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Why globalisation is still important despite headwinds and here is how to leverage it

I’ve just returned from a week in Japan with colleagues from all over the world – the featured image has yours truly pictured in one of sessions we held 😎 I look after Microsoft Japan’s global accounts in EMEA (disclosure) from a customer success point of view – these are global companies with regional operations outside Japan. The last global connection we had was in late 2019, pre-pandemic. I’ve been doing this particular role coming on 5 years, the latter years it’s all been done remotely due to the pandemic of course. Even before this, most of my roles have been regionally or globally focused (in startup or established company) so I write with a degree of experience.

Some context for a modern day global organisation

The opening paragraph sets the scene. Here’s more.

I also work very closely with colleagues in North America and Asia Pacific who look after the same customers with their regional operations there. They also attended this session. The attendees also spanned multiple technology workstreams, many of them highly interdependent. Finally, we had attendees from Japan who look after the customer in their home country.

As you can imagine, this made for a very complex set of meetings. The fact we had been working together remotely for many years helped but it was amazing how the physical setting accelerated things and helped overcome much of the complexity.

Of course much background work happened by some very talented organisers before the week started so that helped too. We also had many attendees that couldn’t make it so this was a hybrid event as they attended remotely, another added layer of complexity.

The purpose of all the conversations and meetings were many fold but chief amongst them were to answer the following questions:

  1. How can Microsoft support our customers better in their global operations and to achieve their goals?
  2. How can we achieve our goals with these accounts by collaborating within Microsoft better, globally?
  3. How can we reconnect and reignite our relationships and network for better outcomes, again globally?

I make these points just to set the context of how globalisation works at the company where I work. Clearly I cannot share specific details and this also does not get to the heart of what globalisation is, where its at, why its important and how it can work best. For that see the next sections.

I also want to recognise that the organisation I work for is pretty exceptional. There are a lot of global corporations and organisations that work on a similar scale but not that many, that they are pervasive. Nor do many of them have the kinds of resources, wealth and capabilities that Microsoft have with a presence in 190+ countries around the world.

You could see it as the standard for the global organisation.

Globalisation headwinds

For this you should look at this article on HBR: The State of Globalization in 2022 (hbr.org). The pertinent piece for me is this one, the authors’ conclusions:

The growth and geographic reach of international flows can rise and fall over time, but the fundamental drivers of success in global strategy remain unchanged. The similarities and differences between countries define the landscape for international value creation, and the task of the global strategist is to navigate the opportunities and threats presented by both the bridges and the barriers between markets. As the landscape shifts, global strategies must be updated, but managers should avoid the costly overreactions that tend to follow major shocks to globalization.

The death of globalisation has long been talked about, since way before Trump happened to the world and Brexit, with their distinctive anti-globalisation and nationalistic stances.

Despite all of the negativity and barriers to globalisation I am as optimistic as the authors of the HBR article conclude their piece. Here is why 👇

The need for and means to leverage globalisation

The world (i.e. the planet) is getting smaller.

More and more people are filling it, we are increasingly bumping up against each other. No longer can we assume that what happens in one place will not effect another. Climate change is a great example of this – we are all in it together.

Although global travel is down, we are more interconnected than ever before. Technology helps us to connect and collaborate. This removes some of the barriers that used to be in place for us to be able to work with colleagues, customer and partners beyond our borders.

But we can’t sit back and believe that it will all just work. My getting to Japan to work with far flung colleagues reaped untold benefits but it came at a cost. I’m not talking about monetary costs, although they were substantial. I’m talking about the effort required to get clearance and visas, the time it took and the toll on energy and then what was required to make things work. It was all worth it in the end but we have to make an effort to make globalisation work.

It needs diversity.

I don’t mean the tick box of corporate responsibility. I mean diversity of thought. The more of us from different backgrounds, experiences and skills that get together, the better will be our solutions. I’m convinced of this.

None of us individually is better than all of us together. Especially in complex environments, it makes sense to understand solutions that can transcend ideology, cultures and habits.

People of all natures and type coming together to discover solutions that effect and benefit us all is beautiful to behold.

Physical interaction is still the gold standard.

After two years of virtual meetings, it has been so good to be together. The outcomes are better, as I’ve observed. The closeness, the energy, the vitality adds a palpable improvement.

But remember what is better about physical meetings and don’t try replicate what could be done virtually. I think the pendulum may have swung so far the other way after 2-3 years working mostly remotely, it has built some ingrained habits that are difficult to lose. The result can be ineffectiveness and inefficiency.

