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The Wisdom of Booklife December 4, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, fiction, management, optimism, survival, transformation.
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Money may not be able to buy you love but it can buy you – and those you live and work with – some happiness. How much happiness can $10.17 buy these days? It turns out – quite a lot.

You need not be a writer to enjoy a remarkable and inspiring new book, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer, by writer, reviewer, editor, publisher, anthologist, filmmaker, agent, animator and blogger Jeff VanderMeer. The perfect book for the writer in your life, yes but in all actuality I can think of no better book for non-writers to read, especially as we’re nearing year-end, the time we ritually consider changes we would like to make in our own lives for the coming year.

Booklife, Foodlife, Worklife, Lovelife, Whatever. This book will – in less time, with less effort and for less money – give you the Xlife you’ve been looking for. Not in short shrift but for the long haul.

As with all books on writing you can read it two ways: to learn tips and tricks of the trade, or to be inspired. As the author wisely suggests: Keep one eye on the matter at hand, and the other on the horizon. Advice or insight, this book is no exception.

For seeking inspiration, and for extraverts in particular, the Public Booklife section will be of more interest – whereas for those more introverted (fellow architects?) the prospect of putting yourself out there – online or off – just the mention of it will raise heart rates. Introverts will enjoy the book’s Private Booklife advice on how to be more productive, effective, balanced and generally happy.

But as we’ll see in a moment, it is in the combining of our public and private selves that we are most likely to find paradise.

First an aside: When I need a pick-me-up, as I sometimes do in these particularly challenging times, I bypass the ginkgo biloba and go for some soul-soothing and inspiring Anne Lamott or Carolyn See, two desert island-worthy authors whose writing-cum-inspiration books will help anyone off their islands, desert or otherwise.

But back to Booklife. First, a qualifier – and this grain of salt is more like a boulder. Substituting the word “Booklife” for “life,” the book makes the relatively unremarkable claim that the ideal life harmoniously combines a public life (marketing ourselves and our work) and a private life (strategies for getting our work done.)

As we all try to balance our public and private selves and all more or less do this – some more overtly, others more seamlessly – this will hardly be an earth-shattering revelation. There are those who would argue that balance is detrimental to achieving goals – including the creation of lasting work. Balance is the enemy of creativity.

That “marketing” today is malleable and ever-changing, involving a heightened presence on social networking sites and new forms of self-promotion, doesn’t change the fact that it is still essentially selling.

And a thousand suggestions for inspiring greater productivity doesn’t change the fact that writing of all kinds involves two things: butts in seats + writing. Period.

But then again the billion dollar diet industry would vanish overnight should people follow the simple – but almost impossible to practice – dictum of exercise + limiting caloric intake.

Since writing is no easier than dieting, writing books will continue to be written as long as people need to lose weight. To this point there is even a popular writing diet.

As the burden of book production and publicity today falls primarily on authors, I took special interest in the Public Booklife portion of the book.

One online reviewer noted, “BOOKLIFE serves as a much-needed corrective to the sad ‘market your book like a carnival huckster’ approach too often found in books of advice for writers these days.” An example of shameless (more overt, less seamless) self-promotion (on a new media social networking site) would be if I were to right here, in this sentence, not-so-subtly mention that I am currently writing a book for publication. Oh, and when it comes out want you to buy it and tell all of your friends.

With the advice contained in Booklife, moving forward no one would ever again need to self-promote in such obvious fashion. A relief to this blogger who prefers more subtle nudging.

So what then makes Booklife so remarkable?

The author is unflinchingly honest, forthright, avoiding what he calls “rah-rah” sentences, saying it like it is. The author’s website describes this guide to sustainable careers and sustainable creativity as “the first to fully integrate discussion of the role of new media into topics that have always been of interest to writers.” But this isn’t what makes this book remarkable.

What makes the book remarkable is that it explores questions we all could be asking ourselves this time of year:

  • How can you use social media and the internet?
  • How does the new online paradigm affect you and those you interface with, or wish to sell, inspire or change minds?
  • How can you find the time to both create and promote you work?
  • What should never be done?

