A Passion for Learning … yes, and …

Take a look at critical skills needed for success in the 21st century, as listed in CIO.com article The 14 soft skills every IT pro needs:

Effective communication
The ability to translate tech
A collaborative mindset
The ability to put things in context
Customer service — even with colleagues
The ability to ask the right questions
Problem solving
The ability to set aside ego
Emotional intelligence
Comfort with uncertainty

These are typical outcomes from workshops and trainings that teach people the fundamentals of improvisation (yes, and/accept and build with “offers,” active listening, make your partner look good, take risks).

The recently published book Applied Improvisation: Leading, Collaborating, and Creating Beyond the Theatre has catapulted to the number one best seller on Amazon’s list of hot new releases in business entrepreneurship for good reason. According to authors Theresa Robbins Dudeck and Caitlin McClure, applied improvisation is “…changing the way people lead, create and collaborate.” Full disclosure, McClure has long been a mentor, teacher and friend.

According to Capgemini and LinkedIn’s valuable report: The Digital Talent Gap: Are Companies Doing Enough? to succeed in our rapidly changing and digitally-driven workforce, hard digital skills are needed (cybersecurity and cloud computing being most in demand), but equally important are “soft digital skills,” which the report identified as customer-centricity and passion for learning. 59% of employers say that these skills are lacking in their employees.

The report goes on to say, “Employees feel organizations’ training programs are not hugely effective and those who want to excel are looking beyond their organizations’ learning and development. … Close to half actually describe the training as ‘useless and boring.’”

What are the solutions? Two from Capgemini and LinkedIn’s report are worth noting:

  1. “Create an environment that prioritizes and rewards learning.”  As traditional trainings can be experienced as “useless and boring,” more and more organizations are turning to applied improv facilitators and trainers for good reason.
  2. “Diversify your recruiting approach.” In chapter 1 of Dudeck and McClure’s wonderful case studies, “A Burger; Fries and a Side of Improv,” authors Hirsch and Veltman write of the work they did over a decade with the restaurant chain Burgerville in Portland, Oregon. Along with trainings, used improv as a “diagnostic for hiring teams and customer service providers” to great effect. As a longtime recruiter, improviser, and applied improv facilitator I was inspired!

Not only do we lead trainings that enhance the skills needed for success in business, applied improvisation (to quote Dudeck and McClure), “brings joy into this uncertain and crazy world.” I think we can all say “yes, and…” to that!

How Shall We Become? (Changing our careers and changing our lives)
Drs. Lois Holzman and Patch Adams at Performing the World 2014
Drs. Lois Holzman and Patch Adams at Performing the World 2014

Last weekend I was a participant, presenter and trainer at the biannual international conference – Performing the World (PTW) – which is co-sponsored by the All Stars Project and the East Side Institute.  This year’s theme was “How Shall We Become?” – a critical question for all of us.  I think this question has a particular resonance around the issue of changing careers.  It is heartwarming to know that in a world as chaotic as ours, there are so many people who are committed to using performance in various settings to help people grow and develop, to foster community-development and social change.

Everyday people in every part of the world are creating new ways of being together, breaking out of the constraints that we all encounter in our professional and personal lives – the “scripted” ways we all learn to be in the world – in favor of performing the world and our lives anew.

This was the second time that Patch Adams, radical humanist, physician, and clown, has attended PTW.  I had the pleasure of spending time in conversation with Patch, attending his wondrous workshop, and clowning around with him.  He is an inspiring man who has chosen to live his life as a performance of love.

So, what does all of this have to do with the workplace and my work as an executive search consultant and coach? What does it have to do with making a career change?Everything!

A number of years ago (after I first met Patch) I attended a training in the social therapeutic approach and talked about wanting to develop a new career path for myself.  I was just beginning to think about what I wanted to do professionally after spending 15 years at a boutique retained search firm. I was trying to weave together the many threads of my work (a professional career, the work over the last 30 years as a builder of the broad development community which I do as a volunteer, and a creative life as an actress, improvisational comedienne and teacher).  I talked about ultimately wanting to become a hospital clown.  Someone suggested that I consider becoming an “executive clown.”  That was an odd and wonderful idea and perhaps I’m getting closer to discovering what that means!