The best way out is through.

I learned even more about the fascinating culture that Japan represents in this recent trip (more on my Instagram account). What I didn’t need to learn was about the state of the Japanese economy. This has been written about endlessly starting with their so-called lost decade in the 1990’s which some posit goes much further.

The point is that Japan has to reinvent itself to again become a powerhouse of innovation and global leadership that it once was. Nothing speaks to this fall from grace as much as Sony’s loss to Apple in the audio wars in the late 1990’s. I used to work at Sony because I saw the potential it had then to dominate in the category and wrote about it briefly here: The end of ownership and the rise of usership.

Sony had everything it needed to win. Hardware (it dominated with Walkman), content (it owned several of the major Hollywood studios and music companies) and software, although this was perhaps where it was at its weakest. Still Apple beat it with the iPod and then iPhone.

This article by McKinsey (Japan’s globalization imperative) was prescient in that I hear a lot of the same things now. Which means that it is still an imperative. And the only way out is through stringent application and adherence to the belief that this will help.

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SenseMaking from the Web

This post is an aggregation of recent articles that I have collected over at Flipboard on my magazine there. It captures great sense making from others, in other words, great articles from other sites I thought worth capturing and sharing. Curating good articles is a discerning process and I’ve automated the delivery of it in WordPress using a Power Automate Flow to achieve this – more on that here.

How “Corporate Explorers” Are Disrupting Big Companies From the Inside

Posted on August 25. A unique breed of entrepreneurs is creating innovative ventures — without launching startups or chasing VC funding.

Meeting fatigue is an IT problem. Here’s how async can help

Posted on August 22. The role that meetings (especially virtual ones) play in undermining employee engagement is well-documented. They frustrate us, bore us, and …

The remote work revolution is already reshaping America

Posted on August 22. The coronavirus pandemic set in motion a shift to remote and hybrid work that is quietly reshaping American economics and demographics. While the fine women and men at U.S. statistical agencies are still grappling with how to measure this astonishing transformation, a host of academics and other …

How Co-Working Spaces Lead to More Innovation for Tech Startups

Posted on August 21. For tech startups wondering where to locate their new companies, here’s one suggestion: Set up shop near another tech startup, preferably one that isn’t in the same business. In a working paper, researchers from Harvard University, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute …

Identifying Unmet Needs in a Digital Age

Posted on August 18. Innovation is all about finding and filling people’s unmet needs. But even innovators and organizations renowned for their scanning capabilities often have trouble perceiving and correctly interpreting those needs. Drawing on their work as researchers, teachers, and consultants, the authors outline …

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How Microsoft Viva can drive Performance – Correlating and Tracking Business Outcomes

I’m doing a lot of Microsoft Viva work with customers (disclosure) as well as working on a trend report on a related subject, so I am constantly thinking about where this work leads to. The obvious question is what kind of business outcome you are trying to achieve and how do you measure it. This post is to share some initial thinking. Anyone who reads this and is involved in similar work, I’d love your input so I can advance this very quick attempt (hence thought rocket).

So first let me elaborate on the format briefly. It’s just a simple table. I felt it was a nice way to achieve what I wanted. Aside from the structure you can create, it kind of helps to list things out. I wanted to have almost a catalogue that I could capture existing work with but also help stimulate future work (or at least thinking around it). The table below is a combination of those things. Considering there are so many modules in Viva, the structure was helpful to work around them too.

Click to enlarge

I don’t think the structure and the breakdowns need much more elaboration – they are fairly self-evident. What is much more important is what goes inside them and the references and descriptions I use.

I’ve had to make this generic and I’ve not added specific targets but the clues to what those would be is in the KPI/Outcome column.

As mentioned, some of these are based on real work and some just ideas. As mentioned, would love any input – just add a comment if you have any. This is still very much a work in progress and any work I do or input I receive I’ll progress this perspective further with.

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Microsoft 365 customer questions – Teams chat pop out for improved collaboration

I work in the business of dealing with customer questions on Microsoft 365 all the time (disclosure), either directly or indirectly. This is part of a series of posts where I share them if they can be of help to others. Where I can of course and naturally, not just the questions but the answers too. All questions and answers strive to respect both sides sensitivities (parts will have been redacted and/or anonymised) and the main topic is covered in each post title.

