Tuesday, July 24, 2012
I know an accountant who does not consider himself artistic or creative. He knows he's organized and good with numbers, and can meet tax deadlines with ease.
When he introduces himself to others and mentions he's an accountant, I doubt others say, "Wow, wish I could do such a creative job."
But yet he is creative. He takes some of the most beautiful photographs I've ever seen. He's patient and organized of course, but he also uses those attributes to capture the sunset at just the right moment or photograph a bird taking flight.
DreamWorks would not have believed this accountant's assertion that he's not creative. Read why in this story I did for Gannett/USAToday.....
Of course, animators behind such hits as "Madagascar 3" are good at contributing innovative ideas to their employer, DreamWorks Animation.
Whether it's a new food choice in the company cafeteria or some off-the-wall idea for a movie, DreamWorks should have a lock on getting a lot of creative ideas from them.
But no one ever thinks of accountants in the same league as animators who brought you "Shrek." How could number-crunchers come up with more innovative ideas than those who created "Kung Fu Panda?
Yet DreamWorks so values creative input from every employee— even its accountants and lawyers — that it actively solicits ideas and receives hundreds of creative thoughts from all workers, says Dan Satterthwaite, head of human resources.
Regardless of what they do, employees are given training on how to pitch their ideas successfully.
Whether it's an idea for a new movie or a better plan for developing new products, DreamWorks believes that stirring the creative juices is critical for keeping the international company competitive, he says.
While such a culture consistently has netted DreamWorks a high ranking as a great place to work, the company isn't content to rest on its laurels.
Recently, DreamWorks decided to explore what other companies are planning to retain and recruit employees so DreamWorks can stay ahead of the curve, Satterthwaite says.
Creative skills will be a more important driver of the economy than technical skills, according to a DreamWorks survey of 150 senior human resources executives.
Further, creativity is a must at all levels of an organization, a majority of those polled say.
Those findings underscore that DreamWorks is headed in the right direction and must continue to focus on keeping all workers innovative and creative, Satterthwaite says. Still, staying competitive means more than coming up with the next blockbuster animated movie.
"The work that we do is so collaborative that we must have people who can not only sit at their desk and solve a problem but then be able to articulate that solution to their supervisor and to the team," he says.
That's why the company has begun digging deep in the recruitment process, looking people with a passion for what they do who also are able to communicate their ideas to others outside their field of expertise. Whether the candidate is applying for high-tech job or a position in human resources, DreamWorks needs them to translate their knowledge into a language that others can grasp, he says.
"Sure, we might ask a crazy interview question, but it's not about the right answer. It's about how they solved the problem," Satterthwaite said. "We want them to be able present that solution to a group of people who might not be computer programmers or accountants. Are they able to share their knowledge in a way that others understand? That's what we're beginning to hire for."
The company is trying to maximize its creative collaborations through cloud computing technology but also through some very nontechnical face-to-face meetings. Satterthwaite says the company finds that in a time of emails, instant messages and texts, personal interactions are critical.
"You may have an animator work an entire week for 1 second of animation. It takes 300 to 400 people up to 4½ years to create one movie. We give very minute instructions on raising a character's eyebrow just a bit more," Satterthwaite says. "Those are instructions you can't give on a conference call."
But not only animators rely on face-to-face communications. Satterthwaite says the company so believes in personally communicating ideas and its creative visions to workers that in October the company is bring in all 2,200 DreamWorks employees from around the world to California to attend a presentation of what's in the works.
"That's what engages people. To feel integrated and part of the company, no matter what your job is," he says.
More companies need to stop thinking that perks like free lunches or yoga lessons will motivate and engage workers, Satterthwaite says. In the future, he believes that most employee benefits and perks will be the same, so offering a pool table in the break room won't make much of an impression.
The key: Employers that want the most engaged and innovative employees will support each individual's skills.
At DreamWorks, that's done through a variety of methods — letting employees pitch a movie concept, giving all workers access to artist development courses or allowing them to take risks and learn from mistakes instead of firing them.
"We challenge all our employees to be their own CEOs," he says.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
I once was part of a group presentation that was due to get together for the first time at a big conference. I had spoken with three of the fellow panelists via phone several weeks beforehand, but never managed to connect with the last participant.
I never met her until about an hour before the presentation. By the time the presentation was over, I wish I'd never met her.
What I, and the other panelists didn't know, was that she was one of the most boring, long-winded people ever to walk the face of the earth. At one point during her part of the presentation, I looked out into the audience and saw someone pretending to hang herself.
Yes, it was that bad.
She made us all look bad, despite our preparation beforehand. Because we couldn't connect with her before our gig, we had no idea that she talked in a complete monotone. And used obscure research to support her points. And never looked at the audience, but read directly from her notes.
That's why I hope you'll find this column I did for Gannett/USAToday on group presentations helpful....
We've all been there: While listening to a team presentation, we start to find it amusing when the team seems about as coordinated as a duck on roller skates.
The PowerPoint is out of whack with the information being given, and one team member appears to be confused when it's his turn to speak.
Another team member rolls her eyes while another flips through his notes as if seeing them for the first time
While this can seem a bit funny to the audience, it's anything but amusing when you're part of a team presentation disaster. Not only could you lose a potential client or look bad in front of higher-ups, but your professional reputation takes a hit.
Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking, has advised many teams and individuals on how to give effective presentations. He says presentations involving multiple individuals have unique problems.
"We have become very dependent on PowerPoint," he says. "But it's just a tool. Too many teams are relying on them or their 'pitch books.' They put all their time into those and literally have no time left to practice how they'll present it."
While one or two members might practice their information, failing to work together beforehand often spells disaster, he says.
