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My Office Gave Me A Reputation

8 Apr

When I began my new job, I didn’t decorate my office for months.  Why?  Because I wanted to really hit the ground running.  Beautifying my work space could come later.

My high level of productivity and my Spartan office led co-workers to form these first impressions of me:

1)      I’m an extremely hard worker (which I am).

2)      I’m not creative.  Why did they think this?  My bare, slightly dirty walls gave off the impression of someone who hadn’t thought creatively about his office, and my colleagues took this as a sign that I wasn’t very creative.

I’ve struggled to shed this uncreative label ever since.

Your first weeks in the workplace are like your clothes on a first date.  They’re used by others to form opinions of you.  And for good or bad, work reputations tend to persist, whether they’re entirely accurate or not:

  • You will be given work based on these first impressions that will only strengthen that initial reputation.  If you’re deemed a creative thinker, you’ll be given creative projects to work on.  Your creativity working on these projects will strengthen your reputation for being creative.  Conversely, you may miss out on opportunities based on first impressions, which makes it harder to shed or alter those labels.
  • First impressions aren’t always reassessed.  The colleagues we work closely with  have constant contact with us on which to reassess and alter their opinions.  However, especially in larger companies, there are colleagues with whom we rarely interact.  These co-workers rely on their first impressions and hearsay when deciding what we’re like.  With these colleagues, a first impression is sometimes all you get.


My office today...still needs a little work, but at least there's something on the walls!

My office today…still needs a little work, but at least there’s something on the walls!

I’m not saying that first impressions in the workplace can’t be changed.  If you’re at a company worth working for (like mine), your work will eventually shine through.  But first impressions are an important reality of the work place, and we’re all served well by doing three things:

1)      When you start a new job or join a new team, think hard about how you want to be known and take action to convey those things about you.

2)      It’s worth taking the time to get to know people you don’t work closely with.  You owe it yourself to give these colleagues an idea of who you really are.  Don’t let first impressions or office talk determine what people think of you.

3)      Make extra effort to brag about yourself.  It’s worth doing modest self-promotion to highlight the qualities you want to be known for, especially when first impressions are so sticky.  My colleague posts an impressive day-by-day itinerary of her business travel on her door when she’s out of the office.  It’s a subtle, but effective way of demonstrating how hard she’s working.

And of course, decorate your office right away.


The Bad Idea Revolution

21 Mar

Bob Marley.  Les Mis.  America.  Revolutions are sexy.  Which is why I’m hesitant to write this blog post.  How to kill the bad idea revolution.  But here it goes.

I love my colleague.  But recently, he had an ill-founded idea for a new product feature.  When I found out about it, I vowed I’d soon voice my concerns.

“The time to stop a revolution is at the beginning, not the end.”  –Adlai Stevenson

But I didn’t act for a few days.  Things got busy and talking to him kept on slipping down my to-do list.  By the time I did, my colleague had already converted two disciples and drafted an initial plan.  I tried to talk him out of it, but his mind was decided.  The bad idea revolution was in motion.

Bad ideas are just ideas until one of three things occur:  

1)      The bad idea attracts at least one follower.

2)      The revolutionary has time to develop a concrete plan.

3)      The tiniest of first steps is made to start executing the plan.

These three things take time.  It might be two hours or two weeks before a colleague with a bad idea can attract a follower or devise a plan.  The key is to confront the person with your concerns before these events ever happen.  If one of these events does occur, you’re no longer fighting just an idea.  You’re fighting a bad idea revolution.


If a bad idea does becomes a revolution, here are two additional tactics to try:

1) Convince another colleague of the risks inherent in the idea.  Ignoring one colleague is easy.  Ignoring a group of colleagues is not.

2)  Use the two for every one rule to come prepared with alternatives.

It’s not as sexy to kill a revolution as it is to start one, but sometimes it’s just as important.  Act swiftly to kill bad ideas, before others become committed to them.  You’ll create space for other, important ideas to breathe.

Two For Every One

10 Mar

“Criticizes the ideas of others without ever offering an idea or solution of his own.  Drains the room of energy.  Not a forward thinker.”

That was me.  No wonder my colleagues left me out of group lunches.