Q – How can I chat and collaborate on a file at the same time

I was having a chat with a customer on Microsoft Teams and we were discussing the content of a PowerPoint file. The file was open for both of us in the desktop version of the PowerPoint App. I was referencing the content and the customer started complaining that every time I did that, she would have to switch out of chat and go the PowerPoint App to view the content referenced. Then come back to the chat to carry on the discussion. This context switching was fraying her nerves and is a classic example of bad collaboration productivity when a perfectly good solution will do, which is what she asked for 👇

A – Teams chat pop out

First just to say that if you want to work on an App like PowerPoint and chat alongside it at the same time, you can do that perfectly well when you are viewing the App in Teams – see screenshot below. Here you can see I have opened a Word file from the chat where I shared it. When you open the file from the chat, the conversation is not automatically displayed alongside the file, but you just have to click the Conversation icon to do that (see yellow circle). This functionality also works in a Channel conversation by the way.

Chat alongside App in Teams desktop – click to enlarge

This first option definitely does the job but sometimes you want to go beyond the App within Teams for richer functionality and use the desktop version of the App. Or collaborate alongside Apps not integrated into Teams like the Office Apps are. Thats when you use the Chat pop out function. Here are instructions for how to pop out a chat. Below is a screenshot of what it looks like. You can resize both windows to suit side by side work and chat better this way if you wish.

Chat alongside App outside Teams desktop – click to enlarge

And finally, here is an example of the popped-out chat alongside a browser window, just to show you how it’s possible to chat in this way alongside any other application.

Chat alongside non-Teams embedded App – click to enlarge
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Microsoft Viva goes vertical – sales productivity module announced

I have been writing a lot on Microsoft Viva lately since I work with customers on it (disclosure) and since it is an employee experience platform (EXP), I am working on a new trend report that is related: Employee Customer Experience Connection. More specifically, I have been saying in relation to my work and the trend report, that sales is a sweet spot for an EXP. Some of my recent posts on this below.

Microsoft Teams and CRM for Sales Productivity

Microsoft 365 customer questions – Sales Productivity

What do I mean by vertical?

Just last week I announce two other modules that had recently been launched: Employee Experience platform offering grows with new Microsoft Viva modules. These modules along with all the original four are modules that can touch all parts of the organisation – hence horizontal. They are not specific to any one department, in other words vertical. In the case of Viva Sales, the focus is squarely on the sales department and function and on supporting revenue growth.

Here is an official post from Microsoft on the latest addition: Introducing Viva Sales, a modern way of selling that brings together any CRM, Microsoft 365 and Teams – The Official Microsoft Blog

And a video with some good demos:

Why sales is the sweet spot for the employee customer connection?

  1. Sales is the front line. It is where the interaction between employees and customers is most tangible and critical and where great experiences matter. To improve the customer experience, you should start with the employee experience. It doesn’t matter if most of your sales are online now, and customers don’t need to interact much during the actual selling process. At some point, customers will interact with your company, post purchase or in the lead up to it, direct or indirect. Everyone is always selling, whether it is in their title or not and every interaction with your company is a reflection of an experience with it and influences sales. The retail industry is where employee customer interaction is keenest and most critical as I wrote about here: 3 reasons retailers are leading at the intersection of employee and customer experience.
  2. Sales and growing revenue is number one. It is always a high priority for companies – maybe the highest, especially in tough times. So getting sales performance right is a top priority. Understanding it is a first step. Viva Insights is a great module for this specifically as I recounted in both of the articles I referenced earlier; through the work I am doing with customers. Second and ongoing is to conduct thoughtful experiments that will improve sales performance and productivity and measuring that impact of those through Viva Insights. Viva Sales will make the delivery of improved sales performance and productivity easier in Teams, through the flow of work. This point is stressed in an interview with Microsoft’s Chief Commercial Officer: Judson Althoff discusses the companies’ newest expansion, Viva Sales (cnbc.com)
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Features that Delight – Outlook Calendar Board

The new Calendar Board view is only available in Outlook Web App at the moment but coming to the client soon. It is a delightful tool that still lets you work in calendar view but add a whole host of Applets and integrations alongside it in a zoomable canvas – very productive indeed.

There is more on this feature on the Microsoft Support site here.

I really like this view and since I do everything Outlook related in the browser, I’ve been using this for about 6 months now, which is when it first started making an appearance.