Additionally, Booklife will help you

  • get from point A to point B, whatever your destination or goal.
  • accomplish, wrap-up, complete and finish – especially for those who habitually start things but seldom if ever close the deal.
  • balance your personal life and career – whatever it is.
  • set goals for yourself in the New Year ahead.
  • and those around you to be happier – because you will be happier and better balanced.

Booklife is like a travel guide for destinations that you alone determine and focus your compass on.

Perhaps most of all,

Booklife serves as an uplifting, honest and resourceful survival guide in these Zombie-festooned, 2012-dystopic, troubling times.

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Today, Be Your Own Architect November 21, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, identity, management.
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Despite alarmingly dwindling reserves of architecture books – not to mention privately owned bookstores – it seems for the past 20 years, no matter where in the country, every Barnes and Noble Architecture and Design book section contains at least one copy of a decades-old book.

This book is invariably entitled, Be Your Own Architect.

The book is no doubt part of the late 80’s or early 90’s DIY movement. Had I ever bothered to look at it, the blurb on the back jacket is sure to ask something along the lines of: Why engage and pay a professional when you can do it yourself? An illustrated guide showing prospective home buyers just how easy it is to design homes to fit their exact needs while saving thousands of dollars in architectural fees

It’s all part of American’s long held desire for independence. First from the British, more recently from architects.

Besides, who needs design professionals cluttering up their kitchen?

I have never taken a look at this book on any of the hundreds of visits to the bookstores. As an architect, having designed and built my own house, I have already made that rite of passage (and, yes, saved on architectural fees.)

But still, for some reason, the book’s title never ceases to capture my attention. Those four simple words spanning across the book spine subtly means something different every time, depending on the emphasis given to each word:

BE your own architect.

Be YOUR own architect.

Be your OWN architect.

Be your own ARCHITECT.

BE

What is it about the title? Could it be the word “Be” – that faintly Buddhist word, implying what you are – right now – in the here and now, as in another famous book starting with the word “Be,” Ram Dass’s Be Here Now

Or perhaps it’s the directness of the word “Be,” as in the Army’s admonishment, Be All You Can Be.

With this ever-changing, always in flux, mercurial, game-changing, technologically challenging world, the thought of just standing still while the world spins by must be appealing to some.

How appealing it would be to merely Be, allowing everyone else to chase that RFP.

To be, or not to be an architect: that is not the question so much as this:

How can I best use this time to once again be the architect I was meant to be?

YOUR OWN
Your own. As in, not somebody else’s, architect.

Not someone else’s idea of what an architect is – what it means to be an architect.

Nor someone else’s need for whom they need for you to be. Architects are by training – and nature – multifarious when it comes to their interests, abilities and talents. None other than Vitruvius himself expected architects to be creative and apt in the acquisition of knowledge, a good writer, a skillful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the law and of physics, nor of the motions, laws, and relations to each other, of the heavenly bodies.

If the architect doesn’t know herself, it is easy to see why.  It may be that going into school architects have an inflated and misguided idea of their own abilities and who they want to be – before reality settles in, and the nefarious need to please professors (before the need arises to please bosses and clients, parents and spouses.) For some, they were last their own architects in school. Or they left their ideal of their own architect soon thereafter, upon entering the workforce, dealing with deadlines and others’ impressions of who they are – or need to be – for the project or for the firm.

When were you last Your Own Architect?

This recession has had a profound effect on many lives for those working in the profession and industry, as well as those who work with, live with and depend upon them. No doubt the effect has been felt as undeniably negative by many, not the least of all economically. But there is at least one way in which the current downturn can be seen on the upside, and that has to do with the opportunity the current situation offers you to come into your own, to touch base again with who you are, the architect.

When work was bountiful and time fleeting with deadlines repeatedly looming, we may have been our teammate’s architects, our manager’s architect or belonged to our bosses and their perhaps understandably narrow idea of who we are and are capable of. We were our colleague’s architects, the profession’s architects, architects belonging to everyone – consultants and clients, regulators and gatekeepers – everyone’s architect, but one: Your Own.

