Ideas on combating ageism in the workplace


The technology field has always been considered a field for the young.  Startups look for the bright eyed youth willing to put in 60-80-or more hours a week with the hopes of a grand success and easy future. Those of us who have been through the industry know that's the exception rather than the rule and wish the kids would listen. 

When your career spans more years than some of your colleagues have been alive, you learn a thing or two.  You've seen the management theories come and go.  You've seen the latest, greatest project management methodology be adopted like wildfire and dropped just as quickly. You've seen technology ideas form, execute, and fade away, only to come back again touted as something completely new (I'm looking at you, thin client computing.) 

The problem is, with the bias in the industry that technology is for the young, there is a natural prejudice against the wisdom and learnings that come from experience. How can we get others to recognize the value of having been through the wringer a few times and knowing how to be prepared? Think about it this way, if you've had a 25 year career, you've covered the lifespan of five startups. 

I've worked with two companies over the years where the average tenure of the staff is more than 15 years a person. The technology groups have seen things change only to stay the same.  They don't adopt the latest thing that comes down the pike. They don't jump on the newest methodology. They're in it for the long haul and their strategy and their people reflect that.

How can we combat this perception that in technology fields experience has less value than youth? The first step for those of us with years under our belt is to recognize this is not a level playing field and that we can't play by their rules. If we try to out-hustle, out-work, and out-play them to prove we are just as good we're wasting the strongest asset we have...our experience.

Don't challenge just because it's been done before.  Challenge to see if what caused it to not work has been resolved. Don't argue just because it hasn't been tried, draw the comparisons to what has been successful and show the steps that need to happen. Recap completed efforts rather than just running into the next one.  Don't accept minimum viable product because it's part of the methodology, accept it if it's delivering the value you know the customer wants from experience.

Taking the role of a mentor for colleagues (not a know-it-all, that's a different problem) and helping them learn the questions to ask and the skills they need beyond the ones and zeroes demonstrates that experience I'm talking about. The concepts of DQ (digital intelligence) vs. EQ (emotional intelligence) marry nicely to the concept of wisdom. Anyone with motivation can learn a technology. Learning how to read, understand, and adapt to people and personalities only comes from experience.

There's no easy solution to the problem of ageism in the workplace.  There's no hashtag we can get behind that will change how things are. (Though #getoffmylawn works for me.) The best thing we can do is to remember we didn't get where we are over so many years by being distracted by the newest thing. If you know you're being discriminated against because of your age there are steps you can take, unfortunately it's not so obvious that it's easy to document. Be aware, discliplined, and don't fall for the myth that years are a weakness.

How do you deal with ageism in your workplace? Have you encountered it before? Are you guilty of it? Tell me about it.


New Ways to Use OneNote in your Personal Life


Recently I asked the OneNote for Professionals community on Facebook for their favorite ways of using OneNote in their personal lives, outside the professional uses. The classic recommendations were made (bullet journals, personal journals, recipes, etc.) but there were a number of less common and interesting suggestions made.

I have a notebook for everything about my home- measurements, projects to be done, to do lists, paint colors, shopping list of items needed for the projects. I love having everything I need in one place - Barbara W.

I've been using OneNote to track projects for a number of years now with one my most recent being the replacement of a sink faucet and filter.  While it sounds mundane, the ability to take photos of the process, pictures of the products you're considering buying, receipts for purchases, and model numbers for replacement items easily fall in the strengths of OneNote.

 I have sections for various areas (home, rental/tenants, etc.) with one main "Reminder" page where I store all my to-do's including shopping lists. I take pictures throughout projects so I can go back and see it from beginning to end. Luckily I did this with a piano I'm converting into a bar, or I'd never be able to figure out how to put it back together! - Carolyn G.

While I've never tried to reassemble a piano (good luck Carolyn!) this is another great example of how the combination of checklists, images, and sections can be put together to make home projects easier.

Crochet and cross stitch patterns - Katherine S.

I'll admit I'm lucky I can do more than basic Boy Scout knots so anyone who can do this type of work has my admiration. That being said using OneNote to organize patterns for easy reference is a logical use of a natural feature.  I could see taking this to the next level and sharing patterns with others using the online version of OneNote.

I keep a media calendar, via Onetastic, with new shows, movies, and social events. I have a Moviepass, so it's been helpful. - Michelle V.

Why this never occurred to me before is beyond me.  Being a big movie buff this just makes perfect sense. Create a template in the desktop version of OneNote and enter the information from the movie for reference.  I can even see ordering the pages in the notebook based on how good you think the movie was.  Pass the popcorn please.