While you can bring in a Calendar or task (To Do) view into your email flow, I prefer to separate it out. Calendar work requires focus in my view. And the ability to add to other Applets and functions with their own capability that support the work you are busy with and is scheduled in your calendar, just makes this focus super effective.

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The compelling reasons to find and trust your inner voice

Ironically, the basis for this post was formulated after reading the thoughts shared by the author of a book I am currently reading, which in turn is based on the thoughts of someone else.

The essence of the thought is that too often we are swayed and influenced by others rather than finding and trusting our own inner voice.

The book I am reading is The Socrates Express: In Search of Life Lessons from Dead Philosophers by Eric Weiner.

I am currently reading the chapter on Arthur Schopenhauer. A relevant extract from that chapter below (first paragraph starts with a quote from Schopenhauer):

“No greater mistake can be made than to imagine that what has been written latest is always the more correct; that what is written later on is an improvement on what was written previously; and that every change means progress.”

We make this mistake every time we click mindlessly, like a lab rat pulling a lever, hoping for a reward. What form this reward will take we don’t know, but that is beside the point. Like Schopenhauer’s hungry readers, we confuse the new with the good, the novel with the valuable.

I am guilty of this. I’m constantly checking and rechecking my digital vital signs. While writing this paragraph, I have checked my email (nothing), opened my Facebook page (Pauline’s birthday, must remember to send her a note), placed a bid for a nice leather backpack on eBay, checked my email again (still nothing), ordered a disturbingly large quantity of coffee, upped my bid for that backpack, and checked my email again (still nothing).

The encyclopaedia was the Internet in Schopenhauer’s day, and nearly as seductive. Why puzzle over a problem when the solution is readily available in a book? Because, answers Schopenhauer, “it’s a hundred times more valuable if you have arrived at it by thinking for yourself.” Too often, he said, people jump to the book rather than stay with their thoughts. You should read only when your own thoughts dry up.’

Substitute “click” for “read” and you have our predicament. We confuse data with information, information with knowledge, and knowledge with wisdom. This tendency worried Schopenhauer. Everywhere he saw people scrambling for information, mistaking it for insight. “It does not occur to them,” he wrote, “that information is merely a means toward insight and possesses little or no value in itself” I’d go a step further. This excess of data – noise, really -has negative value and diminishes the possibility of insight. Distracted by the noise, we don’t hear the music.

I would say that in my writing, such as on this blog, my guilt is that I too often refer to others. I am too quick in finding validation from and through others.

This is unsurprising since this was the foundation of good blogging back when it first started. That is, hyperlinking and the web of connections and ultimately knowledge this builds up.

Fill your head too much with the ideas of others though and they will displace your own.

While I am not suggesting that the habit of referencing others work and building on the ideas of others is not a good one (on the contrary), I do think we should be more mindful about our inner voice.

Sometimes it’s good to shut the world out and home in on that inner voice. Here is how I think we will benefit.

Benefits of developing your inner voice

  1. Evolving intuition. As much as you might believe that data is the better basis for understanding and making decisions, this is not about a choice. Regardless the weight that intuition and gut feeling play in your decisions (in life and at work), it plays a role. You should hone the skill as much as you can and that is best done by listening to your inner voice.
  2. Build your unique differentiation. Especially in personal brand efforts, it pays to have your own voice that stands out. That you have considered deeply what you stand for and believe in and you can speak that truth widely – it will be appreciated.
  3. Focus. Simply put, you will be less distracted by the clicks. When you need to be that is. As mentioned, there is sense in seeking to build evidence, but when you need to focus, it sometimes makes sense to shut out the outside world and focus on what you have learned and putting it all together yourself.
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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 4 of 4 – Nature

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers nature and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

Did you know creativity is a relatively recent phenomenon? It does seem counterintuitive since humans have been creative from the get-go, one would think. It is what set us apart from other species. But according to this article (which also has other excellent info on creativity) and Google’s Ngram tool, it wasn’t really part of the popular lexicon until midway through the last century: What is creativity? The ultimate guide to understanding today’s most important ability.

And it has come a long way since then.

One could say its meaning needs reassessing.

A recent study by Microsoft and Steelcase came up with some new themes which I have captured below – study article here: The Creative Shift: How Place + Technology + People Can Help Solve 21st Century Problems.

Click to enlarge

Nature

Whether you are for mountains, forest or water (classic icebreaker question) getting out into nature will do the trick for your creativity.

study published in 2012 was one of the first to address the effect of time spent in nature on higher-level tasks of the creative intellect, such as problem-solving. 

