You're more likely to build out your idea if you know people who can help you with advice, skills, funding, and access.
One of the surest ways to gain in subjective wellbeing - AKA Happiness- is to practice your particular character strengths on a regular basis (Achor, 2010) .
Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson developed a Character Strengths and Virtues framework that identifies six classes of virtue (i.e., "core virtues"), made up of twenty-four measurable "character strengths". A handy infographic below provides a good summary:
You may know your own particular strengths, but I love taking self-assessment surveys, so I just completed the renowned VIA Survey of Character Strengths on the University of Pennsylvania department of Psychology's Authentic Happiness website. The 240 questions, took me about an hour. The results are obviously worthwhile, but the test itself was also interesting, as it also revealed some not-so-strengths that I wasn't aware of.
In-case you're interested (hi, Ma!), here are my results...
Your Top Strength
Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.
Your Second Strength
Capacity to love and be loved
You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.
Humor and playfulness
You like to laugh and tease. Bringing smiles to other people is important to you. You try to see the light side of all situations.
Zest, enthusiasm, and energy
Regardless of what you do, you approach it with excitement and energy. You never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For you, life is an adventure.
Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
I was initially surprised, but on reflection, these make SO much sense for me.
Developing my Character
The thing about character is that it's not a fixed state. We are all predisposed to certain strengths, but with practice we shape and develop our character strengths. This has been my primary practice for 2016.
Inspired by Tiffany Shlain's Science of Character short film and resources, I have been focusing on a particular character strength every week. Practices for this have included identifying the focus value for the week (for example, Integrity), and then keeping a daily journal about my success in practicing that value.
I have found that a week's dedicated practice is more valuable than just having a list of things I value. Through the week I become increasingly mindful of the value, and I deepen my understanding of it as it applies to me and my world.
So here's the take-out challenge, if you want to join me on this fulfilling journey of character development:
- Choose a focus value for the coming week: Have a look at the 24 character strengths, and identify ONE for the coming week that you'd like to work on (if you want an easy feel-good week, do the character strengths survey, then maybe start with something you're already good at)
- Declare your intent to practice: Post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, your blog, wherever suits you. If you post on your social media, write #characterscience with your post, so you can find and encourage other people who are doing the experiment with us.
- Practice! Start every day for the coming 7 days with a reflection on the practice of your value. You can journal about it (like I do), meditate on it, draw it, photograph it, paint it - whatever works for you.
- Share the love. Lastly, if you enjoy and get value from this exercise, induct someone else into the #characterscience movement.
Ross Symons, known on Instagram as @white_onrice, has developed a business out of his paper-folding side-project. While working for a large ad agency in Cape Town, Ross started an origami-themed Instagram account. Although the account did fairly well, it only really took off with his commitment to post one photo of his work every day for 365 days. Like many of my favourite Instagram accounts, it is Ross's commitment to the theme that makes it compelling - and it is also inspiring to see someone develop their craft over time. I asked him a few questions about that:
Please tell me more about your work - do you do origami professionally?
Yes, I am a full -time origami artist. I do installations, I make stop-frame animations using origami, I have products which I sell online and I do collaborations with other artists and designers, as part of my job. I say job, but its not really a job. I'm doing what I love so it's something I would be doing anyway.
Which came first, the business or the 365 project? Had you been posting origami before the 365 project? How long have you been going for?
The business was a result of the 365 project. I started an Instagram account at the beginning of 2013 and all I ever posted was pictures of origami cranes - which was all I could really fold at that stage. Over the course of 2013 I started folding other designs and models. I had been folding the crane for about 12 years before that.
Did you start your side-project with the intention to improve your craft? Or what was the intention?
I started the project to do three things - Do one thing every day for a year (which I had been wanting to do for as long as I can remember), to get better at origami and to finish something that I set out to do.
I just wanted to do this for myself. I had no intention of impressing anyone or to get 'likes' or comments on my posts. All I wanted to do was get better and do something for myself.
Has it been hard to keep to the discipline of daily posting? How have you coped with challenges? Were you ever tempted to quit?
During the 365 project I didn't have any problems posting every day. I was folding pretty much every day leading up to the project so I just continued with that. I never once thought about stopping. It got a bit tricky when I was away for a weekend or on holiday overseas, but I did some preparation beforehand to make sure I had folded and taken a photo of a few figures before, so I just had to post it on the day. The biggest challenge was if I didn't have cellphone connection and I couldn't post! Haha. But I always managed to find a way.
What have you learned in the process? Or how has it developed you as an artist [do you define yourself as an artist, or as a designer, craftsman.... what do you call a professional origami person?]
