Collaboration is Today’s Steam Engine

Published in Accelerate Magazine, 2016

If you transported a typical American man from the year 1900 into the 1950’s, he’d be amazed by the changes brought on by the industrial revolution.  Cars, highways, skyscrapers and airplanes flying overhead, electricity and its children—washing machines, refrigerators, televisions and TV dinners—would astound him.

Now take a man from the 1950’s and transport him into the 2000’s.  This man wouldn’t have nearly the same hurdles to overcome in terms of navigating the physical landscape; he could take a car or train home and, with coaching, he could soon enjoy reruns of I Love Lucy on an iPad. But the real differences in our lives today would probably give him great pause because our very culture has changed.  

As Richard Florida points out in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, our time-traveler from the 1900’s would find normalcy in the 1950’s culture of business suit-wearing white men working in America, getting married young, starting families and working consistent hours until they’re ready to retire.  

The second time-traveler would eventually realize that the game of life has changed in subtler, but shockingly significant ways.  Men and women of all races and ages now embrace their careers, work together within flexible hours and environments, and choose to start families later in life, or not at all. Commerce is global and businesses can now offshore just about everything from bookkeeping to design and order-fulfillment, and people work in comfortable clothes from coffee shops, yet serve clients around the globe.  

Eventually our time traveler would notice a giant, yet somewhat elusive shift in our business world: this creative society embraces a “collective” working environment based on collaboration and innovation.

In the past, corporations grew through mergers and acquisitions and smaller entities didn’t share, they assimilated.  Seemingly endless natural and human resources were devoured and size mattered. As Alexandra Samuel reports for Harvard Business Review, “we’re now doing less consuming and more producing in our collaborative economy.”

Startups like Airbnb and Etsy offer platforms for individuals to share back-office benefits formerly enjoyed only by large corporations. Upwork is a one-stop shop for freelancing “anything that can be done on a computer,” and Fiverr is a clearinghouse of freelancers who will deliver services ranging from useful to quirky for $5.

Here in Hawai‘i, ProtoHub, Box Jelly, and ROC (Real Office Centers) provide communal workspace and big office niceties like conference rooms, kitchens, and social mixers to sole proprietors and small businesses.  The ARTS at Marks Garage offers community, space, and amenities for several arts-related organizations.  Hawai‘i TechWorks brings tech and design professionals together.  And The Cut Collective is a productive gathering of Hawai‘i’s clothing designers.  All of these organizations offer things formally unheard of in business—support and collaboration—not for the finance or glory of one single entity, but with an eye on growth and betterment of our industries, economy and society.

He may be shocked and doubtful initially, but our time traveler would eventually have to agree this cultural shift works.  Our figurative steam engine accomplishment of today is collaboration.

Single-Tasking

Published in Accelerate Magazine, 2016

The term “multitask” originally appeared in 1965, in an IBM paper describing the capabilities of the System/360.  Ever since then scientists have been asking the question: can humans effectively multitask?  

The short answer is: no.

The long answer is: you can do two things at once, but your attention to one or both of them will suffer if you try.  

The scary answer is: you’re actually harming yourself if you try multitasking on a regular basis.

Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D and author of the book Make Your Brain Smarter: Increase Your Creativity, energy and Focus says that “multitasking is brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources and, if left unchecked, condemns us to early mental decline and decreased sharpness.  Chronic multitaskers also have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can damage the memory region of the brain.”

Multitasking is actually a myth.  Our brains don’t focus on two or more things at once.  Instead, when we’re working on a budget while reading incoming email, listening to a podcast and keeping an eye on a co-worker’s progress, our brains are constantly switching from one activity to another.  That switching is responsible for chemical reactions that are detrimental to your proficiency, efficiency and health.

The next time you’re working on your computer with a plethora of windows open and your phone nearby, remember this Michigan State University study:  300 students were given a computer test with interruptions in the form of pop-ups that required the students to enter a code.  Some of the interruptions lasted 2.8 seconds, and some lasted 4.4 seconds.  The students made double the errors when they returned to the test after the 2.8-second interruption and quadruple the errors after the 4.4-second interruptions.

Quickly switching from one activity to another also programs your brain to have a short attention span.  Leo Babauta, author of focus, A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction says “This is why it’s so hard to learn to focus on one thing at a time again.”

So, why do we keep doing it?  There’s a soon to be outdated perception of prestige surrounding the person with the plethora of windows open.  Also each of those beeps and whistle notifications from our phones and computers cause our brains to release an addicting jolt of dopamine.  When you switch back to your original task, your brain pings the “newness” alarm and the dopamine releases again, feeding our desire for more and perpetuating the brain-draining cycle.  

