer’s Coin, have helped me reach this conclusion. The first post I read was from Career Realism, introducing me to the “10,000-Hour Rule.”

“Simply put, the 10,000 Hour Rule says no one gets to the top of their field unless they log at least 10,000 hours of practice. That’s right – 10,000 hours!”

Now 10,000 hours is a lot of hours to log. As one commentor on Career Realism pointed out, that’s roughly 5 to 6 years worth of work. As the blogger explains, that puts recent grads at a great disadvantage,

“One of the biggest complaints I hear from managers these days is the lack of ‘professionalism’ they see from recent college grads. The 10,000 Hour Rule explains why: most college grads today have not been required to work through high school and college in professional settings. Moreover, managers, parents, and even students themselves today are under the mistaken impression that college teaches this sort of thing. Over here at we say, ‘College teaches you everything EXCEPT how to get the job.’”

Ever had a superstar co-worker who was great at their job until they were promoted? It’s a common story. A salesman may be fantastic at landing deals but completely unprepared to deal with budgets, fighting co-workers or incorrect timesheets. But what makes these workers successful at one role but not another? Experience–something that can only be acquired by doing it yourself.

But how do you gain professional skills if not on the job?

The Writer’s Coin, as the last part of a six part series on being a better worker, recommends doing something outside of work everyday. The blogger says,

“This one has less to do with work and what you do while you’re there than it does with having a nice balance in your life. In other words, it might just make you feel better when you’re at work if you’ve done something beforehand (or afterwards, if that’s your style—I just can’t get much together after work)….

The point of getting up early and doing something else is to make you feel like you’re life doesn’t just revolve around working. It also gives you time to get side projects off the ground, catch up on e-mail, read, etc….

I know, I know, getting up early is a nightmare for most people. You will get used to it. Trust me, I feel weird staying in bed past 5:30am now because I’ve been doing it for so long.”

Ultimately, having something else outside of work, whatever it may be, is likely to make you a happier person and a better employee.

And isn’t that what it’s all about?

The complimentary nature of these two posts gives us a prescription to becoming a more successful employee: make effective use of your time outside of work to do things you enjoy, which will in turn help make you more effective at work.

For example, if you are trying to get promoted into a management position but have no direct supervisory experience, you could continue to do a great job in sales and hope that the higher ups are willing to reward you for that work with an untested promotion. Or you could help yourself by volunteering to manage a group of phone operators during a pledge drive for a local charity.

One of the best managers I ever worked for spent his Spring afternoons coaching a high school softball team. He was accomplished at the technical aspects of his job, but I really think his willingness and ability to mentor the younger workers on his team is what made him such a great manager. His mentoring skills were gained in large part from his experience helping young athletes perform on the field.

By focusing on developing yourself, rather than on what you can do for your co-workers/boss/bottom line, you will accelerate promotions as well as enable yourself to succeed once you get to your next professional challenge.

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Idiocracy: The Death of Intelligent Advertising

View my guest post, Idiocracy: The Death of Intelligent Advertising, over at Business Pundit. Here’s an excerpt:

Noam Chomsky, famous MIT professor, claimed during a speech in Santa Fe, New Mexico back in January 2005 that

“the main purpose of advertising is to undermine markets. If you go to graduate school and you take a course in economics, you learn that markets are systems in which informed consumers make rational choices. That’s what’s so wonderful about it.”

In a perfect world, advertising would be utilized by consumers to make intelligent, rational choices about which products to by or services to use. But in an effort to stand out from the competition, many advertisers are now turning to so-called “shockvertising” and it online companion, the “viral” video. Characterized by surreal fantasy, these ads can encompass anything from a man in a chicken suit dancing around his living room (aka Burger King’s Subservient Chicken) to the “No Stank You” public services ads warning kids about the dangers of smoking by showing them dancing on giant, smoke-stained, rotten teeth that are floating in space.

Huh? Are consumers so impressionable that they can be influenced to by a burger based on a man in a chicken suit rather than a picture of the actual burger they intend to purchase?