Own it. Take ownership of it. Take custody of it. Be responsible for your own condition.

ARCHITECT

Use this time wisely. Get back in touch with what it once meant for you to be an architect. With who you are, deep down (it’s still there, dormant, latent perhaps, but looming.) Listen to the dictates of your Being – of who you are and have always been.

If not now, when?

For here’s the rub: No matter your financial condition, no matter whether you like the situation that you find yourself in, no matter your outlook on life, the economy or the profession, IT WILL NEVER BE  EASIER TO BE AN ARCHITECT THAN IT IS RIGHT NOW.

Many currently – whether out of frustration, financial demands or both – are considering leaving the profession or jumping ship altogether for safer harbors in other seas. It is widely known that even in good times 50% of those trained as architects wind up successfully working in other fields. But unless your situation is dire, you owe it to yourself, right now – today – to recall, and recollect, who it was you once wanted to be. Because you’ve been so busy for so long being everybody else’s architect you’ve neglected to be the one architect you are and were meant to be.

Today, be your own architect.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Summer June 28, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, career, change, employment, survival, the economy.
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One of the best books I have ever read, fiction or non-fiction, is Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work writes Steve_Denning author of award-winning books The Secret Language of Leadership and The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling

Summer’s officially here – with recession in full swing – and so this would seem like the unlikeliest of times to be considering the subject of work. But work is the subject of this post – for I’m about to embark on a one month long voluntary furlough to help the firm make payroll for the remaining architects back in the office. I face the coming month with a mixture of curiosity, ennui and oddly, relief. Relief because up until now I have miraculously managed to be employed or self-employed continuously for 25 consecutive years and I am looking forward to doing many things with this newfound time: writing my book, biking with the kids, training in new technology, and perhaps as great as any of these, doing some much needed mid-career exploration of the very notion of work. And despite the furlough probably some work as well.

Do you live to work or work to live?

With so many out of work right now it would seem like a luxury to spend valuable sun-soaked hours pondering the meaning of work: what it means to individuals and society, who ultimately benefits from it and what it takes for it to be considered meaningful. It’s not as though work is an option – for most, it’s a necessity, and for others, a necessary evil. Few have the metaphysical disposition to question “to work or not to work?” That is certainly not the question, for work we must.

Who better to guide us on this exploration than Alain de Botton, author of The_Architecture_of_Happiness and this summer’s runaway nonfiction bestseller, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, an examination  of 10 professions and industries in 10 chapters covering the one thing most of us devote the greater part of our lives to. Specifically, de Botton writes cleverly and entertainingly about the

  • specialization of labor,
  • production of superfluous goods,
  • our removal from the sources of what we consume,
  • detachment of meaning from work, and
  • elusiveness of self-fulfillment.

What work?

As reviewers, commenters and de Botton himself points out – most of us entered our chosen field by way of decisions made when we were unthinking students looking for something to earn us spending or rent money without really giving it much thought. Our careers chose us by paying well or being conveniently located to our homes, we didn’t choose our careers. This lull in summer affords us the opportunity to consider – or reconsider – this choice. To take ownership of it. To make it our choice – rather than one that happened to us, as though from some source outside ourselves.

Identity

We all know what we do for a living. But what exactly is it? Work is the thing, says de_Botton, alongside love and perhaps children, from which we derive our identities. All societies have had work at their center, but modern Western culture, he says, is the first to assume that a “meaningful existence must invariably pass through the gate of remunerative employment.” In a time when we’re all just trying to make our mortgage payments – let alone enjoy some of the fringe benefits of summer in the city – is it too much of a burden put upon ourselves to ask of work to be anything more than a means to a paycheck?

As one commenter put it, “There is a nobility in simply arriving home at the end of a day having secured the resources sufficient to meet one’s needs.” And so again we ask: is this enough?