In 2013, research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that walking in a city park or any green space for as little as 25 minutes is enough to give your brain a rest and boost cognitive functioning.

I am very lucky to have gorgeous countryside on my doorstep and frequently try to take breaks in my day and especially when I am in the middle of a work challenge that requires creative thinking – which is pretty much always. It helps I need to walk some of my furry keeps 🐶🐶.

When I can I go on longer excursions – here is a video below from a morning hike (18 miles) I went on with a friend. I challenge you to immerse yourself in the audio (turn up the sound for the bird song) and visual and remain unmoved – imagine immersing yourself for longer than the 15 second video snippet allows.

To really make a difference to my creative output I go on longer excursions, or OuterVentures as I like to call them. Mostly these are on vacations where I try to make access to nature at least partly possible or through longer hikes with friends. I’m about to go on one such hike through Scotland on the West Higland Way: West Highland Way – Scotland’s Best Loved Long Distance Walking Route. I’ll do a write up on my return but I know I am going to come back fired up with creative juices as is always the case.

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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 3 of 4 – Meditation

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers meditation and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

Does creativity still matter in the age of Artificial Intelligence? That is a central question of our times as both “capabilities” are so in demand and prominent. My view is a resounding YES.

AI is becoming capable of creating music, art, code, etc. It is even driving outcomes in customer engagement. What then for the role of human originality. In my view, it is in combination that we can expand the infinite possibilities and solutions – technology, data and the human touch blended to achieve scalable solutions that meet unique human needs or spark unique human engagements.

Take customer engagement. Though AI is being used to driver greater customer engagement outcomes, humans are creative thinkers, seeing connections between things that might not seem at all related. Humans often see obscure links to find solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Humans also bring emotional intelligence and empathy, interpreting emotions and meaning from nuances in body language, voice, and even silence and adjusting as needed.

Empathy is critical too and showing that you understand a customer’s dilemma is the first step to helping them solve their problem. 

Human cognition is also innately intuitive, using life experiences to make rapid decisions. We don’t just use the facts in front of us to make judgments and draw conclusions. We draw on experience and knowledge accumulated over a lifetime. 

These are the things that make us creative powerhouses but together with machines we can stretch possibilities and performance as this HBR study confirms: Collaborative Intelligence: Humans and AI Are Joining Forces.

Click to enlarge

Meditation

I have written an eBook on Mindfulness practice and how it can lead to better outcomes at work including how it can improve your creativity. Improved mindfulness is an outcome of meditation BUT that is not the point of meditation.

As Alan Watts conveys in this video:

Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment and therefore if you meditate for an ulterior motive, that is to say, to improve your mind, to improve your character, to be more efficient in life, you’ve got your eye on the future and you are not meditating.

Meditating to improve your creativity is the same thing. Having said that, done well and for the right purpose, meditation definitely does improve a vast number of things as a result, including your creativity – or so I find.

And whether it’s through meditation or an increased level of mindfulness, there are also things you can do to increase your flow state and inspiration potential or just get you back on the right path. Here are a few pointers:

  • Activities you can do to influence an “aha moment” brain state:
    • Reduce distractions (sensory deprivation), e.g. meditation session with eyes closed, go into a dark space, etc.
    • Think positive (it activates the anterior cingulate which expands your scope of thought)
    • Widen horizons (imagine yourself in a vast environment like space, or a different one, like another country)
  • Notice when you have the urge to “push through” or “think harder” and try stepping away instead. Stepping away is part of the creative process. Giving your unconscious mind time to reorganize the information and clarify it for you. 
  • Setting aside time for creative play provides the space the mind needs to work out how to bring ideas to life.  Everyone has the capability of creativity.  Think of it as forming patterns in unique ways. Here is a sample of some activities for creative play.  The key to play is to detach from the outcome and release yourself from the rules and structure.  In other words, just see what comes up without judgement!
    • Sketching – I swear by it with my DanelDoodles.
    • Brainstorming
    • Free-writing
    • Non-dominant hand exercises
    • Fantasy/Day Dreaming
    • Dance/Free movement
    • Decorating your workspace or home – just rearranging things can sometimes help, even clearing things up (especially clutter)
    • Tinkering
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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 2 of 4 – Coffee

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers coffee and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

Half of us will need to reskill in the next five years, as the “double-disruption” of the economic impacts of the pandemic and increasing automation transforming jobs takes hold.

