The 7 Ps

In the past year I’ve had a number of career chats with friends who were considering different job options or paths. Traditionally people frame their job search in terms of industry and job description. But thinking about the three “careers” I’ve had — finance in NYC, consulting in China and now energy in London — I keep finding the ‘industry/job description’ framework both too specific and too limiting.

Instead, I found seven fundamental things that have determined whether my friends and I love our jobs or not. The seven things that matter most, I think, when deciding a job or career. I call them the “7 Ps“:

  1. Place : Where geographically do you want to work? The city/country you are based in and your commute affect how you spend your time, and who you spend your time with, both inside and outside work.
  2. People : Who specifically would you work with on a daily basis? Do you like them? Does your boss care about you and want to see you succeed?
  3. Pay : Does the job or sector pay you enough to live the life you want? If not, will your pay will increase in a few years in this career path? Or, are you happy to change your lifestyle to accommodate a lower salary?
  4. Progression : Will you develop skills, knowledge, a network or a reputation that will help you move forward in your career?
  5. Perception : How do people react when you tell them what you do? Whose opinion do you really care about, and how important is that to you? (Of course perceptions of jobs and industries change over time. As a case in point: almost nobody outside finance had heard of Lehman Brothers when I started there in 2001… )
  6. Purpose : What is the company or organisation trying to achieve, and do you support that? It’s not just millennials that want to work on something they believe in.
  7. Procedures : The last P, the one I always forget but that most traditional job searches start with : what do you actually do in the job? Are you spending your day on the phone, or sitting reading stacks of paper, or crunching Excel, or standing on your feet in front of 25 teenagers? And do you like doing those things?

I don’t know many people who ever get all 7 at once in one job.

And the weighting of the 7 Ps varies over time. Perception and Purpose may matter more while you are starting out, while Pay and Place may matter more when you are starting a family for instance. But all are worth considering at any stage.

Happy to hear your comments on my 7 Ps — and of course, any Qs!


Pearly memories

What matters most when we remember our lives is what we’ve said about our experiences to other people.

Think about it:  aren’t your most vivid memories the stories you’ve told again and again? About how some random doctor on the wintry Trans-Siberian Railroad injected you with some unknown serum, or how your husband lit up the living room with every tea-light Waitrose had the night he proposed?

If you want to have lived a beautiful life, tell beautiful stories about it.

“How was your day?” is the most important question we get asked : an opportunity for you to shape your own history, several times a day.  So do you answer “Ugh, the train was so packed I couldn’t even open my newspaper?”  Or do you take a few seconds longer to seek a nicer memory, like how your colleague brought in chocolate from Italy?

The “peak-end rule” says you judge an experience as an average of the best (or worst) moment and the last moment.  So when you are asked “how was your day,” it’s natural to think of the last thing you did, like that horrible packed train.  If you then tell this to someone when you get home, it reinforces that memory. Since our journeys to and from work are often what we’ve done just before someone asks us “how are you?”, they take an out-sized place in our memories.

Solution?  Optimize your commute. Or talk about something else!

This link, between sharing your story and remembering it yourself, probably goes way back to cave man days. Surely those things you bother to tell others, like what plants are poisonous, are the most important things to remember?

Researchers have done some experiments exploring this link between speaking and memory. One study reasons that we don’t have early childhood memories, for instance, because we didn’t have the vocabulary to describe them at the time!(

I wonder if students would learn better if they spent a few minutes at the end of class telling their neighbor what they learned. And if the cliche question parents ask their kids, “what did you learn today in school?”, isn’t their most important contribution to their kids’ long term academic success?

Don’t believe me?  Try an experiment now on yourself :  when next forwarding an article (or Aabservation), don’t just copy the link. Write two sentences saying what you thought was interesting in it, and see what you still remember in a week.

Indeed, telling each other things about our lives is important, both for learning, and for having lived a beautiful life.  Our life is a sandy beach which we walk along, picking up grains to touch and admire as we go.  Each time we handle them, we have a choice:  to coat them with the black grime of criticism and kvetching, or to build them up as shiny pearls of delight and wonder.

Chose pearls. It’s a nice way to end a story.

The Expression Revolution

So you are sitting there, with a cup of tea in hand looking out into the future nebulous dust clouds of human progress. With the warm waters of the 20th century receding from the shore, the novelty of electricity, automobiles, financial innovation, telecommunications and globalization are waning. What, you ponder as your cuppa cools, will be the big next thing?

And then you realize, maybe it’ll be the same thing that has driven human history since history began: new and better means of expressing ideas.

Take a look through the tunnel of human evolution to see what I mean. First, watch us humans grunt and point. Then speak. Then draw on cave walls. We developed writing. Craft. Jewelry. Theater, music and dance. The printing press, the personal computer and Word Processor, TV and recorded music. Photographs. YouTube. At each step, our ability to express ideas advanced, and so have we.

Web 1.0 and 2.0 connected us better to each other. I expect the next wave of technical innovations will allow us to express ourselves to those connections better.

Good expression does three things: it lets us develop our ideas (like using a pencil to solve a math problem), share those ideas, and develop ideas together.