I have learned so much, not only about origami but about myself. Besides practicing patience over extended periods of time, I have learned to control my mind when it's behaving like a wild animal. Getting frustrated and moving past it quickly, planning properly, problem solving and many other things.
When people ask what I do for a living I say I am an origami artist but like I mentioned I make stop-motion videos and take photos too so I don't really have a set title. But origami artist works right now.
What have been your most epic wins (e.g. press coverage, business breakthroughs, proud moments...) so far?
I worked out what I love doing. That for me is the biggest win. I've been searching for something I love doing and I've found it. What I love doing might change over the years but right now it's origami which I think about all the time and can't live without.
What other South African 365 project should people check out?
Any general advice for people who want to launch a side-project or 365 project?
Just start the project. Start it today. If you're thinking about where it's going to go or how many followers you're going to get (if you're doing it on social media) or how difficult its going to be, then you're doing it for all the wrong reasons. It's not something you have to think about. It will just happen. And most importantly, do it for yourself, because I don't think you'll finish it unless you do it for that reason.
Choose something that you're doing already or something you want to get better at. It also doesn't have to be this big official "I'm starting a side project everyone, and its going to be awesome!!" Just start it, tell people if you want, but you don't need their approval. Just go for it.
Check out Ross's website: white-onrice.com
A few years ago the pioneering technologist Erik Hersman introduced me to an idea that I have since used in virtually all my teaching and consulting.
Addressing a group of senior managers in the car industry in Kenya, Erik said that their greatest breakthroughs were likely to come from "whitespace projects" - proactive employee-driven projects that fall outside of formal roles and responsibilities.
The three criteria for these projects when they start are:
- Roles are undefined
- Strategy is unclear
- Budget is non-existent
"Whitespace innovators don't wait for funds, or supporters to get going on a project", Erik explained, "they start, and hope to attract the resources as the project gains momentum". This approach lowers the costs of failure, and concentrates resources on projects that have traction.
Consistently innovative companies like Google, 3M, Atlassian, Ideo, Ogilvy, and more all make time for this kind of proactive experimentation, and in each of these companies you will hear about how many of their greatest breakthroughs have come from projects developed in the whitespace of their organisation. Employees are allowed a certain amount of time to work ideas that excite them, with the only requirement that they share the outcome of their work with the organisation. It can lead to a more engaged workforce, and a more agile organisation.
If we look at an organisational chart, the formally defined roles and responsibilities are inked in neat black lines of reporting. We call the gaps between those lines, which is what actually fills most of the organisational chart, "Whitespace".
Whitespace is unpredictable, chaotic, and creative. And so as companies grow, it seems necessary to fill in all the whitespace - to replace it with policies, procedures, rules, and regulations to control it. For a while this can improve productivity, reduce costs, and increase predictability in the business. But as we so often see with over-regulated organisations, it can also become stifling - resulting in a demotivated workforce, a decreased ability to respond to threats and opportunities, and ultimately, mediocrity.
While it is the manager's role to deal with blackspace, it is the leader's role to deal with whitespace. Whitespace is where company culture lives and where the interesting and unexpected stuff happens. It is the space in companies where we are allowed to make autonomous decisions, to be leaders in our own way, and to tinker and experiment, to tackle a problem or pursue an opportunity. Leaders need to protect it, and encourage a culture in which the whitespace is used to the benefit of the company.
The Whitespace story of BRCK
That Erik Hersman happened to be the person who introduced this concept to me is not really surprising. Erik has an incredible track record of founding innovative companies and projects that inspire technologists around the African continent and help the world think about African innovation differently.
"BRCK was actually a whitespace project within Ushahidi. It had no funding for the first 9 months, no real buy-in from anyone besides me - or at least, not enough for anyone to commit to doing anything on it - and we had no real idea what it would become".
Even though the idea started without funding, the early protypes of BRCK started costing money, and Erik ended up drawing a total of around $2500 from Ushahidi's operational budget to pay for parts. This is a paltry amount considering the level of funding many tech startups demand before they're prepared to even start working on a product.
About 9 months and several prototypes later, Erik was confident that the BRCK could be a great product and he was ready to get the next level of funding. "We had an Ushahidi board meeting where they asked 'what is Ushahidi doing that is new and interesting?', to which I pulled out a BRCK v4 [see image] and put it on the table, and said 'this'." The prototype was impressive, and the board immediately unlocked a further $30k for the next version of the product, which in turn raised $172k on Kickstarter.
One last piece of advice for would-be whitespace innovators from Erik: "Traction is more important than anything. People say 'ask forgiveness, not permission'. This is true, but only if you have traction to ask forgiveness on".
With Paintings for Ants, Lorraine Loots has become one of Cape Town's favourite artists. The idea is simple: every day for a year, Lorraine will paint one miniature. Her works are an inch in diameter, and exquisitely detailed.