That’s according to the third edition of the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Reportwhich maps the jobs and skills of the future, tracking the pace of change and direction of travel.

The World Economic Forum has taken data from LinkedIn and online learning platform Coursera with which to track with unprecedented granularity, the types of specialized skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow, which are in demand across multiple emerging professions. Here are the top 10 skills needed with Creativity clearly amongst them.

Coffee

It is probably no coincidence that the London coffeehouses of the 17th & 18th centuries were the engines of creation that helped drive the Enlightenment – the European intellectual movement that emphasized reason and individualism rather than tradition.

Yes a recent study showed that caffeine boosts problem-solving ability and not creativity, but that is not what we expect from coffee. If creativity takes hard work (which it does), then coffee is how you prime the pump. The study also showed that caffeine increases focus, alertness and motor skills. The rest is still up to you, but at least you will be ready for the creative juices to flow or the creative muse to visit.

Here is how I focus on the best coffee. My go to is the Bialetti Moka Pot and with my Italian background that is probably no surprise, I grew up with it. I often use Illy or Lavazza blended coffee beans and from time to time, I grind my own beans when I find good ones. I don’t only use it for Espresso’s which it is typically associated with. I have a slightly larger pot and I make one entire pot for myself first thing in the morning, often with just a little bit of warm milk. Or if I want to spoil myself on occasion, I froth some hot milk (I have a Lavazza milk frother for that).

Thats how I start my day and also the time I put aside for serious creative work, the earlier the better. If needed, I add a second pot and then that’s it, no more creative work, or coffee.

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Creativity Boosters to get you in the Flow – 1 of 4 – Music

We all know Creativity at work is important. It is a leading driver of innovation and it boosts productivity. And when you are in the right flow, you are more creative and productive. Other than having a formulaic approach to better flow (Formula pins down what gets people in the “Flow”) we all want to know what leads to better creativity and some of the other outcomes it contributes to. I know what works for me and instinctively and from experience, you might know about these too. In this four part series I want to share what works for me – this post covers music and the creativity boosters tag captures all the posts.

Creativity

First a little more about creativity and why it is so important at work. Each post from the series will elaborate on one aspect of this and then go onto the specific creativity booster that supports it.

While creativity is highly important in business, it’s an abstract process that works best with a concrete structure. This is where design thinking comes into play.

Top industries are hiring those with Design Thinking Skills

From: The Importance of Creativity in Business, 25 January 2022.

Music

You don’t have to be an avid muso to appreciate this. In fact sometimes it can distract, as it does me. Thats why the music you choose to support the work you are doing should be in the background and down low.

One new study explores music as a source of creativity. Since music has been shown to improve cognition and enhance learning and memory in other studies, it makes sense that perhaps it has an impact on creative thinking, too. 

From: How Music Helps Us Be More Creative, November 17 2017.

Here is my Spotify playlist. It’s made up of LoFi beats and very chilled music – I use it any time I need to tap into my creativity. Maybe it helps you :)

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The unbearable weight of doing

One of the things you gain from going on vacation (as I did recently) is that you are liberated, if only temporarily, from the pressure of doing anything. At least in theory. Sometimes the habit of “busyness” we often pick up at work permeates into our holidays. We struggle to relax. Hopefully we are soon over this and into our stride of being on holiday.

My post title is somewhat of a play on the title from the famous novel by Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness on Being. From the Wikipedia article are some other points of interest that I would like to bring to [bear] – the philosophical underpinnings of the novel:

Challenging Friedrich Nietzsche‘s concept of eternal recurrence (the idea that the universe and its events have already occurred and will recur ad infinitum), the story’s thematic meditations posit the alternative: that each person has only one life to live and that which occurs in life occurs only once and never again – thus the “lightness” of being. Moreover, this lightness also signifies freedom. In contrast, the concept of eternal recurrence imposes a “heaviness” on life and the decisions that are made – to borrow from Nietzsche’s metaphor, it gives them “weight”. Nietzsche believed this heaviness could be either a tremendous burden or great benefit depending on the individual’s perspective.

My views are firmly on the “light” side although I find nothing unbearable about this view at all, i.e. that we have only one life. If anything, for me it is liberating.

The parallels to work

When your work mimics a treadmill then you are in the same position of being in an eternal recurrence.

Every day is the same, boring, monotonous Groundhog Day.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable. We have tedious tasks that are repetitive but they have to be done. No job is devoid of them and sometimes they are just plain necessary.