Whatever happened to talking about the product you are selling? When did advertisers stop trying to appeal to us on an intelligent level?

This post appeared as the last in a series. Check out the other posts in the blogathon here.
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On The Wrong Side of the Conference Table

Pessimism over OptimismIf a terrible catastrophe were ever to befall the earth, I believe that the world would be separated into two groups: the optimists, who think we will prevail in the face of adversity, and the pessimists, who start running for the hills because we are all doomed. I would fit squarely in the pessimists group with a backpack full of bottled water and running shoes on.

A Life Half Full

Negativity has always weighed predominantly on my personality, beliefs and actions (although I really prefer to see myself as a realist). I’m practical. I’m a downer. I always plan for the worst-case scenario. I carry napkins in my purse in case of spills. I keep energy bars in my glove compartment in case I get stuck in a snowstorm. I like to be prepared.

Having spent most of my life being told to look on the Brightside (I bring my sunglasses), it was no wonder that I took great offense to advice offered in a Wall Street Journal career column advising a Negative Nelly to “suck it up” and learn to play the game.

Here’s the situation:

My husband is a 41-year-old finance manager who was told by his new boss that he needed to stop making negative comments. Specifically, he was told not to say that the company has tried something but that it didn’t work before. He was told if he didn’t stop making these comments, he would be put on a performance action plan. Since then he has worked hard at being positive and was told by his boss that he was doing a good job. But recently, his boss got a call from human resources about my husband’s behavior in a meeting — he was perceived as being negative because he recommended that the group look at X before they do Y. He was told he would be fired the next time he said something inappropriate…Can he repair the situation?

Unsticking From Negativity

Having read through this a few times in an attempt to leave any “negative” bias behind me, I still fail to see how the man in question was anything other than realistic and offering meaningful advice that would probably keep the company from pursuing failed projects. However, the advice columnist saw things differently.

“If you’re used to a certain factual, structured world, and the boss is asking you to use the common cliché and think outside the box, if you don’t do it, you’re going to fail,” Dr. Tobais says. “Try to open yourself up.” But, he says, it won’t be easy. “Negativity is a thinking style we tend to get stuck in.”

In addition to meeting the boss’ expectations, not shutting yourself off from others’ bright ideas will make your co-workers more amenable to considering your suggestions. Giving them positive feedback and contributing something besides verbal roadblocks at meetings will make them return the favor and listen to you too — instead of daydreaming about what they’re going to pick up for lunch.

Negativity is “a thinking style” we get stuck in?! And blissful ignorance isn’t? I get that a lot of the tension in this situation stems from a clash in personalities and group mentality. Apparently this man’s co-workers are generally an optimistic bunch and this Eeyore isn’t meshing with their collective think. I agree that in order to help his relationships at work he may need to work on fitting in better with his team, whether that be cutting down on his “negative” comments or increasing his praise. However, I don’t understand why the realistic or “negative” folks are always ostracized.

Pessimism Can Be A Good Thing

Having worked for a boss who took on any project floated without question and encouraged me to do the same, I can attest that it is just as bad to be a negative person working in a sea full of optimists as it is for a room of optimists to have to deal with one negative person. Sometimes I feel like I am crazy because I see all of these problems that no one else seems to care about, much like the Greek myth of Cassandra who was blessed with the gift of knowing the future but cursed with the inability to be believed by others when she told them what she saw.

The subprime mortgage crisis a great model of how unencumbered opportunism can run afoul when there aren’t enough naysayers to keep everyone from going around the bend. The lending industry saw a great opportunity in financing subprime mortgages. They won, the banks won, shareholders won, homeowners won—at least for a while anyway. But what would have happened if some pessimist predicted the housing bust and stepped in to stop it? Why did no one have the courage to call the industry out? Why are we so hostile toward whistleblowers?

Shouldn’t a successful company employ a balance of creative dreamers and practical executors?

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