OneNote is awesome for so many things, so it's hard to pick faves. But two of my top likes are my style section for my wardrobe inventory & also my book club notes section. - Kandi V.

The style section is a fascinating idea to me.  Now granted I'm no fashionista, but I'll admit I have a section in a notebook on different ways to tie a tie, fold a pocket square, and other style tips. There's an old saying, "Dress for the job you want, not the one you have." I can see OneNote being a great tool in making that happen.

The most important aspect of using OneNote for non-professional reasons is making it a habit. The more often you capture content into OneNote, whether it's at work or at home, the more likely you are to trust the tool and your system. Now OneNote isn't for everything but you'll be amazed how many things it can do with just a little bit of creativity.

How do you use OneNote for your personal life? Come tell me in the OneNote for Professionals community on Facebook or even better, in the Productive Professionals community.

How to Take Better Notes in Meetings When You Have ADHD


Whether you have ADHD or not, better note taking techniques are always a benefit to both personal and professional productivity.  I'm a user of OneNote and paper depending on my mood.  If I'm using digital, it's OneNote and I've sent information about the meeting from Outlook to OneNote.  The list of attendees, meeting agenda items, and location are all included and ready to be searched.  Just add notes, tag with To Do tags and I'm done quickly and efficiently.

On days where I'm not feeling the digital vibe I duplicate the structure on paper and take my notes by hand.  The important thing is for items where I feel I may have to search for a word, I make sure my printing is clear and readable. After writing the notes I take a photo into OneNote and then use the OCR search to locate what I need.

One of the keys I've found to help me focus on my note taking is to separate structure from content.  It's easy to get distracted from what is being said if I'm trying to format it perfectly or wonder why something is out of alignment on the page.  By compartmentalizing the parts of the note taking process, I can leverage my rapidly changing attention rather than fighting it.

Another trick I recommend, especially if you're taking notes by hand, is to section off a small part of your page for "random thoughts". We all have them and it's important to not let them take up the mental cycles we need to focus. When one creeps into your mental field of view, jot it down in the random thoughts area. Just the act of capturing it is often enough to get it out of your head and out of the way.

There's no magic trick to 100% focus when taking notes (we all know how boring things can be at times) but if we do a little introspection and work with ourselves rather than trying to "fix" ourselves we have a much greater chance of success.

How do you manage your notes? Come tell me about it.


Productive Professionals Community is Back!


It's been a while but the Productive Professionals community is back online.  As part of a joint effort with the Productivity Cast Podcast, the community has not one but four productivity hosts leading the conversations about ways you can be more productive. Come join us, give the podcast a listen, and join in the conversations. There's no question, it's time well spent!

Business and Dragons - Using Gaming Skills at Work


The resurgent popularity of role playing games (Dungeons and Dragons the one most people are familiar with) due to shows such as Stranger Things, the nostalgia of the original players (of which I count myself) and the explosive growth of tabletop gaming gives us a chance to take these games beyond their "nerdiness" and apply their learnings in the real world. 

If you haven't tried a role playing game, the oversimplified premise is players create characters based on a standard set of characteristics and then take those characters through scenarios created and managed by a "game master" or "dungeon master (DM)". If we translate those roles to a business team, you have team members and a loose equivalent to a project manager. (Though in role playing a game master has much more control than most any project manager, regardless what they think.)  For now we'll leave the discussion of developers as wizards and salespeople as bards is a topic for a future article. Taking a closer look at how players interact in the fictional scenarios provided by the DM gives us practice in applying the same skills to our non-fictional scenarios in the working world. 

Overprepared or ready to improvise

Events in a gaming session are usually not pre-determined. Experienced DM's will limit the amount of rigid prep they do, relying on dynamic changes in the scenarios through a roll of the dice or a reaction to the decisions of the party. Using this as a way to practice evaluating change and responding in a quick and decisive manner is an excellent extension of the RPG world into the business world. 

While most business decisions are not based on a roll of the dice (though they often feel as if they may be) they can be based on external factors of which you are unaware. Can you understand the impacts, evaluate options, and provide creative solutions on demand? What better way to practice those skills in a safe but challenging environment? 

Thinking on your feet

When you ask experienced role players what skills are most helpful for a good role playing game experience, one of the most common things you'll hear is the ability to improvise. Role playing by its nature is dynamic and changing without clear objectives and courses of action. An ability to "think on your feet" serves a player well, but the same skill serves a person well in the business world.  This is a rare natural talent but it is also a skill that can be developed through practice. RPGs are a perfect place to strengthen this skill for application in other places. 