The work itself is wonderful, but it is Lorraine's process and business model that I'm most interested in. This is a side-project that has grown into a full-time gig.
Selling art for a living isn't easy, but Lorraine has sold hundreds of paintings this year. This is partly due to her extraordinary skill, but also the fact that she's got a business model that works.
After completing the highly regarded Business Acumen for Artists program, Lorraine committed to doing one small painting per day, starting from 1st January 2013. The idea was that people could buy a date, and suggest 5 possible themes for the subject matter of the day. For example, I got the 12th August to celebrate a special day (thanks, E*).
The business model makes sense, and is predictable: people can book a particular day well in advance. It's perfect for presents, lends itself well to commissions, and can memorialise moments on the day they happen.
The results have been remarkable. Lorraine started off selling each piece for R500 each, and sold out in 2013. She is now already sold-out for 2014 at the new price of R900. At this rate you can see how the pieces would be a worthwhile investment.
Not only is the work getting pricier (rightfully so - supply is limited, demand is growing), but the work is getting better: with the extra time, daily practice and growing resources to support the process, you can see how Lorraine's style has progressed from the early days to now.
Finding the time
Each painting takes 3 - 6 hours to complete. I asked Lorraine how she managed to find the time to keep it going in the beginning, when she had to also earn a living doing other work. This is what she told me:
"When I first started Paintings for Ants, it was something I did for myself on top of the 13 other things/jobs I was doing. One of those was Production Management - so I would get up at 5 in the morning, collect catering for 20 people, pick up the team of photographers and co-ordinate the day's activities - super intense work. When we wrapped at 8, I'd often have to take the photographers for boozy dinners and drop them off at 12/1, go home and only then start painting. I'd get to bed at 3 and repeat the whole process again. So those were difficult days. But in my mind, I had committed to something, so come hell or high water, I was going to get that little painting done every single day".
After a few months the consistency started paying off, and people started booking paintings in advance, she could start quitting the other jobs she was doing to make more time for it. Eventually, she did the maths, and went out on a limb to make it her sole occupation. And now there are new challenges, but once again, it's ritual to the rescue:
"At first, I would procrastinate as much as possible and often only post my painting at 2/3 in the morning. I soon learnt that, the sooner I got it done, the sooner I could relax and take care of all the other things bugging me. So now, I get to my studio at 9 and start painting immediately. It's been a complete turn-around".
A productivity tip: Lorraine loves listening to podcasts while she paints.
"It keeps me intellectually stimulated in the moments where I'm just zoning out on a painting, and doubles the excitement to get started".
Social Media Promotion
A rule of thumb with social media is that audiences enjoy themes and consistency. So Lorraine's process really works to her advantage here, and she has been astute in ensuring she posts her work online every day.
She has been particularly successful with this on her Instagram, where people are hungry for this kind of daily, themed, visual inspiration.
Her website isn't fancy but it works by allowing people to understand the project, browse the archives, and book a painting.
Each side-project is different, but if this kind of project appeals to you then here's the stuff you can and should copy:
- Be clear about the project parameters: this is a great side-project because there is a clear completion goal (1 painting per day for 365 days, 365 paintings in total).
- Stick to your commitment: You won't find the time, you need to make the time. You won't make the time unless you have a firm commitment to yourself, or some kind of accountability system (like posting daily on social media)
- Share your work: documenting your process and your outputs as they happen can be the best form of marketing. It's a natural form of emergent storytelling.
Every good leader knows the importance of Company Culture, but yet it seems to be a fuzzy and intangible sort of concept. We know it when we feel it. Yet Culture develops constantly, and is something leaders have a role in actively shaping.
When we launched the OgilvyDMA in 2010, Rob Hill and Gavin Levinsohn said my primary objective was to help "geekify" the Ogilvy Cape Town culture and the industry. This is a big ask, and I had to grapple with the idea of what culture actually means. And the essence of it is that it's a set of norms and practices that set the tone of an organisation. Any strategy that doesn't take cultural practice into account is destined to fail. A military organisation, for example, may rely on a culture of discipline to enable adherence to a strategy. Without the culture of discipline, the strategy falls apart. This is why it is said that "culture eats strategy for breakfast".
Culture change in companies usually starts with people codifying purpose/mission, values and or beliefs. People pull together when they're united in Purpose. This is can otherwise be understood as your Big Ideal, your Mission, or your single most important Value. The easier it is to understand, the more likely it is to be effective. This is the basis of mindful culture change.
However, many companies have Vision, Values, and Beliefs, but find it difficult to distribute these. In fact many companies find active resistance to culture change when it's made too explicit. So to make sense of the distribution of Culture in organisations for myself, and to give myself something tangible to work with, I wrote a model for understanding the distribution of company culture that I’d like to share with you.
