Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Into the Woods

I am a sucker for a good story.  Basic story-telling should grab the listener early on, keep that person glued to the next word and then amaze and challenge to wrap it up.  In the musical Into the Woods, a mish-mosh of fairy tales come together, initially in ways we would expect, but then all of it collapses around us, such challenges are presented.  The pithy and wise-beyond measure granules of truth that come out of it are poignant, if not stunning at times.   The baker's wife sings "But if life were only moments, then you'd never know you had one."  The witch painfully sings "Children may not obey, but children will listen."  Or, my favorite, the Prince states, "I was raised to be charming, not sincere."

It's often the case that the simplest of stories can turn a head back to true north.  Our gauge can be put off from purpose and passions because of the myriad of distractions in front of us.  Our perspective has to be re-adjusted.  We need to wake up.  Sometimes, a trip to the woods is exactly what is needed.

Whether for a business or for an individual, this journey is one to be taken every so often.  What can the challenges that come with walking through a different set of scenery do for you?  Think about your company.  What if you had three people walk in, at times you didn't know, when you were not there, and then report back what they observed.  Would there be value in that?  Of course!  The meadow that you think you're lunching in may turn out to be full of thorns (or at least have some thorny patches).  

Perhaps it is wise to walk into a competitor's location and observe.  You know, shop or use their services, but really just be there to take it all in.  Sound deceptive?  Nah.  The great car makers bought cars from competitors.  Mr. Gimbel shopped in Macy's once in a while.  It's good.  It's profitable.

As individuals, the same push is there for us.  Are we walking in the woods?  Have I settled for complacency?  Another line from Into the Woods is "you're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice."  How awful!  Listen, I think I am a pretty good guy, but I would rather have someone hate me than just think I am nice...bleck!

With a new year upon us, what will you do to travel the path towards a new view, a new status, a new scene?  I could give you a hundred ideas, but the point is to start the journey.  Those doors will open.  The pathway will become clearer.  You will run into wolves, witches, princes and giants.  All of them will help you to see who you are and who you want to strive to be.  The inspiration comes not only from those feel-good moments, but also from those moments of despair and tragedy.

Businesses must be sharp and ready.  People must be challenged and pushed.  We have each other.  Walk the path with someone.  Don't fear.  Go to the woods!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Comic Book Heroes

Growing up, I was a big comic book geek. Whatever money I had I would spend at the comic book shop, buying a variety of titles. And I come by it honestly--my mother enjoyed them as well. She would tell me about how when she was young, her mother made her throw out her collection. She had great titles, such as The Hulk, Fantastic Four, and others, that are now worth loads of money. I was horrified by my grandmother's treatment of these treasures. As a result I've done my best to preserve many of the comics I've purchased over the years.

Eventually, my interest in purchasing comic books waned. There was a variety of reasons for it. For one, as I got older other interests took over. For another, I got jaded as the comic book market became more focused on driving sales over quality storytelling. Lastly, as any geek will tell you, the social pull to put aside "childish" pursuits got to be too much. But, remembering my mother's horror stories of potentially valuable art disposed of, I put my comics in storage.

Fast forward to the present and the success of Marvel and DC comics across a variety of entertainment mediums has reawakened my love of comic books. Over the past several weeks I've gone into my storage space and gathered a few titles to read, as well as share with my kids.

Having them out has done a few things for me. It's sparked curiosity and creativity, not only in my kids but within me as well. We've had great discussions on character motivation, morality in comics, as well as different ways in which artists interpret certain iconic characters. This has prompted them, along with myself, to create our own comic inspired art.

As a Human Resources Consultant, revisiting my comic book collection has helped me to draw connections between art and work.
  • HR and its perception as the villain. HR practitioners are often viewed as the "bad guys" within organizations. And some of us (unfortunately) are deserving of the label! Oftentimes, like the X-Men, we're just misunderstood.
  • Villains and ethical behavior. Continuing with villains... great heroes are defined by the enemies they face. Batman vs. Joker. Captain America vs. the Red Skull. Many of the most well known heroes faced tremendous adversity. Most of the time they've been able to outwit their opponents. The critical difference is that the hero finds a way to succeed without sacrificing their morals. While it might be easy to view a disliked colleague as your enemy it's disruptive to business if you deal with them in an unethical manner. Remember, "with great power comes great responsibility".  
  • To be successful it helps to have an ego. Think about it--why would anyone run around in tights? On a more realistic level, think about some of your career goals and what it'll take to achieve them. Whether it's to bring criminals to justice or getting promoted, achieving your objectives sometimes means ignoring what others may think of you (and your wardrobe choices). It means believing in yourself and your abilities, especially when it seems you're the only one that does.
  • Teamwork. Even singular legends, such as Superman, Batman, and the Hulk, can't always solve issues alone. All are actively part of, or have partnered with, groups through which they've tackled problems beyond their capabilities. For us normal folks, think about which organizations or groups you're a part of (or should be). Can they help get you to the next level? Will its members challenge and encourage your unique combination of abilities?
  • Persistence. Comic books were considered cheap entertainment (literally and figuratively) when they were first introduced. Now they constitute multi-billion dollar properties. Doggedly pursuing your goals even when the general public may not appreciate your work is a great characteristic to possess.
  • Diversity and the lack thereof. There are no shortage of comic book characters. Look beneath the surface and you may notice that they tend to look alike. Quick-name three superheroes of color? That are gay? And there's much to be said about its portrayal of female characters. Unfortunately, comics mirror society in this respect. While the situation is improving (for example, with the launch of the Black Panther movie, as well as the introduction of the Falcon character in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), there's still a lot of work to be done.
Comics have been more than cheap entertainment for me. It's served as a creative metaphor for my work as a Human Resources practitioner, and how to be successful as one.

What's inspired you to be great at what you do?