Don't play games with me. Are you kidding? We should be playing games all the time, especially when work gets tough...

Don’t play games with me.

Play one game at a time.

Players gonna play, play, play, play, play.

There seems to be an awful lot of negativity that seeps into our language when it comes to games. So often in our cliches, lyrics and regular discourse we talk play down —give it a bad rap; that to partake in a game is childish at best and deceitful at worst. 

Yet our best states of work, effort, exercise, strategy and love —yep even love— take place when we approach life as a playful game. This isn’t simply a nice-to-have, it’s actually a must-have for our mood states and even our hard-wired neural pathways.  

Research has shown that after bouts of vigorous play, we get increased levels of BDNF. Now that’s not some weird code on a dating website, it actually is short for brain-derived neurotrophic factor. BDNF is essential for the growth and maintenance of brain cells, so when we talk about being ‘brain-dead’ it’s often because of a lack of game play in tough times in our life.

So as you fully roll into the rhythm of 2016 and hard work feels like, um…hard work, do yourself a favour and embrace a playful, game state. Your mood, your brain and your colleagues will all thank you.

But before you go! I’ve got a few more things;

  • three quick tips for approaching hard work as a game, 
  • two magnificent books, and
  • a free gift for y’all.

A trio of tips

Set rules 

All good games have rules. What are yours going to be? Start with the basic parameters such as time, number of people and outcomes. Then set some rules around physical state and conduct.

Rightio, this email game is going to run for 30 minutes, I’m gonna take my inbox from 200 to 30 and I’m gonna insert some cheeky and playful in every second reply by using the magic word.*   

Include others in the game 

Games played together give you stories and memories. Even if you’re playing an individual game (like smashing your inbox) why not co-opt a few others into a world-championship email smashup game for the morning? Mucho fun. Email Ninjas. Huddle ‘round, set the rules and then check in at the end of it.

Reward yourself

Cut deals and bargain to your heart’s content, but make sure you have a prize or some sort of recognition for stages within your game. So perhaps your game is to come up with three cracking ideas out of a brainstorm session on how we can reduce office waste. The rules are set. Cool. What reward will we give ourselves? A coffee? Collective high-fives? A cat video marathon? Once we win at our game we should bask in the glory of success.

A stunning read-a-thon

Games are much more than simply child’s play. They are the most important things (both constructive and destructive) on the planet. If you haven’t read James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games - a vision of life as play and possibility, get on that. If you have read it, read it again. So brilliant.

So you'll know we are unabashed fans of our mate Dr Jason Fox. Well he's done it again. Blown our f*%^ing minds, no less. His new book, merely a day or two old, How to Lead a Quest - a handbook for pioneering executives is simply a work of art. This is like, #neklevel book. Get on it. 

A Freebie

Our next Think Tank which we run in conjunction with the wonderful peeps at Bond University will be going deeper into this whole take-tough-work-and-play-it-like-a-game scenario. Sure, I get not everyone lives in SE Qld, but it’s a free session and is worth the flight into the Gold Coast. And heck, why not stay a day or two? Chillax. Mebbe go to Seaworld, Dreamworld, or the Nerang Community Bowls Club. Fun times for all.

Anyhoo, hope this helps you manage the year coming at you.

Game on.
Darren

* The magic word isn’t some weird gameplay or ‘safe word’ like 50 Shades kinda thing. It’s picking a word such as koala, cumulus or even unicorn and seeing how you might insert it casually into a sentence. e.g. Hey Mike, got your email about the ACME project and the first stage seems under control. I’d suggest we look into the legislative standards to cover us from random things; potential liability, customer backlash, or even angry unicorns.

Books I’m reading at the moment...

Hope life finds you well and you’re absolutely flying as you head into the last quarter of the year, and by flying I mean first-class hob-knobbing rather than budget airline, cramped legroom waiting-in-queues-for-hours-type-of-flying.