I’m writing this story because as a recruiter and executive coach how we approach and create our professional lives is of great interest and concern to me.  For example, I’m currently working on a project for a large non-profit that is looking to hire someone from the for-profit sector to lead finance and strategy for their organization.  People often say things like, “Well, I’d like to join a non-profit at the end of my career, but I never really thought about it as something I would do now.” The ways that we think about our career is often guided by financial concerns, for good reason – putting children through college, wanting career advancement, maintaining a certain lifestyle, etc.  It is also somewhat prescriptive (i.e., non-profit is something you do at the end of your career to “give back”). There comes a time, particularly after turning 50, that many people start to question what it is that we do professionally, given that we spend the largest portion of our time at work. Many people desire a change and want more than financial reward. Given the world we live in more and more of us want to play a part in changing the world.

How do we perform changing our career?  How do we begin to think about ways we can impact on the world – in small and big ways? I don’t have a turnkey solution to this question, as it depends on many factors. My training is in a methodology that is activistic and not cognitive.  The “answer” lies in what it is that we do.  That said, a good place to start is to give attention to “the how” of what we do.  Unfortunately we are taught to focus on “what” we do, which leaves out the important work of looking at how we are creating our lives, who we are creating our lives with and what it is that we want (how shall we become and who shall we become?).  Patch Adams had this to say in his workshop, “Wanting is the becoming.  Take charge of your wanting. Take charge of your belonging.” Ask yourself what it is that you want, who are you becoming, and where do you belong?  These are all good questions that can shape the performance of changing our professional and personal lives … and the world.

I’m always inspired by Drs. Lois Holzman (chief convener of PTW and the Director of the East Side Institute and dear friend and mentor) and Patch Adams -two “doctors of development.”  Check out their work and let them inspire you as well.



Dreaming of a New Job?

Dream JobThe Wall Street Journal recently ran an article in their Career section entitled When Your Dream Job Disappoints, How to Find Plan B (subtitled Key Tasks: Overcome Disappointment, Make the Most of Your Skills) http://bit.ly/1ffrpsr. Thinking about pursuing a “dream job” in today’s world of work, where most Americans are working longer hours in the office and on our smart phones early mornings, late nights and weekends, can overwhelm us. Most of us are working harder for less.

After years of planning, preparing and perhaps paying for an extra degree, you finally land your dream job—and discover you don’t like it.  It’s a surprisingly common dilemma. The idea of a “dream job” is drilled into job seekers these days. Increasingly, people expect to find jobs that provide not only a living but also stimulation, emotional fulfillment and a sense of purpose. The image of a career as a source of passion is promoted by career advisers, self-help books and even the glamorous characters in TV dramas. But fantasies about a job can blind job-seekers to workaday realities and to consideration of the best fit.

“Workaday realities” being what they are, finding emotional fulfillment and a sense of purpose from our professional lives is increasingly rare.  The desire to have a “dream job” or even a fulfilling job is ever changing as we mature as professionals.  A dream job at 25 is quite different from a dream job at 50.  Some people reach their 50s with a successful track record in business and find themselves wanting to give back and make a difference in the world.  Whereas someone’s “dream job” once was a high-paying Wall St. position by her/his mid-50s it might be the case that becoming a semi-retired philanthropist is where fulfillment lies.

Having gone through the recession many professionals are just getting back on their feet and might be thinking about moving into a more fulfilling role.  This often requires changing industries or careers which is not an easy feat in today’s marketplace.  Hiring managers and HR recruiters often look at a prospective candidate in a narrow fashion – if you have not done this exact job, worked in this industry before – you will not be considered… especially with so many people applying for the same (and sometimes scares) opportunities.

