Lessons From The Playground

1992: When I was 4, my sister and I went to a preschool in Palm Desert while our family was on vacation there. Presumably this was to keep us busy and prevent us from spending all of our time at the pool.

I made friends with this girl named Hailey, and we became playmates during recess. Things were going great for about a week.

Then, out of the blue, she came up to me and said, “My mom says I can’t be friends with you.”

“Why not?” I ask.

“My mom says I can be friends with Chloe, because she’s American, and you’re not.”

I kept this event to myself until we got home to Newport later that spring, and cried to my mom about what happened. I remember feeling shame, and not understanding why. Quite an experience for a 4 year-old.

It’s 25 years later and this memory has not left me. Prejudice and stereotypes are still very much alive in our world, and unfortunately are part of what make us human. (Listen to the Inquiring Minds podcast episode – The Science of Prejudice to learn more.) However, we can take active measures to reduce their impact and reconfigure our world into one of respect, dignity and empowerment. It starts with awareness.

I’m so grateful to have been raised by two self-made parents, both incredibly strong and encouraging in their own right, who have done nothing but support the aspirations of their children. One happens to be brown and one happens to be white.

I hope Hailey’s mother understands the implications of her words to her daughter all those years ago, how they perpetuate division and fear.

I challenge you to teach your children there is another way, one of community and inclusion. Because we are all human, and all human beings should feel safe and empowered in pursuit of their dreams.

Get H.Y.P.E.’d

Happiness yields productive employees (H.Y.P.E.) is not a fluke.

To be happy, I’ve discovered, you’ve got to run toward something: meaningful work; a hopeful, inspiring vision of your future; and good relationships with the people you work with every day. – Annie McKee

Author Annie McKee shares her POV about aspiring for happiness at work, how happiness transcends all aspects of our lives and doesn’t end when we log into our work e-mails or commute to the office.

In a recent HuffPost article, she talks about three keys to happiness at work:

  1. Sense of Purpose
  2. Hopeful Vision
  3. Coworker Friendships

McKee sheds light on these quintessentially human elements – purpose, hope, friendship – and how they contribute to productivity in the workplace. Fast Company published a piece supporting this thought, showing that happy employees are 12% more productive than unhappy employees.

Employee engagement is a hot topic these days amongst company leaders and HR professionals alike, showing workplace satisfaction and happiness are thought to be important by those in charge, but statistics indicate perhaps the efforts’ intentions are off target.

According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 51% of the US workforce is not engaged. In fact, Korn Ferry finds 24% of CHROs say engaging and retaining employees is their biggest struggle. Perhaps the discussion should shift from the typical emphasis on recognition programs, benefits, perks, and other “engagement strategies,” towards addressing fundamental human needs, like helping employees find purpose, hope, and sense of community in their jobs.

So I challenge you, what human-driven strategies do you have in your workplace that can improve happiness while also improve company performance and productivity?

10 Things I Hate About You: Coworker Edition

This week, I wanted to write something light yet still thoughtful, so I took inspiration from my recent trip to Seattle to reinvent the poem Kat recites in her English class during the cult classic 90s movie, 10 Things I Hate About You.

This photo was taken at Gasworks Park, where Kat Stratford and Pat Verona engage in a paintball fight and ride a paddleboat on the lake. (If you haven’t visited the Seattle area, you should!)

This is for that colleague that challenges you in ways that baffle you but you still appreciate them anyway. So I challenge you, figure out who is this person, and how do they make you better?


I hate the way you talk to me,

And the way you swivel your chair.

I hate the way you type and click,

I hate it when you stare.


I hate your big dumb standing desk

And the way you take your calls.

I hate the way you make me think,

It drives me up a wall.


I hate it, I hate the way you’re always right,

I hate it when you lie.

I hate it when you make me laugh,

Even worse when you make me cry.


I hate it when you make a point,

And the fact that you speak in drawl.

But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you,

Not even a little bit,

Not even at all.

Make It Work

Today, work transcends our professional and personal lives. Many of us take work calls on vacation, send emails in transit between the office and home (oftentimes dangerous and not recommended), or – most simply, some days we work from home. It can’t get much more integrated than that, blending your personal space with your work space.

Oftentimes, we forget it is human beings that are running our businesses. First and foremost, before we are employees, before we are business owners, we are human beings. We all have physical needs, mental needs, emotional needs, etc. that don’t disappear once work begins.

As humans navigating this landscape, it’s critical we recognize fundamentally what makes us human, what are the unique characteristics that define the human condition, and what those implications are for us at work, and quite frankly, at home as well.

Today I’m sharing three sources, literary edition, that get at this idea and explain how simply being aware of our “human-ness” can help us be happier and more effective at work, and by extension, life in general.

Point No. 1: Human nature is not one-size-fits-all.

