everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Hello again

So, it’s been a while. I just checked and the last post that I made was on 3 September last year, when I was in Washington DC. I really hope no one was waiting on this blog to give travel tips for an imminent US holiday, or as proof of life, or as inspiration for being. Although if you were, then I’m sorry, and I do hope that you found other sources of support.

Hope you’ve been well. I’m all good, thanks. I am a bit (ok, a lot) of a fair weather friend to this blog, only really making the time to write when I feel like I have a lot of spare time. Which, when you’re in the thick of work and family and life, with all of the things that take up time on evenings and weekends, doesn’t happen that often. Usually when I’m on holidays (see 3 September post from Washington DC here). Or when I’m not working as much, as is the case now.

I’ve just finished up in the rollercoaster-ride of a job that I’d been in for the past couple of years. NB, I wasn’t actually working on a roller coaster, although I do note that the ride at Luna Park in Melbourne does have an attendant standing or sitting in the middle of the carts on each ride, so don’t rule that out as a potential career option.

Image from lunapark.com.au

FYI, the person in the middle of this gaggle is the Attendant standing up on The Great Scenic Railway ride at Luna Park in St Kilda. I don’t know what they ever get called on to do during the ride, but it’s a real job. [image from lunapark.com.au]

I’m also moved and am now technically living between two cities (Sydney and Melbourne), which has been lots of fun. I have been very lucky to have finally moved to Melbourne – a city that I have loved for a very long time, even looking for graduate roles down here back in the 90’s. I’ve spent a bit of time down here with a number of jobs, but when the opportunity came up to move earlier this year, I took it. And then a month or so later, I resigned. That sounds bad, but please don’t think that I tricked my employer into paying for my relocation (they didn’t), or that I found another gig shortly after moving (I didn’t).

It was just a case of bad timing – the work rollercoaster had been on the up and up for what felt like such a long time, and I was in the front cart waving and laughing and screaming and enjoying the whole amazing experience. Best ride EVER. Then the rapid and steep descent started around January and that left me grimacing and holding onto the bars too tight and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach wouldn’t go away, and so I decided to get off the ride before it put me off amusement parks for life.

silly-serpent-hero1

Not such a silly idea. [image from lunapark.com.au]

Sure, I guess most sensible people wouldn’t get off the rollercoaster until they’d found their next ride – the Silly Serpent (see above) maybe, or the exotic sounding Arabian Merry. Instead, I am going to hang out for a while and see what ride to go on next. I feel as though I’ll know the right one when I see it, and hope that I’m tall enough to get on. In the meantime, I’ll read some books and walk around and do some people-watching while I wait. And hopefully get back to this blog, sharing my particular brand of nonsense with you. Maybe while snacking on the carnival foods that the Luna Park website offers (“Fairy-floss, pop-corn, snow-cones and hot-dogs”). All of the hyphenated goodness.

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There is no I in Team. But there is one in Silly.

I am very fortunate to work with some fairly nutty folk. When I think about it, I’ve always been pretty lucky to work with people who are smart, but who also have a capacity for silliness and fun, which makes for a very enjoyable workplace.

[Image via @lilfitmiss]

[Image via @lilfitmiss] 

Although, when you’re working in an open plan office, it becomes clear that we humans don’t all have the same sense of what’s funny. Especially when the workspace is shared with many consultants engaged via a subcontinental company. Judging by the bewildered and sometimes frightened looks that I catch from time to time, I suspect they believe my job to be some strange combination of circus clown, town crier, counsellor, and policewoman. Which, as I reflect on it now, is probably a pretty accurate summary, I guess!

I would like to work with these guys. [image from Pixabay]

I would like to work with these guys too.

I am a terrible eavesdropper, which is a challenge in the super-open-plan office that we share. And when I say I am a terrible eavesdropper, I actually mean I am really really good at it. It’s one of my gifts. I can focus on a conversation with Person A (the conversation I am actually IN), but can also tune into the conversations of Persons B, C and D around me. It also helps to fill in details when people-watching in restaurants, airports, funerals and the like.

The openness of the open plan has certainly made the old tradition of office gossip a lot more challenging. Not that I engage in office gossip, obvs, as I am an HR professional. But I have heard that the super-open-plan environment has driven office gossip from the hallways to the email and the instant messaging. (Which, as a reminder, also means it is now recorded and can be monitored. A switch from the olden days of safely whinging about the Boss Man in the privacy of the tea room during a smoke break. Yes, I worked in the 1950s too.)

Anyways, I digress. I wanted to talk about my colleague Louise, who has started an email tradition, delivered to a small (but appreciative) group each Friday. I’m not sure how it began, and there was quite a long break in transmission there, but it is now back in action and it is making the world a better place. The distribution list is growing as word spreads of this underground movement that’s shaking things up, pushing the envelope and challenging the status quo.