Just thought I’d let you know what’s on my bookshelf at the moment —given we have the smartest newsletter list on the planet— you’re probably a lot like me and always looking for the next book (or three) to read.

Well here they be;

Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith 

Goldsmith is an absolute legend, being arguably the best Executive Coach to have walked the planet. In this book he looks into habit formation. Goldsmith refers to some of his own research throughout and has a lot of references to work with previous clients that are really interesting.

If you’ve read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg then you’ll love this. It’s in Goldsmith’s style. Economy of words, homespun truths and in short, a very good read. A nice book to set up your new years goals and directions.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

OK, so I’ll put it out there straight up, I bloody love Brene Brown. I saw her speak a couple of years ago in Sydney (after years of waiting) and I still think she’s the best keynote speaker I’ve seen. Beyond her her ability to tell stories on stage, her pursuit to bring vulnerability, shame and adversity into the global conversation in tremendously inspiring.

In Rising Strong she challenges us to welcome the heroes journey, but more importantly, embrace the pit of despair, because that’s where true growth and wholeheartedness lies. Her best book yet IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion) 

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

OK, I’ll come clean, I’ve only just read the first bit. And I didn’t really even want to.

Alison came running into the room last week, book in hand going

‘Oh. My. God.’

‘Ohmygod!’ 

‘OHMAHGAWWWWD!

Yep, Ali was very excited...y’know spittle coming from her lips type of excited. The type of excited she gets when Gerard Butler or Ryan Gosling have a new movie coming out. Go figure. ‘You’ve gotta read this!’ she said, throwing the book at me.

I looked at it, seen the author as Elizabeth Gilbert and thought. Oh. My. God. 

Not the good OMG however. ‘Twas more like, oh-my-god-shoot-me-please type of OMG. 

Y’see I read Eat, Pray, Love a few years ago to see what the fuss was. Let’s just say I was less than impressed. It just stunk of 300 pages worth of first-world-problems to me.

Anyways, after expressing a few concerns to Alison (like losing a few hours of my life I’d never get back by reading another Gilbert book) I did assure her I’d read it, even though in my mind I figured I would read the first bit and ditch it.

Well I read the first chapter and...um, well....crikey. There’s only one way to put this, and I should warn you for your own good. It’s absolutely freakin’ AMAZING. Seriously. Its incredible. It’s all about bringing your inner creative out to the world and it is so beautifully written it was taking my breath away. #notjoking #notevenalittlebit

Her call to action and word mastery is brilliant. A must read.

So anyways, there’s a couple of reads that can sustain you through the latter part of the year, and any of them will serve you as holiday reads too. Love to know if you've bee reading any good books lately. Please let us know if you have...

Churn n’ burn!

For years it seemed to be a catchcry exclusive to the old-school call centre. Turnover rates of well over 50 per cent each year were the norm (and, sadly, still are in too many cases). But then the game changed. Businesses likeZappos, the maverick online shoe company dared to believe that the culture in call centres could be shown a different way. Following the lead of these culture champions, a brave few have proved they can keep both their workforce happy and their turnover low. 

In the wake of a damning New York Times article on the ruthless culture of heightened expectations inside tech-giant Amazon*, a recent blog post from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moscovitz called for a change to the culture of the tech industry. So it begs the question: has the tech industry become today’s version of the 1990s call centre? Are they the new kings of churn ‘n burn? 

Moscovitz, who now heads up software firm Asana, has called for his beloved industry to stop and smell the roses (even though they may be pixelated ones). But how endemic is the burn-out-or-get-out mentality in the tech sector? And, more importantly, why are they putting up with it?

Why people are flogging themselves

Homo sapiens are largely a hedonistic species. We tend to seek pleasure and avoid pain. But why is it that we choose to embrace massive duress, sometimes to our detriment?

Broadly speaking, there are two reasons why people might sacrifice wellbeing for work. 

  • The effort carries with it a deep sense of purpose.
  • The progress we make during the work becomes addictive. 

And there it is. 

