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Articles filed in: Meaningful Work

Giving Attention Vs. Getting Attention


The more people have to attend to, the harder it is to get their attention.
Attention is a precious resource. And as with any resource, scarcity creates value.
Our culture has taught us that those who can capture the most attention win—never more so than in the digital age. So, we devote a considerable amount of time and effort working out how to mine other people’s attention—often adding to the noise.

What if instead of showing up to get attention, we showed up to give it, without expectation? Imagine the resources we could build if we spent the majority of our time attending to how we could help instead of trying to be seen.

Image by Daniel Funes Fuentes

Empathy Creates Value

A restaurant host has one job to do—meet and greet diners and show them to their table.

It sounds easy enough, but the difference between a good host and a great host is underrated because where people are seated directly impacts their experience. Seating arrangements can influence how long diners spend at a venue, how much they spend, and whether they come back.

One Saturday, at a cafe near where I live, a woman arrives alone with a Moleskine notebook under her arm. She wants coffee and a small table in a quiet corner.

The young couple with two small children need a spot where they can spread out and relax over pancakes without feeling like they’re disturbing other diners.

Even though the cafe is empty, the host seats both parties at the same big communal table in the middle of the dining room. They smile politely and look disappointed, but don’t ask to be moved. Sadly neither group gets the experience they want that day. The young parents snap at their kids in an attempt to keep them quiet. The woman with the notebook puts it away within minutes, finishes her coffee and leaves.

In his quest for efficiency, the host forgot that the purpose of the cafe isn’t just to serve food and drinks—it’s also to have the empathy to discern how to treat different customers differently.

We create value and deliver joy when we make the people we serve feel like they matter. What better goal can we have for the work we have the privilege to do?

Image by Petr Sevcovic

The One Thing


A novel is written one word, one sentence at a time. A marathon completed in strides, not miles. Every day we stand on the shoulders of the effort we made the one before.

We don’t make progress, we choose it.

What’s the one thing you could do today that would make a difference to your work?

What’s the one you could stop doing today that would have an impact on your progress?

What’s the one thing you need to learn to get you closer to your goal?

What’s the one thing you need to unlearn to change your perspective about what’s possible?

What one thing are you willing to do today in service of tomorrow?

Image by CJ Dayrit

The Best Laid Plans


This day ten years ago you probably had plans in place for the year ahead. Maybe you achieved some of those goals in 2010. But I’m guessing that you could never have planned for some of the unexpected events, opportunities, twists and turns of the decade you’ve just lived.

It turns out that it’s harder to predict the future than we think because we underestimate how much we, and the world will change over time. As psychologist, Dan Gilbert says;

‘Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.’

Ten years ago, I had just started blogging. I had no plans to write a book. I couldn’t have imagined building an online community, the joy of teaching story skills to thousands of people or speaking at TEDx. None of those things happened because I had a five year or a ten-year plan. They happened one blog post, one idea, one conversation at a time. Long-term goals, dreams and intentions are worthy, but they only eventuate because of our short-term actions.

Here’s to the next decade of showing up to do work we’re proud of and building a world that’s better for our being here.

Image by Tamarcus Brown

Needs And Wants


As creators, marketers and salespeople, we are, quite rightly, used to obsessing about our ideal client’s needs and wants.

After all, if we don’t understand what the people we care about serving care about, we’re unlikely to get the opportunity to serve them.

But if we are to do our best work, we must also be intentional about the kind of business and life we want to build. We often default to prioritising our needs while neglecting our wants.

What do you care about?

What kind of work serves you?

What do you need?

What do you want?

Image by Alice Achterhof

A Question Of Choices


What makes you the best choice for the people you want to serve?

What makes these people the best choice for you?

What stories do you choose to tell your right people about the value you create?

What stories do your right people choose to believe about the value you deliver?

What choices do you make every day about how to build your right business?

How do those choices help you to earn the trust of the right people?

Our choices not only determine our priorities, plans and results—they are also clues about what matters to us.