But after reading Imagine by Jonah Lehrer, all of that has changed.  In his book, Lehrer describes “plussing,” the act of  bringing a new idea or tweak to the table after you criticize someone else’s idea.  Your idea, “the plus,” softens the criticism and provides a new or altered plan.  I’ve taken plussing a step further: I now hold myself accountable to the two for every one rule.

It works like this.  Every time I criticize a co-worker’s idea, I have to offer two ideas of my own.  The ideas can be tweaks on the plan I’m criticizing or entirely new solutions.

Why is the two for every one rule game-changing?

1)      It leads to idea generation.  When a plan is shot-down without any new ideas surfacing, everyone involved leaves depressed.  The two for every one rule guarantees that when an idea is axed, new ideas are generated.

2)      It creates a team atmosphere by forcing everyone to try to find a solution.  We can no longer criticize a plan and then remain aloof, leaving the work of finding a solution to others.  When we’re forced to offer two new ideas for every criticism, we’re committed to trying  to solve the problem, not just point it out.

3)      It puts everyone on the chopping block.  By forcing everyone to offer their own ideas, it opens up everyone to criticism and critique.  When everyone is exposed, no one person feels ganged up on.


It’s much easier to point out flaws in the ideas of others than come up with your own plans, which makes following this rule is extremely hard.   But I’m slowly but surely implementing the two for every one rule across my life.

The early results: I’m an idea-generator like never before, colleagues ask for my opinion more often because I offer compelling and constructive feedback, and people seem genuinely happy to see me at meetings. 


What’s Intimidating About The Greats

17 Jan

What’s intimidating about the greats, the business and thought leaders of our society, is that we pick up their story at the end.  We’re given chronicles of their accomplishments: their meteoric rise to the head of their companies, their brilliant inventions, the millions of lives their creations have impacted.  How can we ever rival what they have done?

What if we picked up their story at the beginning?  Or in the middle?  When these great people faced enormous hurdles.  When they were filled with self-doubt.  When their success was far from guaranteed.

What if, instead of comparing ourselves to the end result, we placed ourselves side by side to the greats when they were just like us?  Working, struggling, striving towards a goal not yet seen on the horizon.

When you think about your career or a goal you’ve set for yourself, shift the point of comparison.  If you want to be great, don’t set yourself side by side to someone who has already achieved greatness.  Instead, imagine that person when they were at a similar point in their career.  When calluses were all they had to show for their toil.  When they had to find solutions to the challenges they faced.

When you do that, you’ll find that these great figures no longer are daunting and untouchable, but very reachable.  You’ll focus not on their enormous success, but the process they took to get there.  You’ll be motivated to find solutions, because they once had too as well—and did so.

My Biggest Fear…No One Shows Up.

16 Jan

Most of us worry that we’ll be stood up on a first date.  Some of us are afraid that no one will show up at our funeral.  I tremble when I think of no one showing up for my focus groups.

Before running my first focus groups, I feared that every participant who RSVP’d would stand me up.  I imagined an immaculate (but empty) conference room, pens and notepads perfectly arranged at every seat around the table, condensation dripping from completely full carafes of water because no one was there to drink them.  My colleagues would shake their heads at me in disappointment.  A ton of time and money would be wasted.  These thoughts kept me up at night.

I never had an entirely empty conference room, but in the beginning, attendance fluctuated.  I was never sure participants would actually come to the session.

Recently however, I’ve tweaked my focus groups in a very slight way that has stabilized attendance and has made my life much less stressful.

Now, before focus groups, I send out an online survey through SurveyMonkey and require attendees to complete it.  Not only does the survey give us great background information on our participants, but it greatly increases attendance.  Why?

1)      After completing the survey, the focus group is no longer a nebulous session that participants committed to in the spur of the moment but can blow off–it’s an actual event that we’re counting on them for.  They haven’t truly committed to coming until they fill out the survey.

2)      The survey shows attendees just how serious we are about getting their feedback.  The survey sets a professional and productive tone, which leads to higher attendance.

3)      If someone doesn’t fill out the survey, it’s unlikely that they’re going to follow through and actually show up.  I can then send out more invitations to fill their spot without worrying about overbooking.

Before any event in which you’re relying on customers you don’t know personally or can’t 100% trust to show up, ask them to complete some kind of pre-event action.  Fill out a survey, submit a pre-session question, anything.  It will strengthen their commitment to attend and weed out anyone who wasn’t going to show up in the first place.

conference room 2

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