I finished reading Ken Robinson’s book The Element, and as I coach people making career transitions while growing and developing my own freelance business, I am thinking a lot about what is called for in pursing our dreams.  It requires a big, bold performance; we have to be fearless and resilient in the face of uncertainty.

When we pursue a new job or a career transition or a “dream job” we have to get comfortable with a new script for a new character.  It is a creative activity of interweaving our past experiences with where we are currently at and envisioning / performing who we are becoming; who do we dream we might be?

How do you go about crafting this bold performance?  Start with your passion and your capabilities.  Give yourself permission to be bold.  Reach out for creative input and direction from friends, colleagues, and mentors.  Be playful!  Someone suggested that I wear an invisible cloak to client meetings with my Wonder Woman costume underneath. At first that seemed a bit silly but I decided to “put on the cloak and the costume” and I do believe it helped me to be bold!


Performing our passion

I’ve been reading Ken Robinson’s book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything and greatly enjoying it.  Thinking about our passion and our careers is not always something we do, as work often leads us away from our passions in life.  Certainly there are some people who have successfully married their passions with their professional lives – this is what Robinson would call being in your “element”.

In a recent posting on the Harvard Business Review – Tell Your Whole Story in an Interview http://bit.ly/1iJ9Yxk Lara Galinsky makes an interesting point about how we think of our stories as beginning when we first collected a pay check.  Of course early experiences greatly shape who we are including where we grew up, cultural influences, our family histories, our early mentors (that kindergarden or 2nd grade teacher we loved), the games we loved to play, the books we used to read, etc.

Robinson is making a similar case for exploring our passions and creativity to help us find where we belong professionally.  Robinson writes about highly successful people from all walks of life, many of whom did not do well in school, found communities of like-minded people, and created their lives by following their passion.

When I was reading Galinsky’s article it reminded me that in a recent interview with a potential client we were talking about what makes a good recruiter.  A lot of what we do is on the telephone – cold calling, interviewing, networking.  Then I (unexpectedly) shared that when I was a child my mother was in the PR business, then later in life she moved into talent management and she always seemed to have a telephone in her hand, so it’s not surprising that I learned how to “work the phones”.

When we look back at childhood – when play was pointless – what were we drawn to?  Or, as Galinsky puts it, “reflect back on a time when work and play were not always distinguishable”.  When we were bored in school what were we doing while the teacher was droning?  What were our dreams and fantasies?  What are our dreams and fantasies now?  Can we use our passion to recreate ourselves professionally and how do we go about this?

What is the performance we need to pursue our dream?  Recently I was talking to a dear friend about developing my business; she is a very successful and savvy business woman.  She said that I must be willing to fail, be fearless, and resilient.  I imagine a director telling me that my character is fearless and resilient.  What would that performance look like?

All of us can be who we are and who we are not.  Performance helps us be who we are becoming.  By fully embracing our passion we can create ourselves anew.  We can jump into the unknown, knowing we will fail, and that we will use our failure to grow, to build and to be fearless.  We must be resilient.  How?

By finding what Robinson calls our “tribe” – a community, a company, a grouping of people who share our passion and desires.  We create socially; as relational beings we can only create and recreate ourselves with others.


Improvisation, Giving, and Career/Self Reinvention

Today is my first day of work as a freelance recruiting professional.  I am thrilled to have two projects to sink my teeth into.  It’s been a wonderful process to get to today.

This past week my mentor, friend and colleague, Dr. Fred Newman, passed away.  Fred taught me many, many things but one of the most important things he taught me is to give, give again, give some more, and give in the particular way that he expresses in his practical guide to continuous development, Let’s Develop:

Be unexpectedly giving for “no reason at all” to someone who is unlikely to give you anything in return.

It’s been a hard road to learn how to give in this way, after all we live in a culture that is all about getting. Learning this from Fred and other colleagues has changed my life.  How did I get here?  I gave everything to my friends — the fear, the insecurities, the doubt that I could leave a job after 15 years and go out on my own.  And then I accepted the offers that my friends gave to me, I built with them (giving to my friends in this way), even if I thought they were asking me to do the impossible.