LOLKeeping the emails short, but inspirational, the author knows the target market and stays true. Other Harvard Business Review fads may come and go, but this content has been fine-tuned over generations (and years of Christmas crackers). The email title?  Just three little words that warm the heart and the workplace: Friday Dad Joke.

Here’s a sample of some of our community’s recent treasures:

What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?

  • You see one later and one in a while

What do you call cheese by itself?

  • Provolone

What do you call a girl with a frog on her head? 

  • Lily

You’re welcome. Happy Friday!

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A psychic HR solution, to be sure

So there I was, watching an episode of 90210 that TiVo had kindly recorded for me (the later version of 90210, not the original – it’s still on at peculiar hours in Sydney from time to time). And before I could speed through one of the ad breaks, I saw this bizarro ad.

It’s for an Australian company offering ‘psychic solutions’ over the phone, for the lofty price of $2.97 per minute (even more if you call from a mobile phone). The business was started by Liz, but it’s called Aliz’s. I am guessing the ‘A’ was added to boost Liz’s psychic ranking. Alphabetically, at least.

Anyways, the ad is possibly offensive to the Irish, to be sure, but it’s also given me an idea for an ‘HR solutions’ hotline. For $2.97 per minute (even LESS if you call me from a mobile phone, rather than coming to see me in person), I will listen to you about the same thing that Aliz’s people do: “career struggles”, “business issues”, and “money matters”. I draw the line at “love or relationship problems” though, sorry.

To sharpen my HR Solutions hotline approach, I clicked the link to the testimonials on Aliz’s You Tube channel. I found this most extraordinary “testimonial” there. And by extraordinary, I mean unbelievably freaky and quite a bit disturbing. Crazy voices, a puppet, and they even provide an incorrect number for the hotline. Nailed it.

Inspiration for ACate’s HR Solutions hotline, to be sure. I’ll let you know the correct number to call, just as soon as I finalise the set up of this Swiss bank account…

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I am studying at Harvard and you can too.

I was out with my lovely friend Jen last week and we were talking about our lives over a nice bottle of pinot gris. I was talking about how I’m at a bit of a crossroads and not sure what to do next and Jen told me about a course that someone at her work had told the HR peeps about. It’s a free online course that they’re trialling at Harvard University – Unlocking the Immunity to Change.

A lot of time and effort and psychological brain power has gone into the development of this course (and the Immunity to Change process that sits behind it), which seems – in a nutshell – to support the proposition that you can teach an old dog new tricks. So, when people say, “I’m too old to learn X”, or, “I’ve always been like this – too late to change now”, or, “There is no way that I can stop/start doing Y”, it may well be a load of nonsense.

Apparently, this process gives you easy steps to help focus on a self development type of goal – maybe one that you’ve struggled with for a while, but have never been able to achieve. Through the online course (which has a very user-friendly interface and lots of support – I’ve just checked out the introductory info for Week 1), you’ll be guided through the process and invited to participate in activities. There’s no pressure – you don’t have to comment on forums or submit assignments, but the obvious suggestion is that if you’re really interested in achieving your goal, you might as well have a crack at the activities that the experts provide.

Anyways, if you’re interested in this course too, you can sign up for it here and the first week of readings/activities etc starts from Tuesday.

I’m a bit of a geek and have always wanted to study at Harvard, so the online course commitment was an easy decision for this old dog. And whether you are hoping to give up smoking or join the circus or lose weight or run a marathon or fold a fitted sheet, you might like to join me.

New tricks? I say bring them on, Harvard.

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StockPhoto Man – Another Sighting

You may recall my recent post whereby I exposed the fraud that is StockPhoto Man – the guy promoting everything from superannuation to corporate reports to THE CAMINO. Well, my eagle-eyed friend Steph (aka ‘Color Run Steph’ or ‘Camino Steph’ as she’s known in my family) has discovered our old mate StockPhoto Man promoting diversity & inclusion on a corporate training site. The image was attached to an email from Steph with the intriguing subject: Stock photo man speaks up about unlawful behaviour… I have edited the image to protect the organisation and to highlight StockPhoto Man, just in case you couldn’t identify him amongst all of the other diversity-friendly work colleagues…

I am inspired – the hunt is on and I’m asking for your help. Please keep your eyes wide open and email me any pics you find of StockPhoto Man doing his thing. I would like to put together a CV of sorts for him – a tribute to his many guises. So far, we have Camino Trekker and Corporate Colleague (endorsing lawful behaviour)…but I think the sky is the limit for our StockPhoto Man…who knows where will he turn up next?