One team member might fail to inform the others that he or she is nervous about speaking publicly. If the others are unaware a team member might become tongue-tied, they can't prepare.
The presentation might come to a grinding halt when the petrified presenter can't give information smoothly.
Or a lack of preparation might mean PowerPoint glitches aren't discovered until the actual presentation. Then team members are scrambling to correct them while another tries to cover the goof.
"With a team presentation, you're only as strong as your weakest link," Eventoff says. "You've got to work on the details. Where should each person look while the other person is speaking? One person might need to watch for audience reaction while the others look at the presenter.
"You don't want to take the chance of one person just gazing out the window while the team members are presenting. If someone looks confused or bored or disgusted, then that becomes the message to the audience," he says.
Teams often don't realize that if they visually and verbally stumble, "people are going to be gone no matter the beauty of the presentation," Eventoff says.
A client could choose another vendor, or you could fail to convince an audience of a key message.
"You're certainly not going to compel people to move in the direction you want," he says.
Teams can improve their presentations in several ways, Eventoff says. Among them:
• Get together. Even if you're in far-flung locations, use Skype to practice the presentation as a team. That way you can fine-tune, working on issues such as transitions and timing.
It's always ideal to meet in person and even visit the presentation room beforehand.
• Learn to edit. "Your information is never as important to your audience as it is to you," he says. It's critical to make your information as concise as possible, which can be a bit tricky with multiple people participating.
But look for inconsistencies, repetitive messages and other fluff that can cause a presentation to drag.
• Don't miss critical points. Whether you're part of an individual or group presentation, the most important elements are a strong opening and a solid, well-defined, compelling message.
Without those elements, "the audience will tune out," Eventoff says.
• Keep it tight. Any time you have more than four people making a presentation, "you start going into choppy waters," he says.
Too many presenters make it difficult for the audience to focus on the presentation — and can lead to more chances of things going wrong.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
I had never tried meditation until a few years ago, when personal and professional stresses were giving me insomnia and constant headaches. I decided to give meditation a try, and visited some sites online to learn how to do it.
At first, I was impatient to get results.
"OK, I'm breathing, dammit," I'd think. "I don't feel calmer. How come I'm not feeling calmer? Aren't I supposed to feel calmer?"
It took me a few weeks to really see the payoff of meditation, but after a while I began to feel less stress.
I don't meditate every day, but sometimes when the world is really getting to me, I simply drop to my office floor and begin to breathe. I no longer demand results from myself. I just focus on my breathing and enjoy the benefits.
Here's a story I did for Gannett/USAToday that shows that meditation can help you feel less stressed and more focused at work...
All sorts of gizmos and gadgets can help you be more productive at work, and theories abound on how you should structure your days to get more done.
But a new study finds that becoming more focused, productive and less stressed at work may involve nothing more than learning to meditate.
David Levy, a computer scientist and professor with theInformation School at the University of Washington, found that those who had meditation training were able to stay on task longer and were less distracted. Levy and his co-authors discovered that meditation also improved test subjects' memory while easing their stress.
Levy, who has used meditation for many years in his own life, decided to do the experiment involving the workplace after reading Darlene Cohen's book, "The One Who Is Not Busy: Connecting to Work in a Deeply Satisfying Way."
"In the book she was talking about how she's adapted some Zen training to the workplace," he says. "For 20 years I've been looking about how to add balance to the workplace, and that gave me the idea for the experiment."
Levy had one group of human resource managers undergo eight weeks of mindfulness-based meditation training. A second group got eight weeks of body-relaxation training. The third group received no initial training but then was given the same training as the first group after eight weeks.
Subjects were given a stressful test on their multitasking abilities before and after each eight-week period. They had to use email, calendars, instant-messaging, phones and word-processing tools to perform common office duties.
Researchers looked at their speed, accuracy and number of times they switched tasks. The participants also were asked to record their stress levels and memory performance while doing the jobs.
Researchers found that the meditation group not only had lower stress levels during the multitasking tests but also were able to concentrate longer without being distracted.
But for the other two groups — those who received relaxation breathing training and those who had no initial training — stress did not go down. However, when the third group received meditation training after eight weeks, their stress also decreased.
Further, those who meditated also spent more time on tasks, didn't switch between different chores as often and took no longer to get their work done than the other participants, the study found.
"Meditation is a lot like doing reps at a gym. It strengthens your attention muscle," Levy says.
Levy says that he knows what it feels like to be overwhelmed at work, calling himself "stunned" when he left a Palo Alto, Calif., think tank to take up academic duties.
"I kept thinking, 'This is crazy,' " he says. "I do wonder why we make ourselves work this way. There's no time to even think. We've gotten to a place where we're just speeding up and we don't do things well. We've got to slow down."
While Levy says further study is needed to determine whether the meditation benefit can continue over the long term, in his own life he says meditation has helped calm his stress. He thinks it can be worth a try for workers who feel overwhelmed, distracted and stressed.
Many employers are beginning to agree. For example, Google offers "Search Inside Yourself" classes that teach mindfulness at work. Employees reportedly have given the program rave reviews and say it increases their focus and decreases stress.
"There's an awful lot going on in this area," Levy says. "You see it in health care, in the schools and in the workplace. It's really turning into a serious direction and finding a place in American lives."
For those who have not had training in meditation or mindfulness, Levy says the first step can be a simple one.
"The simplest form of mindfulness meditation I know is to just to sit and pay attention to your breathing," he says. "To feel the actual sensations of your breathing and when you mind inevitably goes away to something else … just bring your mind back. Bring it back to the sensation of the breath again and again."
"It really can make a difference in your life," he says.
Have you used meditation to handle work better?