Questions

Along the way de Botton tries to answer some of the most urgent questions we ask about work:

  • Why do we do it?
  • What makes it pleasurable?
  • What is its meaning? And
  • Why do we daily exhaust not only ourselves but also the planet?

To look at work and life through a wider lens

Summer ought to be about pleasure pure and simple – not sorrow. A season not meant to be fraught with the burden of finding employment, meaningful or otherwise. This delightful book, dressed for summer release in sand colored sleeve, is a light read in a heavy book, as much photo essay as word painting, and the perfect accompaniment to your own explorations into the travails and pleasures of work.

Author Steve_Denning recommends Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Penguin, 2009) strongly: “provided you understand his mindset and appreciate finely crafted prose, you will find this one of the funniest and wisest books you will ever read,” Denning concludes in his own review of this worthwhile and enjoyable book.

The Receptionist’s Candy Bowl as Economic Indicator June 7, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, career, change, employment, survival, the economy.
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It’s official. You no longer recognize your life.

Things you’ve seen over the past few months you can’t quite place. Often, you don’t have a name for them. And if it weren’t for your spouse, no one would believe that they’re happening to you.

It’s as though you’re living in some kind of simulacrum of someone else’s existence, only for about half the salary. Without matching funds. And the candy bowl is empty.

Your company mobile phones are long gone. You can no longer print in color. Just the sound of the office printer – inexplicably stocked only with resume paper – raises eyebrows.

The company printer is no longer for printing. It is for emailing. You use it to email things to yourself. Otherwise your mail box would be empty. This is now what you do for a living.

Working part time, if they want you to work a full week (and legally they can’t ask you to do that) they assign you to kitchen clean-up duty at 4:30PM on Fridays, a day you haven’t worked in 6 months. Not cleaning the kitchen at 4:30PM on Fridays is grounds for dismissal, so you show up for work on Friday at 4:30PM, clean the kitchen and leave fifteen minutes later.

You’ve cracked the code. This is the new win-win. And the kitchen is clean come Monday morning.

Renting available cubicle real-estate, your former clients now sit amongst you. They use the company bathroom, not the bathroom for company.

Going after work you normally don’t go after, you inevitably run into the same firms, going after work they normally don’t go after. Those that normally went after this work aren’t anywhere to be found.

The receptionist’s candy bowl as economic indicator. Completely empty in March, the bowl is now filled each morning with candy leftover from Halloween. Even so, it empties before noon.

You wonder if eating stale candy means things are improving.

In order to network effectively, you attend afterhours events featuring presentations on quarter sawn lumber, rooftop mounted wind-turbines, and the future of the city. All in the same day.

You no longer know who you are. You find yourself frequently referencing your business card to remind yourself who you are.

You need to order more business cards, but are afraid to ask.

Meanwhile, you find yourself considering whether quarter sawn wind-turbines might save our cities?

Attending webinars in conference rooms. Muted. Phoning-in to RFP Q&As. Disembodied voices.

Owners, recognizing the feeding frenzy, suddenly put out their projects in hopes of attracting the lowest bidder.

Can you be furloughed from a furlough? During your furlough, you’re needed at the office. Then, inexplicably, the client stops calling. You no longer know where you should be.

You find yourself offering weird services for which you know you are not qualified. Building commissioning in foreign countries. 3D laser scanning of entire cities. Quarter-sawing lumber.

People you haven’t spoken to in 20 years suddenly “friend” you online. Eleven seconds later they request an introduction. Wham Bam, Recommend Me Man.

Former colleagues, unemployed, quizzically seem better off than you. You run into one at the gym. They look at you like recession, what recession?

You know you should have taken their job offer.

Former donors to social service organizations are now recipients of their services.

You consider temporarily living away from your spouse, children and dog. You wonder how the dog will handle it.

Not knowing what to do with the accumulated pile of once vital information on living in Dubai.

Former classmates – now semi-famous politicians, actors and actresses – find you on social networking sites. Just at the one time in the past 20 years when you have nothing to brag about, you’re needy, and for all your former success the best you can offer when they suggest meeting for drinks is going Dutch.