We see you, StockPhoto Man.

We see you, StockPhoto Man.

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Like herding cats…

This morning at work was one of those mornings, when you know it would have been better for everyone if you’d just stayed at home in bed. After a particularly annoying email, as I tipped my head back and released a silent scream, I was reminded of a You Tube clip that someone had sent me years ago. The term was used a lot when working in professional services HR, but could apply to pretty much any workplace/looking after kids/organising an event/managing home renovations: “This is sooooo hard, it’s like herding cats”. I’ve always felt it was a powerful image to sum up that point of utter frustration and despair, when people just would not agree or fall in to line. Here’s the video that still makes me laugh every time I see it – I think it was released as one of those magical SuperBowl ads, back in 2009. Enjoy!

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EverydaySparks CEO, Idea #274

I’ve posted quite a few times about my brilliant ideas that I will implement when I am the CEO. The CEO of what? Dunno. But the organisation will be pretty cool, don’t you worry about that. Today, I wanted to share a possible office design for EverydaySparks Inc, via the awesome Cool Hunter website. Located in Bangkok, the headquarters of telecommunications company dtac has got to be one of the best office spaces in the world. And my professional HR opinion is that any job that you do would have to be more fun if you did it there. Don’t believe me? Check out these pics…

Now THAT’S a breakout area. Who needs a desk, I say.

Oh the bookshelves, the bookshelves!

And there’s a ‘FunFloor’, featuring indoor soccer, table tennis, and concert & performance spaces. Oh, and a running track. Uh huh.

Run away from annoying colleagues.

You can read more about the incredible dtac office on The Cool Hunter site here. And I am accepting applications to join EverydaySparks Inc, if you’re up for an undefined role in an unclear organisation. With rockin’ office space.

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Anthropomorphise!

Think Geek promises to sell “stuff for smart masses”. But not all of their stuff is especially geeky or designed for techos – today’s find made me giggle and I think it has a huge potential for adding a spark to the everyday items that we have around our homes and workplaces. Customers who have bought the kit have even sent in their own photos (which are then added to the product page) to show how they’ve used the stickers to add a bit of personality to things that would otherwise look pretty boring. See what you think…

In case you’re not familiar with the term ‘anthropomorphise’ (I wasn’t either), I’ll let the good people at Think Geek explain it far better than I can: We do it every day, though mostly without thinking about it – we get angry at the stapler that mangled our presentation, or the phone when it can’t get a signal. We say we “love this coffee mug,” and sometimes we even imagine a face on the clock on the wall. It’s called anthropomorphizing, and it’s where we imbue human characteristics to inanimate objects.

So they’ve taken this one step further and sell “Inanimate Character Stickers” – over 100 stickers of “eyes and mouths in various shapes, sizes and expressions, waiting for you to give life to the lifeless.” This idea is right up my street – I love it! From fruit to office products to shoes, people have submitted photos of what they’ve managed to achieve with just some kooky looking eyes and a toothy grin.

And the possibilities are endless. If others keep borrowing your stapler and forgetting to give it back, a scary face might be just what you need. Or if you want to encourage people to eat the orange cream biscuits that no one else wants, maybe stick on a nice little friendly face and watch them win people over. I’m thinking that doctors could take medical implements to a whole other level with a well chosen pair of eyes and a smile – except the only thing worse than a needle coming at you is surely a needle with a maniacal face coming at you…

I think these stickers could change our lives. Or, at least, they could help make us smile as we go about our business every day. And that’s a step in the right direction. If you’d like to check them out, they are available from Think Geek here.

 

 

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Festival of Dangerous Ideas

I’m excited. I love a good Festival and am proud to say that in Sydney, we’ve become pretty reliable as awesome Festival-runners. I say ‘we’ using the royal plural, of course, as I do nothing more than buy some tickets from time to time and turn up to be entertained by super-talented people. So last weekend when I was at the Opera House with my mum seeing The Pearlfishers (one of my all-time favourites – sooo beautiful), I noticed a collection of newspaper-like ads for an upcoming festival. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas. It’s on at the Opera House from 28-30 September and the topics are thought-provoking, to say the least. “Have an opinion” is the request / demand of the curators, although if you don’t yet have one – am sure there will be plenty on offer for you to borrow.