When you view it through those lenses, it kinda makes sense why the tech industry is battling to balance wellbeing with work, doesn’t it? They believe their product will change the world (purpose), and because of the start-up nature of these enterprises, they feel like they’re making great strides every day (progress). It’s a heady mix.

Now let’s not burst bubbles for the tech-heads out there by getting into a conversation about the deep purpose of their work. It serves us no good to start an unwinnable argument that your latest app that accurately predicts the bowel movements of your cat will ‘put a dent in the universe’. Puh-leese. So instead, let’s just focus on the damaging addiction that can come from massive progress.

Why progress masks pain

Our biochemistry is our best friend and sometimes our worst enemy. The reason why good logic (in this case, a healthy balance between wellbeing and work) is often ignored is because of two powerful chemical messengers.

Dopamine is arguably the most addictive substance on the planet for humans. We love it. It makes us feel great and changes our behaviour massively as a result. And when does it turn up in our synapses in bucket loads? When we’re making progress. An evolutionary masterstroke; Mother Nature took a lazy hominid and supercharged us to be the masters of goal-orientation. If you take a step closer to your goal, you get a hit of dopamine. Take another step, you get another hit. The cycle repeats for phenomenal results and is awfully hard to stop when you’re high-as-a-kite-outta-your-head on dopamine.

Endorphins are dopamine’s partner in progress. Kinda like Batman and Robin without spandex tights and the weird paternal relationship. But we digress…

Endorphins have many roles, but one we’ve all experienced to a certain degree is the role endorphins in masking pain. Ever got the post-workout high after exercise? Of course you have. Y’see, endorphins were already in your system when you were exercising, keeping pain at bay. Then you stopped the exertion and subsequently felt great because of the leftover endorphin supply in your body.

These two chemicals sustain people through massive effort. They’re our progress chemicals. They are rewarding and pleasurable at the same time. But they live for the here and now. Ultimately they’re selfish chemicals, and one eye should always be kept on the important longer timeframes and less immediate life goals, like living longer and being happier.  

End progress slavery

There’s little doubt the tech industry is supercharged at the moment. High on dopamine and endorphins—with a bit of Red Bull and coffee thrown in—it’s a runaway train. Massive, unprecedented change bought about by the Internet has created a fledgling service industry like none previously seen. It’s intoxicating, fast paced and ground breaking. But it is being built on a tapestry of chemicals that know no future. It’s all reward today with little regard for five, 10 or 20 years’ time. 

Moscovitz has seen and experienced the powerful effects of progress intoxication, and he now, thankfully, champions a different way. His call to arms should be heeded along with lead innovators such as Australia’s own software developer Atlassian, which was just voted Australia’s best place to work (for the second year running). 

Thankfully there are some emerging heroes in the fight against progress slavery, and in time their cultures might be held in the same esteem as the likes of Zappos—trailblazers that become a guiding light for an industry in the dark when it comes to employee wellbeing.  

*interesting note: Amazon acquired Zappos in 2009 for a reported $850 million. But has it learned much from Zappos about culture?

Four Drivers of Dysfunction

Rightio then. Massive change has turned up to your doorstep at work, and isn’t leaving anytime soon. We get it. #changeisthenewblack 

The stress this change is bringing is likely to test our resolve and see if culturally we are functioning effectively, or if we are actually dysfunctional.

Dysfunction is rarely caused by a singular moment, but rather, a gradual accumulation of behaviours that leads to a breakdown in good function. Take for example, if you’ve ever pulled a hammy whilst exercising. Whilst you might think the reason for the pulled muscle was because of the extra effort put in at the actual time of strain, the deeper, more thorough diagnosis, is likely to show a muscular or skeletal imbalance that happened some time prior. Given a right/wrong circumstance, it was waiting to happen.

