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August 16, 2011

Expect the unexpected

Nassim Nicholas Taleb begins part 2 of his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, with three technologies considered by many to have the most impact- the computer, the Internet and the laser. All three, he contends, were unplanned, unpredicted and initially, unappreciated. Their impact is far reaching. Even those in deepest, darkest Africa, without a computer and access to the World Wide Web, have been touched by these technologies. So what is one to do, if the world is going to be dramatically changed by things beyond our vision and control? I have found one of the best strategies for coping with change is to stay flexible and adaptable. Sure, it would be great to be the rock in the middle of the stream, around which all change must flow however, look at what happened to such rocks as Sony’s Betamax, the Sony Walkman, Woolworths, Bombay Company, Circuit City and the Polaroid instant camera. Look at what is happening to Blockbuster’s video business. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Certainly an individual, like a company, that knows its core values and abilities is well positioned to respond to change. In his epic 1960 article, “Marketing Myopia” (which is essential reading), Theodore Levitt cites the example of Dupont, which took its tremendous technical expertise at its core and met customers’ changing needs, growing the company far beyond nylon. If you are good with numbers, no matter what happens, you will still be good with numbers. It all depends what you do with this ability. It never hurts (in fact, I have found it certainly helps) to expand your core abilities. Continuous learning can be done either in school or out. “The school of life is always in session”, to quote Charles T. Munger, who is Warren Buffet’s partner in Berkshire Hathaway and one of the 400 richest men in the world. There is a side benefit of learning new things in that learning is itself a skill. As things change, it helps to pick up something faster than the next guy.
Knowing your core will allow you to respond to change. Expanding your core will improve your ability to respond to change. Knowing your core abilities is at the heart of the “So, tell me a bit about yourself” exercise. It also helps to embrace change, but change is scary and not easily embraced. For an excellent article, see Dave Cheong’s blog at davecheong.com.

October 16, 2009

Douglas Coupland doesn't like phone books...

I went to listen to the author of the 1991 iconic "Generation X, Tales of an Accelerated Culture", and now "Generation A". Coupland is a techno-enthusiast, and he commented on the vast amount of change in everyone’s life in just five years (examples: Google, ipods/iphones/Blackberries, social networking) and the maelstrom that is the vast amount of information around us. It was a diverse discussion during which the topic of yellow pages came up. Coupland is bothered that yellow and white pages are still printed, wasting so much paper, because this information is easily available on line. It is one example of how the vast amount of change in just five years has, or could have, obsolesced the need for something. As another example, Joshua Errett (writing in the September 24-30, 2009 NOW magazine-nowmagazine.com) feels that Zagat Surverys, which are now 30 years old, should have ceased publication five years ago, having been replaced by comment-driven restaurant review sites such as chowhound.com. He sites several other random examples of things that should (or more likely, will) be killed off by technology. Think of some things that you do now that you did not do ten, even five, years ago. Blog, listen to podcasts, read books on a machine, install a tankless water heater, Google an interview candidate’s name, Google a company you are interested in, play spelunky, take pictures on your cell phone, or shoot a movie with your Nano, use caller i.d. to avoid people. The list will be long. There is a vast amount of change continuously going on. In the face of this change, it is often necessary to be flexible…and beneficial to be receptive, responsive and even proactive. A solid, tell me a bit about yourself story is part of this pro-action.

Gone in 120 seconds...

In the depths of the recession, a local radio station gave some of their unemployed loyal listeners a chance to come on the air in the morning and tell the radio audience about themselves, specifically with a view to finding a job. The station would also post their resume on the web site, for further information and reference. But, to me, the key was the chance to talk for two minutes about themselves, their history, skills, aspirations, wants. Why should I, as prospective employer, be interested in them? A classic “so, tell me a bit about yourself” situation. Some of the so, tell me stories were awful. It just hurt to listen to some of the people strangle the golden-egg-laying-goose that they had just been handed, to sledgehammer the silver tray upon which the goose was presented. Some were very good. These people had obviously spent some time and effort finding out a bit about themselves and were prepared to share. One in particular was not going to go off air until she had told us very clearly where to find her web site. In three minutes, she had managed to say enough to make people interested in checking out the web site. Brilliant. Given the situation, I think the key is not to make the host of the morning program pull your teeth. Rather, if you have two or three minutes to tell a wide audience about yourself, seize it. It is more than enough time to demonstrate what sets you apart and how you bring value to the table.