Switching your brain from one task to another also burns glucose, and depleted glucose levels cause us to get tired and experience brain fog.  If you feed that lethargic brain fog with what it craves – glucose in the form of sweets and starches – you’re giving yourself another cyclical reward (and possibly several unwanted pounds).

Kevin Lee of Fast Company suggests that we break the multitasking habit and focus on one activity at a time, with as few distractions and interruptions as possible.  Practice minimalism by making a to-do list first, then silence your phone, close your email, open one window at a time and focus on a rhythm for your work, rather than allowing random, real-time alerts.  Work for 25 minutes, and then take a 5-minute break to rest your mind.

If you want to take it one step further and really up your game, take some time to reflect on the work you’ve done.  Business psychologists from Harvard, UNC and HEC Paris recently published the results of a series of productivity experiments finding that people who take time to reflect on their activities perform significantly better on subsequent challenges.

Now go do one amazing thing!

Great Gusto

Published in Abstract Magazine, 2016

 

Is “binging” necessarily a bad thing? Most definitions I’ve read include the words; “to excess” and “more than desirable,” which begs the question of ‘desirable’ by whom, and how far is too far?

For those of us with Netflix et al, we binge (and yes, even binge to excess, which is double the definition and really saying something) and go all out on movies, documentaries, and particularly television shows. This has not always been the case; I remember originally trying to watch 24 when it was on television, waiting patiently for each weekly installment before ultimately losing interest.

Everything changed for me one time when I got quite sick and one of the prescriptions my doctor gave me kept me wide awake for most of the next week. So I Netflixed nearly the entire five seasons of Breaking Bad. Despite the fact that I suffered for seven days with two inner ear infections, I had a pretty good time.

I haven’t been as sick since then but I’ve kept binging, absorbing hours of Game of Thrones,

Downton Abbey, Arrested Development, Twin Peaks, and Lost with great gusto and aplomb. I’ve even rediscovered Jack Bauer and caught up on my 24. Binging has given these shows new life.

Netflix conducted a study, which found among other things, that 61% of respondents said they regularly binge-watched shows and that 73% have positive feelings towards binge streaming TV. Naturally, show creators have taken notice of this phenomenon.

“It’s very possible we wouldn’t have made it…without this creation of these technologies and this cultural creation of binge-watching,” says Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan in an interview with Wired. “Under the old paradigm – using the old technology of simply having first runs and then reruns on networks – I don’t know that we would’ve reached the critical mass that we reached.”

Despite the popularity, Slate.com’s Jim Pagel argues that binging TV shows disturbs the integrity of individual episodes and destroys the pleasure found in cliffhangers. No time to mull over Red Weddings, or the Dharma Initiative, or the Man From Another Place.

James Poniewozik of Time Magazine is on the other side of the fence, noting that the surest sign a medium is changing is when people start to romanticize the very features of it that used to be condemned, and that the episodic nature of television is an advertising, rather than a storytelling, device. Poniewozik compares watching to reading: sometimes you tear through a novel in a weekend, other times you savor it over the course of a month or twono harm in either method.

Consider “House of Cards,” (a Netflix original series) where every episode of each season is released all at once online, and it’s up to the viewer to decide how quickly or slowly they’d like to consume it.

No one’s even quite sure what constitutes a “binge.” According to a Harris Interactive Poll, watching just two episodes of something in one sitting qualifies. But that means simply catching a couple episodes of Parks and Recreation in a row counts as a binge–a dubious idea considering that’s less than half the time it takes to watch your average movie.

Maybe it’s just time to retire the phrase, “binge watching.” After all, binge eating, drinking, shopping, and working all qualify as serious medical issues. But there must be some ways to go all out or ‘to excess’ that aren’t destructive–what of getting ahead on our gardening, exercising, or household projects?

Are those hours spent curled up in our favorite chair with a good book considered a binge read? How about time spent pursuing our life goals? I don’t think anyone speaks of Michael Jordan as having binged on basketball, or Neil Armstrong on a moon-binge.

We need to find a word to use when we immerse ourselves in what we love, completely, for an extended period of time, and while remaining healthy, responsible, and safe. Because that’s what I want: to grab life in great big heaping lumps; one moment, experience–or episode!–at a time.

 

Paper Scripts

Published in Abstract Magazine, 2014

For the cast of theater production, the script is everything: Bible, Rosetta Stone, and map. A single bundle of paper contains the story we’re telling and our starting point to performing that story well.

Most scripts primarily contain lines of dialogue and a smattering of stage directions with suggested instructions. A director will first read the script to find answers, to make creative decisions that fit in his or her grand scheme, and to form the basis of who to look for when casting the show.

Once brought on, actors like myself dissect the script. We learn all we can and make choices about the rest: who we are, why we do what we do, and how we feel about every other character and everything involved from one moment to the next.

