Manspreading Of Buzzwords

Apropos to Monday’s post on Jargon vs. Lingo, a link came across my social media feed yesterday featuring an interview with Anand Giridharadas by Mariana Mazzucato, a professor at the University College of London on the topic of philanthropy .

There is a moment right around the 23:00 mark where Giridharadas refers to a situation where the “…manspreading of certain languages which render native speakers in various institutions illiterate.”

Basically what he says happens is that advisors or consultants come in and start challenging practices, wielding terms like “leveraging synergies” and “boiling the ocean” to make it seem like the shorthand language you use internally to accomplish things is not sufficient to achieve success.  Giridharadas says this allows people to come in from outside and make people feel inadequate in their familiar home environment. It shifts the power dynamic by establishing their expertise while positioning natives as no longer credible.

He points out that people who have achieved relatively high levels of success in industries like education, arts and aviation don’t tend to decide this expertise can be applied to other industries, but people in the commercial business world will feel they are qualified to direct the efforts in other realms. Giridharadas specifically mentions charities, non-profits and the arts as industries often feel their commercial skillsets will transfer to.

Now none of this is to say that non-profits and the arts don’t have issues like insularity and diversity, equity and inclusion, among others that need to be fixed. But with some exceptions, the solution to these problems can be achieved with plain speech and the native jargon of the organization without the necessity of introducing buzzwords.

Mazzucato also made an interesting point about the commercial world employing a paradigm adopted from a now outdated physics worldview. She says economics finds it convenient to employ Newtonian view of equilibrium to justify a laissez-faire policy–the idea governments shouldn’t interfere because the system will self-correct. However, she notes that physics has moved on to the quantum physics model where there are higher degrees of uncertainty and randomness. These are factors probably a more appropriate paradigm for economics since individuals, social structures and behaviors do not easily conform to the predictability of an equal and opposite reaction.

To be clear, she is not saying economics should look to the quantum model to figure everything out. She just makes the point that scientific models have shifted as observations about the world have been tested and economics seemed to glom on to a convenient metaphor/model that conformed to a desired outcome.

 

 

Jigglers Were About Spending Time Together, But It Sold Alot of Jell-O

Economist Tyler Cowen had a rather extensive conversation with poet and former NEA Chair, Dana Gioia, on a plethora of topics. The one that most quickly grabbed me was right out of the gate when Cowen asks Gioia about his success at marketing Jell-O. He said it took him 2.5 years to conceptualize and then sell General Foods on Jell-o Jigglers which ended up reversing a 25 year downward trend and doubling sales overnight.

Gioia says that while General Foods was the best food company around in the 1950s, by the 1980s they were foundering because they didn’t know how to re-imagine their products. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you may remember that there were all these recipes that involved using Jell-O in intricate ways. (My family had one of their cookbooks and actually made a few.)

Gioia’s approach was to greatly simplify the use to re-imagine the product and make it relevant to consumers.

…rather than creating an elaborate recipe, which was what we were trying to sell people for 40 years, simply a way that you could add water with your kids, put it in the refrigerator and have it ready as a finger food in one hour.

…it was the way of using three times as much Jell-O for an occasion in which people would never use Jell-O, which is to make your own gummy bears. It became a mom-kid activity. We sold every box of Jell-O in the United States for several months.

When I read that, it made me think in the 1980s Gioia was basically doing what we in the arts have only just started to do recently –focus on how our product creates connection with family and friends.

Gioia also talks about how he brought a poet’s humanities based creativity to solve problems for a disciplined, data-driven corporation:

I was a poet, but I needed a job, so, I went to business school, I got an MBA, and I ended up in marketing at General Foods which is a highly analytic company with a very military organization. It was absolutely fantastic at managing existing businesses with a maximum of efficiency. What they were not good at was, in a sense, reconceptualizing a business that was in trouble, because they would simply try to do more or less of what they had done before.

…but with each promotion at General Foods, actually the particular skills I had, which was in a sense of — I’m very good at reconceptualizing things, taking a solution that people have had, breaking it apart, and creating a new solution. I essentially brought creativity that was completely in command of the numbers, if you can understand. That’s a very fairly rare combination, and I was able to transform several businesses there.

Definitely lessons in there for the arts and culture sector as they try to reconstitute and reinvent themselves in the coming years. Cowen and Gioia go on to talk about poetry, religion, opera (“What is opera except the suffering of people with high voices.”) among other things throughout the interview.

One Year Later, What Have We Learned About Working From Home?

Vox Recode provided some interesting insights into factors which will exist as people increasingly work from home. Some of the issues I had already anticipated like a move to a less permanent, more freelance/contract worker environment,  and difficulties that may crop up if your supervisor and you live in different time zones but they expect responses aligned to their 9-5 schedule.