The power of human nature is that, unlike any other forces of nature, it is not uniform. Instead, its power lies in its idiosyncrasy – in the fact that each human’s nature is different. If companies want to use this power, they must find a mechanism to unleash each human’s nature, not contain it. – First, Break All The Rules

Everyone has a different nature, different strengths, different things that make us great. Nike rolled out a campaign in 2012 called “Find Your Greatness.” It highlights exactly this concept – that everyone is different, and everyone can be great. It’s about identifying what that greatness is and creating your value around it. If people are in roles that bring out their best selves, productivity becomes a given and not an obstacle. That means treating fair but not the same, as one size does not fit all.

Point No. 2: Our potential and capacity to learn is not static, but dynamic.

Potential is not fixed. We believe in human beings’ ability to grow; society cannot achieve economic as well as cultural progress without it….They can and do reinvent themselves – The Leadership Pipeline

While each of our natural behaviors are ingrained and our brains primed at an early age, we as humans are capable of acquiring knowledge and developing skills. Both knowledge and skills contribute to the advancement and growth of ourselves, and as each individual experiences this progress, we all grow and develop as a civilization and culture. We become better marketers, better accountants, better leaders, better parents, better friends. Life is a learning opportunity and in understanding this, we should design inherently in our companies and positions ways to expand on what we know and apply what we learn. This could take the form of focus groups, innovation tournaments, and the like. The key is to keep these opportunities consistent to show it’s a recognized human need that is important to address.

Point No. 3: Self-examination is uniquely human.

We need to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life… – Man’s Search For Meaning

Sometimes we get in our own heads and rethink everything. Surprise – this is a uniquely human trait unshared by any other mammal or living species (that we’re aware of). While this feature allows us to examine our options and make decisions based on those options, it can sometimes paralyze our progress when we “think too much.” Recalling an earlier post on indecision, we need to be mindful of our actions (or lack thereof), own our choices, and be accountable for our purpose. When we define our purpose in relation to our jobs, we satisfy our human desire for meaning, for fulfillment, for being a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Tying these three points together, whether or home or in the office, humans need opportunities to figure out who they are and what they need to be successful without risk of recourse or punishment. Sometimes our society’s expectations and standards for behavior run counter to exactly this idea. And we need to make conscious choices to either align ourselves with these, or run the opposite way in pursuit of something different, something more human.

So, everyone, I challenge you to explore more about yourself and what makes you great, and how that value translates both personally for you and your self-awareness as a human being, and professionally as you maximize your performance in the workplace. And employers, I challenge you to show your people you understand what their human needs are, and create ways for them to discover how they can best be an asset to you in ways that also make them happy and fulfilled.

Because all human beings should feel safe and empowered in pursuit of their dreams.

What Companies Can Learn From Isaiah Thomas

Like, even with all of this being said … man … it still hurt. It still hurt bad. And I hope people can understand that when I say it hurt, it isn’t directed at anyone. I’m not saying I was hurt by anyone, or wronged by anyone, or betrayed. I’m just saying, man, I’m only human. I may act like a tough guy on the court. And I may seem like I have ice in my veins when I’m competing. But it ain’t ice, really. I got blood and I got a heart like everyone else.

Entering my eighth season of working for a professional sports team (5 with the Boston Red Sox, now entering my third with the LA Clippers), I chose to work in this industry because in many ways, it exposes so purely what it means to be human.

Isaiah Thomas eloquently explains in his piece for the Players’ Tribune his expressly human reaction to being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Boston Celtics, what loyalty means, how it does and doesn’t exist in business. And most importantly, in my opinion, how grateful he is to the C’s for affording him the opportunity to be great at his craft.

Everyone’s got their numbers and statistics all crunched — and all these experts, man, they think they have this entire league figured out. But they ain’t never figured me right. And they ain’t never figured the importance of having a winning culture — from the fans, to the players, to the coaches, to the front office, all the way up to the top. And we had that here. This was the first place, the first organization, the first group of fans in the league that didn’t take one look at me, take one look at my size, and put me into the same role as always. The Boston Celtics let me have a chance to be great. And I’ll never forget that.

We can learn from Isaiah’s words here, that sometimes people aren’t in the right role, and when an organization chooses to make a concerted effort to invest in and discover their talents, even and ESPECIALLY if not previously seen, that’s good business. That’s good people strategy. That’s talent management with intent.

If businesses could consistently find ways to build value around what makes their people great, we’d see some amazing things. Certainly there are challenges to this, including risk to ROI should people leave.  But I’d also argue not doing so is a greater risk, a risk that talented individuals won’t feel like they’re contributing in a way that’s meaningful to them and will leave anyway, on their terms and not at the will (or desire) of the business.

So I challenge you, what’s your greatness? Are you exercising what makes you great at your job? And employers – do you know what makes your people great, and are you taking advantage of their strengths?

Remember: We are all human. Humans are different by nature. In these differences lie our greatness. Find your greatness. Remember you are human. Repeat.

Part 1 – Potential vs. Past Performance

“Thank you so much for your interest in working for (insert company here). Unfortunately we’ve decided to move forward with other candidates with more experience. Best of luck with your job search.”