The acronym is PARTS, and the thinking behind it is that culture as a broad concept can be managed and worked on by analysing each component (part) and designing a solution to align that component towards where you want to grow your culture. I'm sure this approach will be particularly appealing to coders and engineers.
So, here are the PARTS:
Your company purpose isn't something that you just write down and forget about, it should be reflected in what behaviours you reward. In who you hire, promote and let go. To shift your culture, identify a group of people who behave in a way that builds the culture you want to develop.
Initially you can't try enforce a culture change across a whole organisation at once. Behaviours spread from person to person (Christakis, 2007). So it's important to rather work with a small group of people initially to make sure the cultural change is understood and adapted.
The key players in a social network are your Experts, Influencers, Gatekeepers, and Connectors. Each are important in their own ways, and you need to gain their support for any culture change initiative. These people need to have a high frequency of contact with the cultural change process an practice. They are going to be the ones that set the example and distribute the culture to the rest of the organisation. As Derek Sivers famously put it "new followers don't follow the leader, they follow the other followers."
Once you've gotten cultural momentum with your early groups, it's important to ensure that there are structures to ensure the culture can be sustained at scale. For example, Zappos offers new staff $1000 if they quit in the first two weeks. The thinking is that if they take the offer, they weren't a good fit for the company anyway.
How do you use art, artefact, and awards to SHOW people what is important to you. Our physical environment and the objects in it form the stage on which your staff perform. Are you setting them up for great performances, giving them the cues and props they need?
For example, Ogilvy London and Cape Town encourage more a more digitally savvy culture by making the latest gadgets available to staff through Ogilvy Labs. There are screens live-streaming social data from clients, there are interactive demos of the latest in sensory technology around the office, and there are framed certificates displayed for people who complete digital training. Other artefacts could include the kinds of awards that are valued, for example, displaying Cannes Lions, or Bookmark Awards.
Amazon reminds people of their value of frugality through the use of door-desks throughout the company.
The things a company does regularly become a signal of their culture. The rituals can be small or large, everything from how you on-board staff to how you handle daily meetings.
These are the regular practices that the community is involved in. These can be daily practices like shaking hands or hugging at the start of meetings. They could be weekly practices, like having a company lunch and sharing stories from the week. Quarterly practices, like a way of reporting goals and achievements. Annually, Bi-Annually etc etc.
For example, Ogilvy hosts a regular “How-To Friday” session where people who have done something extraordinary share how they did it. This signals the company’s long-term commitment to hands-on innovation.
How do you equip your people to do their work in a way that reflects company culture. I believe that investment in technology needs to be matched by investment in training or the tools won't be used effectively. Likewise, a company that doesn't invest in training won't be ready to adopt the latest tools.
Toyota found that if the people operating the machines at their factories understood how everything worked they would be more effective at solving problems and identifying opportunities for improvement. To quote Toyota's Senior Technical Executive Mitsuru Kawai “To be the master of the machine, you have to have the knowledge and the skills to teach the machine.”
Is Language a tool? Well, when we're equipped with the language to speak about the necessary change we suddenly gain access to the networks and conversations that we need to be involved in to make culture change possible and sustainable. Language connects us.
I realized the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes, they tell our story. ” — Blake Mycoskie, CEO, Tom’s Shoes
Stories provide examples for people to learn from and follow. They're like software for the mind. Stories can emerge from establishing Precedents. For example, a person does something that goes against the value system set out in the culture. You establish precedent by how you act on that transgression, and you distribute the behaviour by packaging it into an anecdote that others can learn from.
Stories are the way that people naturally encode and share complex social information. A company that takes the time to find heroes and craft stories around their actions will help create more such acts of inspiring heroism.
For example, how Standard Bank celebrates the story of Maggie Lesele, the proactive bank manager who encouraged her staff to wear running shoes on the banks busy days. The simple story serves to underline the importance of being proactive about improving customer service, and it sets an inspiring example to other staff and clients alike.
At Ogilvy, stories were created by investing more heavily in case-studies involving digital integration, such as Be The Coach (which went on to become the most awarded campaign of the year - winning international plaudits including four Gold Lions at Cannes)
Stories are like software for the mind. They help us understand cause and effect, and can have a transformative effect on what we see as possible and expected.
The results can be best summed up by Ogilvy Cape Town's Managing Director, Gavin Levinson
“What’s the best thing that’s happened in the Ogilvy ‘family’ over the past three years? While there are many highlights and accolades within and across all of Ogilvy’s companies, I would undoubtably say that the ODMA has and continues to be our finest hour.”