October 16, 2009

Dogs are good listeners

Dogs are good listeners. Very receptive and not at all critical. They will pretty much wag their tail at anything you say, depending on your tone of voice, of course. The family pet can be a great first audience for your ‘so, tell me a bit about yourself’ story. Try out your first draft on them….tell them the complete and unvarnished truth about yourself. Confide your weaknesses. Tell them your fears.
Your dog will gaze at you adoringly.
Be sure to polish it up though before you tell a bit about yourself to someone other than your dog.

October 16, 2009

The Oreo cookie test

Do you have any Oreos in the cupboard? If not, go get some. Psychologists have discovered that the manner in which people eat Oreo cookies provides great insight into their personalities. Eat one before continuing.
Here is some further insight for your “So, tell me a bit about yourself” story. Did you:
1. Eat the whole thing - this means you consume life with abandon, you are fun to be with, exciting, carefree with some hint of recklessness. You are totally irresponsible. No one should trust you.

2. Eat one bite at a time - you are lucky to be one of the 5.4 billion other people who eat their Oreos this very same way. Just like them, you lack imagination, but that's OK, not to worry, you're normal.

3. Eat slowly and methodically - you follow the rules. You're very tidy and orderly. You're very meticulous in every detail with everything you do to the point of being anal retentive and irritating to others. Stay out of the fast lane if you're only going to go the speed limit.

4. Eat with feverish nibbles - your boss likes you because you get your work done quickly. You always have a million things to do and never enough time to do them. Mental breakdowns run in your family. Valium and Ritalin would do you good.

5. Dunk it - everyone likes you because you are always upbeat. You like to sugar coat unpleasant experiences and rationalize bad situations in to good ones. You are in total denial about the shambles you call a life. You have a propensity towards narcotic addiction.

6. Twist it apart, eat the inside, then the cookie - you have a highly curious nature. You take pleasure in breaking apart things to find out how they work, though not always able to put them back together, so you destroy all the evidence of your activities. You deny your involvement when things go wrong. You are a compulsive liar and exhibit deviant, if not criminal, behaviour.

7. Twisted it apart, eat the inside, then toss the cookie - you are good at business and take risks that pay off. You take what you want and throw the rest away. You are greedy, selfish, mean and lack feelings for others. But that's OK, you don't care, you got yours.

8. Eat just the cookie, not the inside - you enjoy pain.

9. Like to just lick them, not eat them - stay away from small furry animals and seek professional medical help - immediately.

10. ”I don't have a favourite way, I don't like Oreo cookies” - you probably come from a rich family and like to wear nice things and go to upscale restaurants. You are particular and fussy about the things you buy, own, and wear. Things have to be just right. You like to be pampered. You are a prima donna. There's just no pleasing you.

October 16, 2009

Which dessert?

Although I have tried to make the “So, tell me a bit about yourself” workbook as casual as possible (despite the great importance of the exercises), it is fun once a while to take a test like the following; this test has floated around the internet for quite a while:
If all of the desserts listed below were sitting in front of you, which would you choose?
- Angel Food
- Brownies
- Lemon Meringue
- Vanilla Cake/Chocolate Icing
- Strawberry Short Cake
- Chocolate Cake/Chocolate Icing
- Ice Cream
- Carrot Cake
Ok, now that you've made your choice, this is what Research says about you.

