Farewell to My Yahoo! Blog

When I started the “Working the New Economy” blog in April, I knew it had an expiration date. I signed a short-term contract. I referred to myself as a guest blogger on Yahoo! Even the title, suggested that this was a project of limited duration. After all, how long could this “new economy” last?

Now that it’s time to wrap up, it’s pretty clear that the new economy has become the new normal. And I can’t say that I have figured out exactly how to work it. Unemployment has now topped 10%. Counting those who are underemployed, it’s closer to 20%. Mass layoffs are still happening, including a round at BusinessWeek last week where several of my most respected colleagues were shown the door.

One defining feature of this not-so-new-anymore economy is that we will all need to flexible and nimble. I’ve worked independently for nearly a decade. And now it seems that my usual mix of contract work, freelance relationships, consulting and other kinds of affiliations has become standard in what Tina Brown so aptly dubbed the gig economy.

Getting the timing right while moving from gig to gig can be challenging. Between consulting projects, gigs, or temporary assignments, there are often long gaps with no work and times of too much of it. Which is why I’d like the bickering in Washington to include some discussion of providing health care for the self-employed. (Great analysis of this issue by Zeba Kahn here.) But I’m getting off track. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Facebook: Are Your Friends Trusted Sources or Naggy Noisemakers?

People have been worrying for a long time about mixing business and pleasure on Facebook. Much of the conversation centers around how much of their personal lives people want to reveal to colleagues and bosses. But lately I’ve been interested in the flip side of this. How and how much should people talk about their businesses, their work, or their causes on Facebook or other social networking sites?

The answer depends on how interesting your work, your business and your causes are to your friends. If what you post is interesting or useful, your friends will view you as a trusted source, someone they turn to for inside information, much like a personal news service. But if it’s all self-promotional blather, your friends will vote with their mice by either silencing you (using the handy Facebook “hide” feature), or worse, hitting the “unfriend” button on the bottom left of the page.

It’s one thing to see friends promoting their own interests, but now companies are paying people with large social networks to tout their brands on Twitter. {Read the rest on Yahoo!}

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How to Critique Someone’s Writing

As a person who makes my living with words, I’m regularly asked to read people’s writing and give feedback. A business plan. A resume. Website copy. A grad school application essay. A profile for an online dating site.

I usually say some variation of yes to the request. But giving feedback is complex. Sometimes the person really wants me re-write the piece, not just give feedback, which makes me feel uncomfortable. People are also vulnerable when they ask for feedback. So I have learned to tread the line between honesty and brutality.

Writers aren’t the only ones who are asked to give this kind of feedback. Everyone gets to play editor from time to time. As friends look for jobs, they need help with resumes and cover letters; children ask for help with essays and papers; bosses and colleagues need to know if a speech or report is up to snuff.

When I’m asked to give feedback, I try to follow the following few ground rules. These guidelines have helped me to be honest yet mindful of people’s feelings. They have also set up some useful boundaries and to create the best environment for helping people.

1. All feedback should include something constructive. When I started teaching seminars for The OpEd Project, the advice I got for reviewing student work was to start with two positive pieces of feedback because people hear constructive/critical feedback better after positive engagement is established. This is probably because of the negativity bias, a psychological phenomenon which causes people to place more emphasis on negative experiences rather than positive ones. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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In “Ten9Eight,” Urban Kids Choose Business, Not Drugs

Macalee Harlis, a high school football player from Fort Lauderdale, had one of those aha moments while playing football and looking at his coach’s transition lenses. He thought about how difficult both sun glare and stadium lights can be for players on the field. That’s when he came up with the idea for MAC Shields, football helmet shields that function like transition lenses. Anne Montague runs a dance school in Baltimore aimed at keeping urban kids off the streets. Amanda Loyala manufactures and sells vegetarian, eco-friendly dog treats that she whips up in her kitchen in New York City. She was inspired to create the treats after her dog died from cancer and she learned that red meat has been linked to cancer in dogs.

These entrepreneurs are trying to solve big problems with their businesses. And they are part of a bigger effort to keep urban kids from dropping out of school. They all started their businesses through the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a program that teaches business skills to middle and high school kids. NFTE’s program culminates in an annual business plan competition where the top students from schools around the country travel to New York City to pitch their business plans and vie for a $10,000 prize grand prize. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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How to Deal with Post-Conference Overload

Last week I returned from a conference, which put me into my usual state of post-conference overload. My bag was busting with business cards; the conference agenda and my notebook were filled with notes I must have thought important at the time I scribbled them; and a tsunami of to-dos had landed on my desk and in my inbox. I spent my first day back trying to processing what I learned at the conference while muddling through the rest of my work. I started thinking about what I’d tell myself if I wanted to make the most out of my conference experience. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Try to have a light schedule on your first day back. {This is really something you need to do before the conference to make your life easier afterwards. Because I violated this rule, I lost nearly a full Saturday playing catch up.} If you can keep at least the morning blocked off for conference follow-up, you’ll have the best chance of doing the other things on this list. The more time that passes after the conference, the less likely you’ll be to actually do the follow-up, connecting, and reflecting you should do.

2. Do something with the stack of business cards. At the very least, write something on them that will jog your memory of who the person is. After years of collecting business cards, I’ve finally accepted the fact that I won’t take the time to input contact information for most of them into my various address/email systems. That said, connecting with people on Facebook or LinkedIn takes almost no time and assures that you can find the people you want to keep track when you need them. I learned this from my cousin Jennine whom I stayed with while at my conference. She had just returned from an adventure travel conference and was linking up with all her new connections online. With each invitation, she included a note to jog the person’s memory of how they met. Connecting on LinkedIn also helps if you’re trying to find someone months after the conference since it allows you to search by keyword in addition to name. (Hat tip to Adelaide Lancaster, co-founder of  In Good Company Workplaces for that handy tip.) {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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The Secret to Good Introductions

As a congenital connector, I make introductions all the time. Usually I have good results. I’ve had an uncountable number of successful career matches and even ignited a few romances (one of which resulted in a strong marriage.)