You’ve probably received this message at some point in your career, a default “regrets” communication when applying for a position at XYZ company. Time and time again, experience (or lack thereof) appears at the top of the list of reasons why a hiring manager decides a candidate isn’t the right fit for the job in question.

(Note: We’re defining experience here as time spent performing specific relevant tasks, time spent in a specific relevant industry, or time spent in a specific relevant role.)

For the past few decades, this status quo approach to hiring has more or less worked. Companies focused on hiring for competencies, or the past demonstration of skills presumed to indicate successful performance in a specific job. Mind you, the workplace during this time, we could say, was relatively stable and jobs relatively consistent.

Today’s business landscape is arguably more dynamic, complex, dare I say chaotic – leaving a greater margin for error in making hiring decisions. Today, out of necessity, the conversation shifts from whether people have the right skills to do a job, to whether people have the capacity to learn new ones as jobs themselves continue to evolve and change.

Mercer anticipates 65% of current primary school children will be in jobs that don’t even exist yet.

That’s insane! How can we continue with our current antics knowing past experience will be all but irrelevant for our future workforce not 15 years down the road?

In a 7-minute interview with Harvard Business Review, executive search adviser Claudio Fernández-Aráoz explains the inherent challenges we face today as people making hiring decisions (i.e. having the wrong brain, the wrong software, and the wrong focus) and why hiring for potential over past performance is critical to the future of business. If you’d like to read more from HBR on this idea, click here.

The key to matching talent with the right job hinges on determining what about the job can and cannot be taught. It’s nature versus nurture on a whole new level.

The rub is this: while we are all human, we are each unique in our brain biology and our behaviors, and how they translate into the workplace. As our brains develop through our teen years, our neurons make connections to create mental pathways that eventually shape the way we think and view the world. This is how we create our sense, our unique network of connections specific to our individual experience of how we understand and interact with the world.

Therefore, we each have something different to offer, to share, to teach – and the issue in the workplace is that many employers don’t know how to figure out what that is WITHOUT using past experience as a reference. (That’s what a resume is, after all. Don’t they exist for a reason?)

I’m not suggesting that employers should make a 180-change in their hiring practices tomorrow. I’m suggesting employers should consider the long term (5, 10+ year) goals for their organization, and given the changing landscape of the business world, reassess how human capital will contribute to and impact the goals of the company. From there, plans for a shift (or shifts) in people resources can be designed, and positions can be repurposed and realigned.

This is probably one of the most difficult things a company has to do: determine how to allocate its resources, people or otherwise. It also defines whether a company succeeds or fails. The challenge of staffing, talent acquisition, recruiting – whatever you want to call it – is becoming infinitely more complex and it’s not going to get any less complex, but the mission is to figure out ways to manage the complexity and tame its potentially detrimental implications if not addressed effectively.

Fernández-Aráoz says we need to focus on figuring out how we can select people who are open to learning, and also know how to learn what they need to learn as they move forward in their careers.

Part 2 of this three-part series will explore this challenge in more detail. Part 3 will investigate leadership potential and how we can help develop our future leaders.

But for now, I challenge you to consider what about your job can and can’t be taught. Does your job allow you to learn in a way that jives with your natural behavior? If yes, you’re likely in the right job. If no, you might have some soul searching to do.

The Impact of (In)Decision

Adults make over 35,000 decisions per day. These choices range from seemingly simple things like what to eat for breakfast to the complex such as what career choices to pursue. (No wonder we’re so tired all the time.)

In our work lives, we’re tasked with making decisions day to day as part of our jobs, from the operational (and at times mundane) to the strategic. And sometimes, for whatever reason, we consciously avoid making a choice to act.

Oftentimes, this paralyzation of choice is triggered by fear – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of commitment, etc. The renowned philosopher Descartes has even referred to indecision as a “species of fear,” comparable to jealousy, envy, despair, and superstition.

The science is this: the human brain’s amygdala reacts to a particular decision that our brain processes as a perceived threat, and therefore avoidance. The outcome can be good or bad, depending on the implications of the decision in question.

The problem arises when indecision becomes your decision by default too often. If you don’t decide, especially passively and without purpose, you give up your power to choose. You go from being on offense to being on defense, and lose the advantage of making your move in a proactive as opposed to reactive way.

For example, a colleague might be assigned that project you wanted that could get you promoted, or a competitor closes a major sponsorship deal with the company you’ve been courting for months that meets your annual revenue goal.

Failure to decide also results in resentment from teammates, peers, direct reports, you name the stakeholder – because you’ve caused them to waste time and effort, two un-renewable resources, in limbo. Which is not productive for anybody. We’re swimming in circles and not moving forward, when moving forward should be the goal of every decision in the first place.

In my work life, this is my biggest pet peeve: when someone fails to make a decision that affects multiple people’s jobs because they don’t want to be responsible for insert negative outcome here; something going awry, a potential loss, etc.

So I challenge you to take ownership of your decisions, and be accountable for whatever the outcome might be. You have the power to choose, which is one of your greatest assets. Align your choices with your priorities, your purpose, your “Why.” Decide to act. Decide to choose. Decide to make progress and move forward.