Angel food - sweet, loving, cuddly. You love all warm and fuzzy items. A little nutty at times. Sometimes you need an ice cream cone at the end of the day. Others perceive you as being childlike and immature at times.

Brownies - adventurous, you love new ideas, are a champion of underdogs and slayer of dragons. When tempers flare up, you whip out your saber. You are always the oddball with a unique sense of humor and direction. You tend to be very loyal.

Lemon Meringue - smooth, sexy, and articulate with your hands, you are an excellent after-dinner speaker and a good teacher. But don't try to walk and chew gum at the same time. A bit of a diva at times, but you have many friends.

Vanilla Cake/Chocolate Icing - fun-loving, sassy, humorous. Not very grounded in life; very indecisive and lack motivation. Everyone enjoys being around you, but you are a practical joker. Others should be cautious in making you mad. However, you are a friend for life.

Strawberry Short Cake - romantic, warm, loving. You care about other people and can be counted on in a pinch. You tend to melt. You can be overly emotional and annoying at times.

Chocolate Cake/Chocolate Icing - sexy, always ready to give and receive. Very creative, adventurous, ambitious, and passionate. You have a cold exterior but are warm on the inside. Not afraid to take chances. Will not settle for anything average in life. Love to laugh.

Ice Cream - you like sports, whether it be baseball, football, basketball, or soccer. If you could, you would like to participate, but you enjoy watching sports. You don't like to give up the remote control. You tend to be self-centered and high maintenance.

Carrot Cake -you are a very fun loving person, who likes to laugh. You are fun to be with. People like to hang out with you. You are a very warm hearted person and a little quirky at times. You have many loyal friends.

I often do the test in reverse, reading the descriptions to find out which matches my own “so, tell me”, to find out what my favourite dessert is supposed to be. Apparently, I should like a chocolate carrot brownie, with a bit of ice cream on top.

October 16, 2009

The different forms of "So, tell me a bit about yourself"

My niece was describing a recent job interview. She and the interviewer were graduates of the same university, so they ended up chatting about their alma mater, the football team, the professors they both had had. And in that chat, my niece told the interviewer a bit about herself.
The chat is my favorite form of interview, probably because it is my most successful. However, I am prepared to tell a bit about myself in different ways. My most interesting (and least successful) version was the structured verbal questionnaire. I met with an Austrian businessman who had a set list of 18 questions that he was asking every interviewee. Just the facts, ma’am. I tried to embellish my answers, stray, engage in conversation but these attempts met with a stony stare, and we moved on to the next question.
“Your connection has been lost….please try again later.”
Sometimes, that is just how it goes when you are trying to tell a bit about yourself.
It reminded me of a friend’s description of her Six Minute Dating experience*. Some of the men asked questions from a set list, some chatted, some about themselves, some about the women they met. It sounded like a great way for someone to get comfortable with telling a bit about themselves, to practice a ‘so, tell me a bit about yourself’ story, in some different forms.

October 16, 2009

Creative destruction

Destruction. It comes in several forms. There is the creative form of destruction, a concept first popularized in 1942 by economist Joseph Schumpeter (“Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy”). Originally creative destruction was an explanation of the dynamics of how entrepreneurial innovation can cause transformation, dislocation and destruction of older, more established enterprises. The compact disk replaced the 8-track tape, to then be replaced by .mp3 player. More recently creative destruction was reenergized by Foster and Kaplan of McKinsey and Company (“Creative Destruction”), more as a strategy for remaining competitive and thriving over the long term. Instead of, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, this is more like, if it ain’t broke, break it. Then there is the increasingly widespread destruction wreaked on the economy as a result of lending far too much to far too many for far too little for far too long; the subprime mortgage meltdown. Not creative at all. Destruction, creative or not, is painful, involving dislocation, discontinuity, job loss, bankruptcy and economic upheaval. Destruction brings change. Change is a pain. It is inevitable, though. And change may mean that you will have to tell someone a bit about yourself.

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