But sometimes I mess up and when I do, it usually boils down to one thing: I made an introduction where I thought two people would want to meet, or accepted a request from someone to get an introduction to someone else, but in the end both people weren’t interested in the introduction.

Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist who writes the excellent blog A VC, recently wrote a post that distills everything you need to know about introductions into one simple rule: “When introducing two people who don’t know each other, ask each of them to opt-in to the introduction before making it.” He calls it the “Double Opt-In.” {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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How to survive a bad boss

To mangle Tolstoy, good bosses are all alike. They are good mentors; they care about your happiness and advancement; their interests seem aligned with your own.

Bad bosses, on the other hand, come in many flavors. And a new book, “Working for You Isn’t Working for Me,” by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, provides a field guide to the many species of bad boss. There’s the “checked out” boss (can these really survive in this kind of job market?), the “rule changer” (who tells you to take a lunch break then seems surprised you’re not at your desk), the “underminer” (who asks you for help and then makes it impossible for you to assist), the “chronic critic” (needs no explanation), and a slew of others. For each bad behavior, the authors give sample scenarios to help you recognize your situation, and then walks you through a process to take back power and correct it.

This is is a book that should sit next to your all your other reference bibles so that you can consult it as difficult situations arise. Meantime, I asked Katherine (KC) and Kathi (KE) to take a answer some questions that seem common enough we’ve all encountered them.

Q:  How is dealing with a bad boss different than dealing with a difficult family member?

KC – Bosses and family members share often many characteristics, but by the time we’re adults, most of us don’t depend on difficult family members for our livelihood. A boss, on the other hand, has direct control over your paycheck and your daily experience at work.  A bad boss is like having a bad business parent who can have a negative impact on your career, your financial future and your confidence.

KE – Fortunately, the workplace offers clearer cut boundaries than home. There are employment laws, and people around who can monitor, filter and support your relationship with your boss.  But, in the family we have fewer options. The four-step process that we lay out in Working for You Isn’t Working for Me (detect, detach, depersonalize, and deal) would in fact work at home as well as in the workplace. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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How to work a conference, even before it starts

You know the feeling. You sign up for a conference, scan the list of panels and keynotes trying to find out which you’ll go to, which you’ll snooze through, and when you’ll escape for some alone time or a workout.

But how often do you have a strategy for meeting the few people you are really hoping to meet? You know, the ones who have a crowd of people surrounding them and then zip off for a pre-arranged coffee date with some other person who looks important.

Basically, how do you become the kind of person who has those pre-arranged coffee dates (or at least a good shot at some spontaneous ones) with the interesting people at conferences.

Here’s a few ideas:

Spend some time online.  Visit the conference’s website and start studying the speaker list. If the conference is using a social networking tool like Crowdvine to encourage people to meet one another, take the time to fill out your profile and see who else is attending. Find out the conference’s Twitter hashtag and start checking Twitter to see if anyone is talking about it. If you’re active on LinkedIn or Facebook, mention that you’re going to the conference in your status update. {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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Does thinking about happiness make you happier?

Happiness is having its moment in the sun. And the darkened economy doesn’t seem to have cast much of a shadow over it.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I joined a packed auditorium at the Hilton New York for a lecture on positive psychology by Shawn Achor, a popular professor at Harvard. (This was part of One-Day University, a cool program that assembles a group of lecturers from top universities for a day of public lectures in major cities.)  Achor took the audience through the greatest hits of the science of happiness, covering a wide swath of material in his alotted 70 minutes. He explained how positive psychology developed as a field of study. Instead of focusing exclusively on mental troubles like depression, psychologists like Martin Selgiman started focusing on people who are happy to figure out what we could learn from them.

Achor took us through a host of nifty experiments, like this one: Pair off into a group of two people, preferably people who don’t know one another. Call one person A and the other B. A and B should spend seven seconds looking at each other with A smiling the whole time and B keeping a totally neutral expression. Person B is virtually guaranteed to have a difficult time, as all of us in the audience realized as we tried out our A and B roles. Voila: smiling is contagious. And the theory goes that happiness is too. At the end of the session, Achor left us with a few simple activities we could use to boost our own happiness levels (journaling for twenty minutes a day, exercising for as little as ten minutes a day, practicing random acts of kindness, and my favorite — sending out one kind, positive email to a friend before looking at any other messages.) {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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White collar/blue collar: My chat with Jessica DuLong

In a black silk blouse with skinny jeans and stylish black boots, Jessica DuLong doesn’t look like she spends her days in the bowels of a 78-year old fireboat. That’s because I met her on a day when she was inhabiting her other job, that of the author of a newly released book.  A former dotcom executive and freelance journalist, DuLong had an accidental career change after spending some time volunteering on The the John J. Harvey, a retired 1931 New York City fireboat that has become a living museum. Now one of few female fireboat engineers in the world, DuLong’s newly published book, “My River Chronicles,” is both a tale of career transformation and a compelling narrative about a time when working boats and industry played a large role in America’s economic and civic life.

DuLong never left the world of words. And she is using her new book as a vehicle to get white- collar and blue- collar folks to talk to one another.  DuLong isn’t the only one thinking about this subject. Another book praising the virtues of making and fixing things, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,”  has been getting a lot of buzz lately.

I had tea with DuLong to talk about class divisions surrounding work, why she left her dot com job to work in the engine room of an old boat, and why she thinks the perfect career is one that mixes brains and brawn. Here is a condensed version of our chat: {Read the rest at Yahoo!}

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