Sometimes we make our own busyness. We equate it mistakenly with importance (i.e. it makes us feel important) and productivity when there is absolutely no correlation.

This adds a crushing weight to our work lives that in many cases, is avoidable.

For one, take frequent vacations. It’s amazing, if you really have let go of work and taken the time to disconnect, how light your perspective becomes.

The art of being

When we go about our work in a natural state of being rather than being pressured to do increasingly more, there is a freedom that impacts our creativity and productivity.

I totally get it all depends on your job, your economic circumstances and sometimes the inevitably pressured times that any job entails.

Most of the time, you can master the art of being. Just some pointers to consider:

  1. Don’t feel you have to join every meeting just because you were invited. FOMO is not real! Think carefully about whether you really need to join or could be more productive staying out of it and focusing on some other more valuable task, or just being for a while. If you really need to do something, meditate 🧘🏽‍♂️
  2. Aside from vacations, step outside every now and then and smell the roses, in every way. Make like famed philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau who built some of his most profound observations around them, and many others who knew the secrets of walking, and take a stroll.
  3. Detach yourself from the notion that busyness equates to importance or productivity. Sometimes less is more and the more time out you get, the more creative and ultimately productive you conversely are.
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Starting a business remote first – 10 priorities

I mentor startups from time to time, in my spare time. I am doing so at the moment with one. I am bringing my past experience to bear starting and working in startups and I’ve also written an eBook on a related subject. In the current case though, it’s more my current experience I am advising and focusing on based on my professional work at Microsoft (disclosure). This is around the use of the Microsoft 365 platform (mostly) to support collaboration and productivity.

First some assumptions to be clear on:

  1. Remote first. The team members are all distributed and not all in the same country. So far, so normal 🙂
  2. Side job so multiple other tools. Some of the members have other jobs and so there is a question of competing and even conflicting technologies that need to be considered.
  3. Early stage. This is a very early-stage startup with founders just starting to work together on this – hence the need to start from scratch.

Then here is my list of top 10 things I am focusing on – not that they are necessarily the most important, just what I can and need to prioritise for the team now:

1 Create a new Microsoft 365 account and license the users. Just because I work with this tech, I did not want to push it. Many of the members have familiarity with other platforms and this needs to be considered. In the end, after some discussion (and I presented the case in a DanelDoodle), we agreed on M365. I chose an M365 Business Standard option and here is a handy guide when setting up for the first time if needed.

2 Assign a domain that can be used in email and beyond. The team already had a domain, I was given access to manage the domain through GoDaddy, the domain registrar. Assigning it was a doddle.

3 Create a Team for internal collaboration. I started with a great template for project management. More about Team templates here. We are using this for all collaboration naturally, asynchronously and through Teams Meetings on regular sync calls.

4 Orientation page or description with clear outline of purpose. In the General Channel for the project management Team I set up, I created a simple wiki page in a Tab with pointers to everything they needed to know to get started and up and running. It also collates links and info on the function of each Channel and the tools available in each Channel.

5 Simple Task Planning – Planner in Teams is the perfect lightweight option to get started with. Members access it from a Tab in the Planning Channel in the Team that was set up from the template. Tasks are listed by sprint buckets.

6 Viva Learning and powering a growth mindset. Setting up a Tab in a Channel is straightforward and other than to bring in content covering Teams and the broader M365 platform, you can choose from the 125 free LinkedIn courses to driving learning in other important areas to fill any skills gaps.

7 Automation for competitive intel – Power Automate. One simple automation I have started with (based on a template) is to bring in tweets with relevant hashtags related to competitive activity. Will be looking for more and much of these kinds of templated flows plus many you can build come free with the M365 license (but beware of the limitations).

8 Marketing – start a website prototype. I had already started working on that and I documented that in this post: Content management with WordPress evolved – full site editing 1. This covers both the content management and website creation side of things as well as eCommerce.

9 Forms for surveys to get feedback on prototypes and other things. Microsoft Forms which comes with the license is a simple and useful tool.

10 Chat Bot in Teams (employees), later for website (customers) using Power Virtual Agents (PVA). I started with a simple pre-made BOT to support understanding of Teams. It’s snappily called the Teams Training Assistant App – you can watch it in action in this video here. I’m not actually sure it was built on PVA but regardless, it is useful for the Teams newbies. I will look to build a customer facing BOT later using PVA.