There were some surprises for me like the finding that older workers were more open to telecommuting than younger workers whom I assumed would be more comfortable with a digital existence. But apparently it isn’t degree of comfort with technology that was the defining factor:

Employees over the age of 40 were more likely to say they would prefer to continue working remotely, while employees younger than 40 were more likely to want to return to the office, according to one study of teleworkers done by Bucknell University. Young people felt they were missing out on the mentorship and soft skills they would have received working alongside older colleagues in the office, who can help them advance their careers.

“They are impatient to be successful,” Eddy Ng, a professor at Bucknell University and one of the report’s authors, told Recode. “They now know the value of social capital and the need to interact with others.”

The fact that older workers are likely to have living spaces large enough to accommodate office spaces and that are not intruded upon by roommates and younger children were also mentioned as possibly contributing to this finding.

There was also a racial divide and the theories supporting it bear considering if you are planning to do better on diversity and/or letting people work from home:

Nearly all Black knowledge workers currently working from home, some 97 percent, want a hybrid or fully remote work model, compared with 79 percent of their white counterparts, according to data from Slack’s Future Forum survey. The report posited a number of reasons, including remote work reducing the need for “code switching,” or making oneself and one’s speech fit the norms of a majority white office. Being outside the office also reduced instances of microaggressions and discrimination and improved Black employees’ ability to recover from those incidents. With remote work, Black knowledge workers reported a greater sense of belonging, a greater ability to manage work stress, and greater work-life balance than their white colleagues.

The Vox article suggests that productivity will gradually become less focused on the quantitative measures that have persisted since factory assembly lines and more aligned toward quality of work and interactions. However, they caution that using productivity as a measure of an employees worth, regardless of whether it is based on quantity or quality should not be the bottom line.

One of the things they caution against is a situation arts organizations have been urged to move away from –siloing. If you aren’t going into a shared workspace every day you aren’t interacting with everyone that works for your company, only a core group with whom you need to perform your tasks. As a result, there isn’t the sharing of ideas that lead to innovation; creating of empathy for needs of others, (you’re more likely to make things easier for Carol in accounting if you see how hard she works); or the creation of a general organizational culture.

At the same time, the article says that seeing people in their home environments rather than their office cubicle has helped to humanize them.

You don’t come out of seeing your coworkers — and their living rooms and their babies and their pets — in the middle of a global pandemic without getting a little closer to them. And such closeness makes people happier and better at work.

The pandemic did a good job of humanizing people, not only because we saw more of their interior lives but because we worked with them while going through something immense.

[…]

Indeed, one in six people reported crying with a coworker this year, according to Microsoft’s study, and nearly one in three say they are more likely to be their authentic selves at work than last year. About 40 percent said they were less embarrassed when their home life showed up at work compared to how things used to be. All of these interactions correlate with a better sense of well-being, higher productivity, and more positive perceptions of work, according to the study.

Hopefully that isn’t all just the stress of the pandemic and people will continue to feel a closer connection with each other.

Well Done Rare Medium

It is pretty widely acknowledged that people who work for non-profits do so for intangible benefits like a feeling of contributing to the betterment of society and self-actualization rather than rewarding levels of remuneration.

Of all the benefits non-profit workers feel they get from the work they do, compliments are probably not one of them. A story in Harvard Business Review noted that two research efforts found that while people felt that compliments were beneficial and should be given more often, many people refrained from expressing compliments to others.

…we consistently found that people underestimated how good their compliment would make the recipient feel. Compliment-givers tend to believe the other person won’t enjoy their interaction as much as they actually do; in fact, they often believe that their exchange will probably make the person a little uncomfortable. Yet, consistently, receiving a compliment brightens people’s day much more than anticipated, leaving them feeling better, and less uncomfortable, than givers expect.

[…]

In fact, only 50% of people in one experiment who wrote down a compliment for a friend actually sent the compliment along when given the chance, even though they’d already done the hardest part — coming up with something nice and thoughtful to say. That is, despite the widely shared desire to give more compliments, when faced with the decision people still often forgo low-cost opportunities to make others feel appreciated and valued.

Among the concerns people had were that their delivery of the compliment would be awkward and that repeatedly giving compliments on consecutive days would diminish the value of the praise and be perceived as increasingly insincere.

The authors conclude by noting that gratitude and praise is especially important now more than ever and advocate for creating a culture of gratitude:

As Aron Ain, CEO of Ultimate Kronos Group has said, “Gratitude is not about a one-time holiday party, day off, or spot bonus…It is about creating a culture of gratitude.”

(Title of this post is based on a recollection of a clue in a Hardy Boys book from ~40 years ago where the antagonist writes a note congratulating a fortune teller.)