The Expression Revolution will cover all three. For instance, imagine what the following ideas could do:

  • Stretchable Paper. Often you take notes or draw a picture and want to tuck in an extra item or bullet point. Imagine if you could just stretch the paper and create that space, like writing on pizza dough? Or if you run out of room at the bottom, just pull and there would be more writing surface. Limitless imagination!
  • Scrolls. Perhaps the quickest way to fix the problem of the constraints of the letter-size sheet is to go back to the original: a scroll. If we printed on scrolls, we would be unconstrained (in one dimension at least) without having to worry about pages breaking across tables for instance. The “story” aspect of our tales would be more intuitive and memorable. Scrolls have a natural flow to them that a stack of pages lacks.
  • Infinite Paper. The screen you are reading this email on is inherently limiting. How often have you had to artificially split up an Excel table or a PowerPoint slide or 360 view just to fit it on a page? Projection technologies will no doubt become more popular in the coming years, which allow us to fill whatever surface we have information.
  • Excel for Anyone. Dear Microsoft: Excel is a programming language, not a communication language. Trying to read someone else’s financial model in Excel (or anything actually) is like trying to surf the web by reading pages of HTML code. Think about it: how often have you received an email with an Excel attachment that you glanced, opened, and then shut quickly before actually looking through it? One reason I think Excel is so horribly unreadable is that each data point really should show 3 things: the name (e.g. Revenue in 2011), the value ($100), and how it was calculated (=5 items x $20/item). Instead it just shows one and asks you to perform small acrobatics of looking up cell B47 to figure out where it came from. Worse: if you copy and paste an Excel into a presentation or print it out, all you usually see is the value of a cell and maybe a row/column heading with a short name so it fits in the character-limited column width. The logic of the calculations is completely hidden. If you could design a display method that makes those calculations and the numbers they generate easy to read and understand, you could significantly increase the number of people who could catch problems, collaborate on developing hypotheses and inputs, and evaluate the results. Could a better Excel have prevented the financial crisis? I wonder…
  • Autofill Pictures. You want to draw something but your artistic skills are, er, limited. This technology would let you indicate what you want to draw and draw it better than you could, the way that architects or police investigation sketchers do.
  • Easy Animation. So much meaning is conveyed by the order in which ideas are expressed, as anyone who has played Pictionary knows. How much better to send a file that easily plays for you, for instance drawing a picture live, filling in an Excel sheet line by line, or adding text? Many have tried, but the winning solution still awaits (I’m looking at you, Adobe).
  • Danceable Music. We dance to music; what if it flipped, and music were created by how we danced, maybe via XBox Kinect? Dance Dance Revolution indeed.
  • Drawing Class. And while such assistive technologies are helpful, another way to improve expression is through skills: going to school. I wished they taught us how to draw in my MBA: how to sketch realistic-seeming objects, that made things clearly understood, and looking good… Being able to draw a powerful picture is worth a thousand words. And no, PowerPoint SmartArt isn’t drawing.
  • And many more…

Stanford just published an article about how the Humanities are reasserting themselves at a school known so much for tech startups. I wouldn’t worry so much, Stanford: humanities-based starts up will soon have their day too, as we look to get better at dancing, drawing, writing, translating, arguing, and acting out our ideas.

If this Aabservation didn’t strike a chord with you, I’m not concerned. In a few years, I’ll use these new tools to rewrite it as a song, and bet that’ll help you sing along.

Until then, all the best, via Arial 10 pt font,

The Fastest Changing Day

Last week was Autumn Equinox, when day and night are twelve hours each. Few people realize, though, it’s also the time when the day shortens most quickly. Indeed, here in London, the day was a full 3 minutes and 54 seconds shorter on September 25st than it was the day before. This change adds up: in the month around the equinox, our days will have shortened by almost two hours. You can see this change here:

Length of Day (London, 2010)Daily Change in Day Length

Even if we haven’t spent time on pondering the length of the day,subconsciously we all are aware that something has been going on recently. Perhaps we have found ourselves thinking more urgently about all that lies before us. During the lazy days around June’s summer solstice, when day length narrows by less than a second each day, time feels endless. But now, when the sun creeps through our curtains a couple of minutes later each morning, we viscerally sense the passage of time.

It’s strange, isn’t it, that we always focus so much on the “equi” bit of the equinox, rather than on the more meaningful fact that the two equinoxes are the fastest changing days in the year. It’s especially strange when we think how obsessed we are with rates of change in other arenas, like GDP growth, up-and-coming celebrities, and progress.

Here we are, though, stuck on this spinningorb, each day tilting further away from the warming rays of the sun, further towardsthe cold dark emptiness at the end of solar system. So we gather up a blanket against the coming chill, and ponder what it all means.

And just at that moment, a happy thought shines in: from now on,at least, the days will no longer shorten as quickly.

- Liz

p.s. Ok, I’m not an astronomer, and it be that the equinox is not actually the fastest-changing day, but a few days before/after it.

p.p.s. And for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, enjoy the coming summer!

London White

I can’t get over London White. It’s such a beautiful color, and is everywhere here in London: lining window frames on stone buildings, coating interior walls, painted over elaborate moldings on hundred-year-old ceilings, stripped across black asphalt to tell you to ”Look Right –>” when crossing the street. London White is a majestic white, that demonstrates its specialness, privilege and pride in a way so subtle and polite it could only be English. In China, by contrast, pollution would turn the sides of any white building toa chalky grey by mid-afternoon. London too was once as polluted, and not that long ago. This London White tells that hopeful story too, of how much a place can change in just a few decades. But not just by dreaming: it’s a white that requires constant care, which here is done quietly. Look closely, though, and you’ll see residents with a soapy sponge wiping down their window frames on a Saturday afternoon, or ”Wet Paint” signs taped to newly repainted white corner posts. It’s a time consuming white, that requires patience that New Yorkers like me can’t be bothered to have; we’d prefer indestructible, dirtiable, resilient black, thank you very much. Since this white is so vulnerable, it’s a trusting color too. It assumes the best in others: that strangers won’t put their feet up on the white bench, or spill red wine on the white carpet. For immigrants to the UK — who come in all colors — London White is useful: a clean background upon which we can start painting the next chapter of our lives.