Accepting all the offers people give us, saying yes, and building with everything we have is the essence of improvisation.  As human beings we have the opportunity to create and recreate/reinvent our lives.

As one friend put it, “Let’s soak up all the offers the world has to give us” — yes and let’s develop by giving.

Thank you, Fred.

I am quite pleased that a wonderful article written by Jude Trader-Wolff was just published online; it features an interview she conducted with me about improvisation and career/self-reinvention.

Good endings and new beginnings

June 30th was my last day of a 15-year tenure at a very small boutique retained search firm which sometimes was as small as two – the owner of the business and me; at our largest we were four plus part time contract employees.  I decided to take a holiday and have some time to think about this transition and gear myself up for what is ahead – my new career as a freelance recruiter, trainer and executive coach.

I was fortunate to have been asked by Jude Treder-Wolff of Lifestage, Inc. if she could interview me about reinventing myself for her newsletter and blog.  I met Jude at the NYC chapter of the Applied Improvisation Network.  Jude sent me a wonderfully creative list of questions which was an opportunity for me to reflect on the activity of leaving a job after 15 years.

In her response to my answers it became clear that she and I have a mutual understanding of as Jude put it, “…how to have a good ending of one thing and how important good endings are to new beginnings … your process of leave-taking is very valuable and you should feel proud of that whole process, it is very tough to handle things with emotional courage like that”.   I was very touched by Jude’s response and I thought it might be helpful to readers of this blog who are thinking of leaving or in the midst of leaving a job, or for that matter, any meaningful relationship.  So here is my story:

I let my employer know I wanted to leave the firm in January; it took her six months to replace me.  I interviewed, weighed in heavily on my boss’ decision on who to hire, and trained my replacement.  This was an unusual and at times emotionally demanding assignment after such a long tenure. I wanted to give back, as in many ways my boss mentored me, taught me the business and helped me develop as a businesswoman. I am very grateful that the woman who has replaced me is a talented recruiting professional, that was important to me. Perhaps most importantly, she is a gem of a person who had the emotional intelligence to know just how hard a transition it was for me and for the owner of the firm.  She was a pleasure to train and to get to know.  How fortunate for both of us!

I am happy to say that I have close relationships with a number of friends who are also talented businesspeople – I named them my “Board of Directors”.  I developed a great deal of intimacy with my friends in the process of making this change.  I worked to constantly ask for help and guidance in making decisions.  I allowed people to impact me.  I went with their suggestions even when I felt the pull to do otherwise.  The trust that was developed in this process and the giving back to my “Board” by saying yes (in an improvisational sense) all contributed to building more intimacy with my friends.  Again, I’m very fortunate; I’m very grateful.

I’d say the biggest hurtle in reinventing oneself and making this kind of career change is fear. Some days the fear would develop into a panic that was paralyzing.  In those moments asking for help is so critical.  I have a friend who told me that he wakes up with massive anxiety every morning and he has learned to embrace that as part of his life, to ask for help, and to keep going.  That was incredibly helpful advice because I was waking up in state of anxiety on many mornings.  I carry a clown nose around with me and often had it sitting on my desk.  Just looking at it could cheer me up – and when the going got rough the clown nose sure did come in handy.  Being a clown is a wonderful way to immediately change the environment and change me/you (thank you Patch Adams).

Once I relaxed into being who I am, all of who I am, all that I have accomplished in my life there was fun and joy in the reinventing.  As an improviser I recognize that play is an amazing tool that we all at our disposal.  Once I was able to play with my fear, play with ageism in the workplace (I’m 55), play with the concept of having a bigger life, a more joyous life, I started to have some fun.  It’s so easy to stay in a job that you know, even when you are unhappy (which I was) because you don’t have to grapple with all of these issues.

Choosing the harder, more demanding road of reinvention was/is growthful and developmental.  I’m a developmentalist, so of course that was ultimately the only choice to make.

The main thing I learned is that I can’t/couldn’t do this alone.  It was/is a very social activity.