I am proudly paperless in most aspects of my life, but the moment I am cast in a role, I begin a racy affair with my script! Immediately, I lavish it with attention, reading it again and again and again.  I highlight, analyze and research, then saturate it with my own imagination and choices. It is my beloved, my compass and guide, and the key to discovering my character.

The script is with me through rehearsals and it’s where I take sacred notes, writing my blocking (stage navigation) and thoughts about the performance. Out of rehearsal, the script is with me still, with spare moments devoted to gleaning more from it. Why do I say that line?  What makes me say this and what must I think of the actor to whom I say it?

In time, I understand the answers to my questions and my lines begin to come to me on their own–in the form of reactions–but the comforting paper script is there, holding my hands, during the rehearsal process. When I gesture, whether in frustration, anger, or ennui, the script is an extension of my arm.

But after a point, things change. I still respect the script, but it has become restrictive, kind of a hanger-on. I glance at it, grateful for the support it feeds me, but I know the time approaches for us to part. Even before we reach the date that the director has asked for us to be “off book,” with lines memorized and no further need for the paper script, I can feel (dare I say it?) irritated by my beloved script.

So I thoughtfully set it down near the stage and begin a scene without it. It’s within reach if I falter–

INHALE

–and of course, I falter!

I forget everything I’ve learned and have to consolidate sentences, substitute words, and make up lines entirely to get through. I call LINE! for the rehearsal assistant to prompt me with my next line of dialogue if I forget and I feel exposed! I reach hungrily for guidance from that tattered paper darling of mine and grab it.

EXHALE

And for now our relationship remains intact. The rehearsal process continues again and then…it’s time. The play is opening and the time for the paper script is over.

Thank you for the character you brought to me, I say to the script, but I’ve outgrown you and frankly…there is no room for paper in my life.  

…Until it’s time for another play. And the next script comes along…

 

Hope in the Ruins

He had a bad night’s sleep after the argument

Barely made it to the train on time

He only saw bad news in the headlines

And nearly tripped over a little boy on his way

He barked “watch out!”

 

He was nearly stepped on by a man on the train platform

Didn’t want to face his teacher

He was afraid he couldn’t pass the test today

He didn’t say hello to the new kid in school

Instead, he pretended not to see him

 

His new buddy didn’t even acknowledge him

So lonely in the new town

He hated new and missed old

He didn’t want to do this again

And cried when the teacher introduced him

 

Her heart broke for yet another troubled child

How could she reach this one

She felt so ineffective and ill-equipped

Should she quit before it got worse?

She couldn’t feign cheer for her perky teacher’s assistant

 

It was hard for her to work with someone so sad

This is what she wanted to escape

Her mother became more difficult each day

She felt such shame for resenting her disease

When the coach flirted with her at lunch, she looked down

 

He knew she was out of his league

But she was the most beautiful girl in the world

She was always smiling so sweetly

Until he flirted moronically just now

When the mechanic gave him his bill, his wound turned to anger

 

He wanted to be a lawyer

Days like this reminded him of that

He wished people understood that cars are not simple

But they don’t want to hear that

He didn’t want to burden his wife with his angst

 

She was so frustrated with his silence

Why wasn’t she good enough to confide in?

Would he ever trust her and did she make a mistake?

Browsing FaceBook, she sees yet another post that irritates her

She replies and goes to bed.

 

She read the curt post and was surprised

Her friend was so gentle

But married life had not agreed with her

She wrote a kind note and signed it with love

And slept peacefully

 

Perfectly Dysfunctional You

When I wasn’t sure you wanted to hear me, I questioned my value

I drifted off into an abyss of possibly and maybe

But probably not

I did not really know what it felt like to be heard

 

I don’t blame you for this, though I do recognize it is your fault

(That’s a strange twist of thought we unheard share)

You wouldn’t understand,

Please tell me you didn’t know and do it anyway

 

When I think of you, I hope to eventually remember only sun and snow

For now, I am still at a loss for joy

No words form in my mind

To describe my relationship with perfectly dysfunctional you

 

I Grew Up in Church

I grew up in Church

With a God who loved me conditionally

 

For God so loved the word that

If you think or say or do or are the wrong thing

You must suffer eternal damnation

 

I grew up in Church

With a mom who loved me conditionally

 

For mom so loved her daughter she told her to

Sing in the choir and be there for Sunday School, Advent, Easter, and Lent

Or you’re not a good girl

 

I grew up in Church

With a dad who loved me unconditionally

 

For Dad so loved his daughter that

If she behaved incorrectly

He was ashamed and walked away

 

I grew up in Church

Where I loved me conditionally

 

For I couldn’t love what I learned in that Church

So I couldn’t be loved

Not even by me