Among the heavy hitting topics is The Devil is Real, featuring a Catholic priest (Fr Julian Porteous) talking about what it might mean if the Devil is real – “an active presence who moves among us every day”. Not sure if he is referring to the bus driver who sees you running down the street and drives off anyway, or the bank teller who ignores you in the queue and pretends to count a stack of envelopes and rearrange their pens, or noisy teenagers lounging around the shopping mall. But if he has suggestions on how to deal with those everyday devils, it could be worth checking out…

Then there’s the topic guaranteed to set HR professionals’ hearts a-flutter: My Workplace is a Cult. The speakers are a journalist and the Creative Director of Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney. Make of that what you will. They ask: “Are you expected to devote inordinate amounts of time and energy to your work? Do you spend more time with your work colleagues than anyone else? Has your work taken over your life?” I’m guessing that most people would nod along in agreement, so I’m intrigued to hear the proposed solutions to “set us free”.

I’ve interviewed with a few cult workplaces in my time – #1 was a firm that I’ll call Flandersen Consulting, which has since morphed into a different organisation (and perhaps that says a lot), back when I was a fresh uni graduate. They even took 50 of us from around the country (and a few from NZ) to a beachside ‘conference’ where they convinced us we were Leaders Of The Future, who should undoubtedly join their firm. To harness our combined super powers, I guess. It’s a memory that’s seared in my brain – after I asked some frank 20 year old kinda questions (I’m sure they weren’t actually that confronting) in one formal interview, the next meeting I had with them began with the very senior female interviewer picking a post-it from my file as if it were gum on her high heeled shoe and saying slowly, I understand that you have some concerns with the Andersen lifestyle. Uh huh. That was probably a sign that it wasn’t for me – well, that and two other things: every time I visited, the firm’s elevators were full of eerily similar looking Barbies and Kens in conservative navy or grey suits; and a selling point was that they often worked ’til midnight, but at 9.30pm, someone would say, “hey, let’s order pizzas”. And they would. Crazy kids.

Anyways, back to the Festival. Bono & Bob – Get Out of Africa features award-winning British comedy writer, journalist and author, Jane Bussmann. Jane claims that “mainstream media is burnt out by “Bono and Geldof’s Poverty Industry”, which deliberately painted Africa as depressing for two decades to line its own pockets.” And as far as I can see, this is the point of the Festival – to throw ideas out there for you to consider, poke you out of your comfort zone and challenge what you thought you knew to be true. All in an hour-long presentation. Sounds good to me!

There are also some delicately titled panel discussions: All Australians are Racists; Children are Not Inncoent; Abolish Private Schools; All Women Hate Each Other. And the closing event of the Festival sees the panel of experts solving all of the world’s problems in an hour. Technically, that particular show goes for 1 hour and 15 minutes, but I’m sure that doesn’t sound as cool in the title.

If you’d like to find out more about the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, you can check out the Sydney Opera House website here. They’re also on Twitter and Facebook, so you can join in the fun from wherever you are.

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Honestly, thumb people…

If you’ve spent much time with little kids – especially little kids who start to cry or get cranky – there’s probably been a time when you’ve had to resort to singing weird songs to distract them. And maybe you’ve even put on strange voices and pretended that your thumbs/a toy/a piece of apple/a shoe is magically able to talk. In the hope that the talking is enough of a funny surprise to stop the crying. Or perhaps you remember that childhood game where your thumb battles another thumb, with the gauntlet being thrown down: 1,2,3,4 – I declare a thumb war. And then it’s on – sort of like an arm wrestle for thumbs. Of course, if none of this sounds at all familiar, you can just ignore this opening paragraph and you might still like this product that I saw on the Matomeno website, which never disappoints…

The post was called My thumb is my friend! which sounded wacky enough for me. And now that I’ve seen this product range, I think it’s something that we could all use at home, in the classroom, or in the office. In fact, I could have made this another EverydaySparks CEO post, as these little beauties will be mandatory for performance review discussions and will most certainly help at salary review time. Basically, there are five stampers (so, technically, I guess you could use them on your thumb and fingers if you wanted to create a whole gang), which you ink up and use to bring your digits to life.

Whatevs, I hear you say. That’s not so exciting. Well, of course that’s not where it ends – the good folk at Mikke Remikke have taken it to another level with costumes to accompany each of the faces. That’s right, you can choose from five characters: Timmy, Michael, Cathy, Bob or Andrew. Uh huh. Each comes with its own costume and hair-do. And accent and personality, presumably – but that part is up to you. I’d keep an eye on that Timmy – not sure if it’s the pink ‘fro or those overalls, but I think he’s an accident waiting to happen. Oh, and look out for Andrew – anyone wearing a personalised sweatband as a jumper is probably not a-ok.

Perhaps you know someone who finds it difficult to communicate in conventional ways, or someone who’d like an instant gang of new friends. Or maybe you’d just like someone else to blame for dumb things that you might say or do. Whatever the reason, you can find out more via the Matameno site here or you can buy them (and read a bizarre translation of the product and its purpose) at the Rakuten Global Market here.

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