You feel like you’re 16 again on Facebook because you are 16 again.

You’re making what you made in 1989 but the world, uncooperatively, costs 2009.

New technologies keep popping up, you wonder – with every passing day hovering ever closer to retirement – whether you’ll need to learn them. Or can take a pass. You wait and see.

The irony that you need to belong to organizations and attend networking events in order to find the kind of job where you make the kind of money to pay for these organizations and networking events.

No longer contributing to your 401K while watching the market climb. Afraid that contributing will trigger something that causes the market to stop climbing.

When your business cards finally run out, is that your last day?

You remind yourself that a watched receptionist’s candy bowl never fills.

Preparing for Change Despite Current Success April 12, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, survival, transition.
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The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival, said Aristotle. Emerson would have us believe that we are always getting ready to live but never living. And Woodrow Wilson?  That we are not here merely to make a living, we are here to enrich the world.

 

So what would Aristotle have made of the suggestion that the good life involved not awareness and contemplation but the ability to ride out successive sigmoid curves? You read that right – sigmoid curves. Kind of glorified sine curves, but on their side. Upon recommendation from designintelligence‘s  James Cramer, I just finished reading Charles Handy’s intimate and wise autobiography Myself and Other More Important Matters when I came across his own depiction of the successive sigmoid. The book is filled with other important and growth-promoting diagrams of note – but this one contains its own powerful draw. In essence – Handy’s the one who started it, for it was after all Charles Handy, in The Age of Paradox, who stated that “A good life is probably a succession of sigmoid curves, each new curve started before the first curve fades.” Who knew? Though you could also find this critical diagram in the appendix of the paperback version of Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive – where he referred to it as “your personal inflection point” – it doesn’t matter where you first saw it now that you have. For you should be assured that, to paraphrase Aristotle, that the ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation of successive sigmoid curves.

sigmoid-two-curvesWhere these curves are linked one after the other, your career, in fact, your life a succession of curves, stepping at each inflection point, to new heights. Where you go on to new heights. Or decline. The million dollar question is inevitably: How do you know when an inflection point occurs? Unless you knew when to inflect, you won’t know when to move on, to change, to climb and could risk personal and professional decline. Here’s a hint: Just when you feel limited, put in a box, pigeon-holed by your employer, locked-in to some direction not of your own choosing perhaps from some need to pay the mortgage or get responsible or fill a need in your company. Or when you no longer feel passionate about what you are doing or no longer learning.

successive-sigmoid-curves1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you want to take this further – and pick up a tip or two on career strategy see this Personal_Inflection_Points  

inflection_point

 

 

 

 

 

 

That is unless you happen upon another telling graph that diagrams your life or career. Take one that has been floating around LinkedIn for the past couple days. The Gort_Cloud is a book by Richard Seireeni – but here it is the Gort Cloud diagram I am most interested in. If the Gort Cloud is an invisible force powering the most visible green brands where millions of people [connect] to green information through a vast, interconnected community, what then – like Grove’s personal infection point – about a personal Gort Cloud?

Instead of the green community – What about your community? A community no doubt made up – like the Gort Cloud – of social networks, trendspotters, blogs, magazines, foundations, groups and organizations, media, special interest authorities, news outlets, certifying organizations, alliances, as well as family, friends, neighbors, classmates, colleagues, etc.        

[=] View The Gort Cloud in pdf. 

In your matrix, in your community, in your social network: Who are your trendspotters? What are your most powerful sources of information and intelligence? What are your organizations and what former colleagues are in your cloud?

So OK, your community might be made up of green products. But it is probably much richer and far-reaching. In branding yourself – identifying and developing your own personal brand – imagine a version of this cloud but instead of diagramming sustainability – you diagram something altogether different. You diagram you. You, the Diagram. Imagine a kind of Mind map of yourself. Go on, diagram yourself and see yourself in context of so many others. Try it – the process is hopeful, empowering and enriching.