There is a common trope in role playing circles for game masters that "no scenario survives the first encounter with players intact." Basically it means players are unpredictable and no amount of planning and preparation will change that fact. Being able to react to an unexpected change quickly and fluidly, without interrupting the flow of the encounter, is the difference between a great DM and an average one.  The same thinking applies when working with teams in business. 

When was the last time you were in a meeting, someone threw out a new idea, and the reaction was "I don't know, we'll have to go and look into that and get back to you." That forced delay kills the momentum of the idea immediately. Sometimes this is truly a need for assessment but in many cases it is just as often a delaying tactic. If you take the skills you cultivate through RPGs and react to the idea with questions, thoughts, and observations, you are able to maintain the momentum while still refining the idea. Let's look at a Dungeons and Dragons example. 

The players enter a room in a dungeon.  You as the DM have decided that in the room there are several goblins hiding, waiting to jump them when they least expect it.  You have the stats ready, dice at hand, and are set for a rousing battle to ensue.  Then this happens: the party opens the door, peeks in, and casts fireball in the small room, effectively roasting everything in the space. 

As the DM you now have a problem.  The encounter you planned for can't happen because all your goblins are now crispy critters. The players are ready to move on. How do you keep them engaged? Project management theory would have you preparing for every contingency so no matter what happens you have a plan.  But as the trope suggests, players can be unpredictable.  Let's change the fireball spell to the players throwing a bag full of ball bearings into the room.  Wait, what? Ball bearings? Are you kidding me? Now what? 

Similar situations happen in business.  You've planned carefully, created presentations, and have your facts in order.  You've created your narrative and are ready to lay out your case for careful consideration and acceptance by your peers.  Then someone comes in with a handful of ball bearings. Where can you practice dealing with the unpredictable and strengthen your creative muscles to keep the narrative going and everyone engaged?  Why not in a dungeon? Taking advantage of the role playing environment to encounter situations that in most cases have no direct counterpart in the real world can provide the chance to "think outside of the box" and come up with alternatives that won't impact your annual review if they don’t work out. 

Three steps to managing an encounter 

Step one is get all your facts. Take time to gather details from the players as to what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what they plan to do next. The same thing applies in business.  Ask the people involved detailed questions about what, why, and what's next.  Often what these questions reveal is an underlying need or change in strategy.  Just as easily though these questions can reveal a lack of strategy to the request and a more significant lack of understanding around the impact. 

One of the most popular Dungeon Masters around is Matthew Mercer from Critical Role (among many other things). When players get to a point in an encounter where they have defeated an opponent, he has a question that always triggers a strong positive response, "How do you want to do this?" That question encourages the player to provide details about what they are doing and how they envision it happening in a way that Matt can skillfully weave into an entertaining narrative on the fly. Applying that same type of thinking to your business discussions can push conversations and ideas forward that have gotten stalled. Rather than "how do you want to do this" perhaps asking "how do you see this working" or "tell me more about what you're imagining" can give you the raw materials you need for your business narrative. 

Know your options

Step two is list your options.  In an RPG as a DM you'll normally do this in your head (since you don't want to reveal everything to your players.) Your decisions are based on what has changed, what can happen next, and what has to occur to put things in motion.  The dice will often make decisions for you but just as often you can change the dynamic to keep your party engaged. For example the ball bearings may have rendered all the nasty little goblins in the room flat on their backs as they slip and slide, but one may have found a foothold and is waiting behind the door with crossbow at the ready.  In a business meeting, listing out the options for yourself and then reviewing them with the group to make sure you haven't missed anything and are starting to build consensus around the options. 

Kick open the door

Step three is to choose a course of action.  At some point, something has to happen.  Whether it is one of the goblins makes it to its feet and takes a shot with its little crossbow or the software developer at the other side of the table recommends choosing option B to implement the new requirements.  By choosing a course of action you can now begin to evaluate the option, impacts, and requirements for success.  Until you make a choice, or in an RPG the dice make a choice for you, you're just standing outside the door looking in. 

Each time you create a scenario for your players and manage how they interact with the events you have outlined, you strengthen your skills in observation, assessment, and adaptation.  These are skills that could take years in the business environment to develop when the opportunities present themselves.  In the world of RPGs, you can create these situations over and over again with endless varieties and nuances with each time making you a more effective DM and as a result a more effective professional. 

This is one article in a multi-part series on applying role playing game skills in the working world. As a DM and player of RPGs for more than 30 years, I hope to combine the learnings from the gaming world and the business world for the betterment of both. If you like this article and want more, leave a note in the comments, like, share, retweet, cast a message spell, or do whatever you do to let me know you want this real life campaign to continue.