Cultures at work are the same. It’s rarely a sudden event or rapid change that causes a workplace culture to suddenly become dysfunctional, but rather a cumulative build up of poorly aligned behaviours, rituals and processes that leave us susceptible to breakdown when placed under duress. So what are some common imbalances that can leave your workplace culture susceptible to breakdown when placed under duress from change? Damn good question; so glad you asked. Here’s four big ones that tend to be accepted practice yet are clear contributors to longer-term dysfunction in your workplace culture.

Anonymous review processes.

Get rid of them. Please. They only serve two groups of people.

  1. Consultants who charge copious amounts of money to administer them.
  2. Executives who are at best out of touch with their workforce, and at worst box-tickers who have no real interest in driving cultural alignment.

We’ve been sold a lemon. Cut your losses and start the processes that involve us having open feedback discussions. Ramp up your feedback and drop the cloak of anonymity that drives real feedback underground and towards malicious intent. If you have managers who have staff that are petrified to give honest feedback, then here’s an idea. Instead of using an anonymous feedback process, to tell you what you probably already know, why don’t you put the right person in the managers role?  

100% check managers

The classic bottleneck. Organisations regularly bemoan staff not exhibiting ‘ownership’ or wanting to ‘empower’ them to make decisions for themselves, yet often the hierarchical structures in place at work send completely the opposite message. If you are a manager or leader and you require things to come to you for final approval, then culturally you are immediately suggesting your team can’t be trusted to deliver without you, aren’t you? 

If you want your employees to take real ownership in a project or work task, let them deliver the product. Instead of giving opinion or feedback at the 100% completion stage, rework it so the project gets presented to you at 70-80%. Here you can sprinkle your magic dust on it, give them well considered feedback and risk manage effectively; but crucially you leave them to complete task and feel a real sense of ownership rather than a faux version.

Pareto Problems

It’s a pretty widely accepted principle, the ole 80/20 stuff. Yet there’s some deep problems from a cultural perspective. Many manager’s believe that 80% of their best work comes from 20% of their key performers, and on pure outputs that could be seen as a truth. But how often have we seen a star performer (results-wise) been given carte blanche to do their own thing? Cultures are made of common sets of behaviours that adhere to a narrative that binds the group. If your star performer is outside those cultural norms, but you turn a blind eye because they get you results, then short term gain will invariably lead to long term pain and dysfunction.

Not firing anyone

We can’t save them all. It’s a well-meaning but misguided belief that we can align everyone to our ideals and culture. But the wrong people in your building are like a cancer that eats a culture away from the inside out.

The simple fact is not everyone if going to align to your culture, and it’s equally certain that as you require people to change they just won’t be able to make the transition. 

A clear an indicator for a dysfunctional culture is the number of people fired in the past 2 years. Obviously if there’s been a spate of mass sackings, then we’ve got a problem. That’s called acute dysfunction. But if there’s been no terminations (and I’m not talking voluntary redundancies either) in the past two years to speak of, then it’s likely you’ve got chronic dysfunction occurring; people simply aren’t making the courageous decisions to put culture in front of discomfort.

So they are just four (of many) areas of poor alignment that can have dramatic effect on cultures over the long term. How many do you see happening in your workplace? Let us know…

Have you got your grit together?

So it’s mid-year time. We’re cresting the hump. 

But how are you travelling? Are your ripping into the work ahead of you, or feel like you are going to limp to the line, tank almost spent already? 

Do you have the grit to see you through? 

In the past, grit was seen an indefinable quality. Some had it and some didn’t. We know now, that’s simply not true. Having grit can be worked upon like any skill. 

But rather than me tell you about it at a surface level, why not hear from one of the best in the world talk about it with some depth?

Our next Think Tank on the 10th of August at Bond University features Dr Adam Fraser talking about grit; what it is, how to get it, and how to keep it. Thanks to Bond Uni, it’s free to attend. How good is that?

So get in a car, jump on a plane…do what you need to do to get there...just make sure you get in fast as these tickets are going to go quick click here to register.

Maybe your first step in getting ‘gritty’ is just to make it happen, eh?