Image by Maarten van den Heuvel

The Daily Opportunity


We tend to think of opportunities as make or break moments. Those once in a lifetime happenings that could have accelerated our dreams if only we’d grabbed them before they passed us by.

But meaningful progress doesn’t happen in a single, magical alignment of the stars.

Opportunity can’t pass us by because it’s available to us in this moment and the next one.

The stars align when we show up every day to make the most of the opportunity that’s right in front of us.

Image by Jeff Sullivan

By Heart Vs. With Heart


When we were taught poetry in primary school, my classmates and I were encouraged to learn verses by heart. The teacher would call upon us during a lesson to stand and recite a poem or a verse.

This was how we learned the words that were written without understanding the depth of their meaning. We knew the poems by heart, but we didn’t know what to make of them or why they should matter to us because we never learned to say them with heart.

We have the opportunity every day to work by heart or to choose to do it with heart.

The more often we choose the latter the better for all of us.

Image by Josh Applegate

People Want Places, Not Platforms


Do you see all those people who whipping their smartphones out as soon as they get on the train or stand in a queue? They’re not just avoiding boredom, they’re searching—but not only for information, or laughs, or updates. They are searching for a feeling of connection.

We want places to go and places to be. Places to kill time and places that make us feel a little less lonely in the moment. Places to learn. Places to share. Places that make us feel safe, or smart, or welcomed, or funny, or hopeful for the future. But most of all, we want places to belong and places where we feel like we matter.

Those places used to be our family homes, our dinner tables at 6 pm, or football games with friends on Saturday afternoons. Increasingly they are digital spaces.

Whatever you’re building, think beyond features, functionality and design and think first about how the person you serve wants to feel when she arrives at the place you’ve built.

Image by Hugh Han

Growing Small


I remember landing my first ‘real’ job like it was yesterday.

One of the big British supermarket chains was opening a huge store not far from where I lived in Dublin. It was good news for the hundreds of people who would be employed there—more jobs, more choice for consumers—a win-win.

At fifteen, I thought I would get a weekend job on the checkouts, but instead, I was given the title, Stock Control Assistant, a navy blue uniform, and a clipboard. My job was to ‘assist’ the stock controller—a man wearing a red blazer, with a bigger clipboard, to record how much produce had been sold in the past week. The Stock Control Assistants met at eight o’clock every Saturday in the draughty warehouse before being assigned a section to record. The unlucky ones were assigned to frozen foods—not much fun in Dublin winters.

By nine, I’d find myself scaling shelves in the warehouse, crawling over pallets of baked beans and instant soups, counting every single packet and can. After lunch, we’d move into the store to count the items on the shelves. We were under strict instructions to stay on task and not to ‘serve’ customers while we were on the shop floor. That was somebody else’s job.

I’d kneel on the floor in front of the macaroni cheese so I could see right to the back of the shelf, making sure I was recording the right number. Then a shopper would reach over me, take a can, and pop it in his basket.

Two weeks in I realised our job was futile. However accurate we tried to be, we’d never get the numbers right. But the part of the job that mystified me more was the instructions about leaving customers to their own devices. How could we ignore the elderly lady who was struggling to reach a jar of beetroot on the top shelf? Surely well-stocked shelves and low prices weren’t enough to keep customers coming back?

What I’d witnessed about how to build a business growing up in the suburbs was the opposite of this. My mother’s butcher knew her by name and her order by heart. The grocer stopped and chatted to her for what seemed like an eternity to us kids waiting to pay and get home to play. The baker would make sure he only sold her the freshest bread. None of these small business owners won by having the most stock. They won by taking the most care.

As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t last long in the giant supermarket. The salary and subsidised lunches weren’t enough to keep me there. They didn’t feed my soul.

The big store lives on today. But it’s not as popular as it was in those early days when it first opened. And the supermarket chain is changing its strategy. Like many retailers, they are opening smaller, local stores to cut costs. Going small is the new growth strategy. It looks like we are circling back to a time of more care and connection. I believe that’s what our customers (and we) want.

Image by Johann Walter Bantz