Cultural don, Victoria Stoyanova, said she wanted to celebrate the creative ways of others. She was challenged by a friend on the spot: stop talking and start doing.
Not a pushover, Stoyanova rose to the occasion and ten days later The Work We Do was born. Conversations with her guests on the podcast series are raw. She digs into the ‘practices, journeys and rituals of professionals that can’t stand still’. These themes have become increasingly potent in today’s attention economy — where finding space to be, and be your best, can be testing.
Here are just a few anecdotes that might help:
Nurturing a Kaleidoscope Career
Stoyanova is a Bulgarian born, London anchored globetrotter, who sees the world through multidimensional lenses. It’s what allows her to dub herself a community architect and more importantly do the meaningful work that actually entails: building resilient ecosystems at scale. She’s done so for many organisations before and now directs her energy cultivating the largest creative community on the planet. If it all sounds complex, it’s precisely because it is.
She explains that like a kaleidoscope, there are many facets to today’s professionals. Or rather today’s professionals have many professions. Each worker brings an amalgamation of his views, skills, practices, experiences and networks. Every layer meshes into the other, stacking up in a unique way for each engagement. It’s this modularity that enables those perched on the threshold, in a liminal space, to do what they do so well.
With an uncanny ability to weather transitions, every new challenge provides another chance to flex current abilities and master new ones.
Taking a Bias Towards Action
“It’s easier to act your way into new ways of thinking rather than think your way into a new way of acting.”
So goes the saying according to Jerry Sternin, the father of positive deviance. Today, the cost can be extremely high in delaying. Launching and improving is the winning strategy in our networked economy.
In their book Whiplash, Joi Ito and Jeff Howe explain that, “Businesses commonly regard ‘failure’ as a bargain-priced learning opportunity.” When change is accelerating at unparalleled speeds and everyone around you is busy ‘doing things’ — it’s easy to feel like a bystander. Fear not, as the real benefit to doing is learning. As Ito, himself a College dropout, and now director of MIT’s Media Lab asserts,
“Education is what other people do to you. Learning is what you do to yourself.”
Stoyanova could just have easily talked about the podcast for months, instead she grabbed a microphone and hit record. Not only is she learning more every episode, thankfully so are we.
Rehearsing your Rhythms and Rituals
There’s a movement brewing of those who’ve mastered how to seamlessly switch-on for bursts of work and just as easily switch-off. Computer scientist Cal Newport labels it working in ‘batches’. Like a surfer who navigates a set of waves with intense focus and explosive force, today’s knowledge worker must crack how to do deep work with precise cognitive ability.
Flow, which holds a purpose in itself, once sat quaintly with the likes of artists and athletes. It has since seeped into the information economy. As long as the connected world and complementary tools permit, those who work with knowledge can discover their groove.
Although philosopher Barbara Gail recently posited against flow — being in flow is not mutually exclusive with optimal performance. Indeed, finding flow and doing great work are natural bedfellows. This is not backed up by any quantitative research, rather it’s just what I believe. A very simplified equation could look something like this:
But even more pressing than finding (this seemingly illusive) equation is that enemy lurking in the shadows. Our good friend technology — rather paradoxically — enables these new ways of working and simultaneously acts as the great detractor. As Alain de Botton warns us:
“The more embarrassing and self-indulgent challenges of our time...is the task of relearning how to concentrate. The past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible.”
In response to the constant digital noise, some individuals temporarily quit social media while others deliberately employ extremely far out techniques.
Enjoying the Ride
Taking time out has long been a proven means for boosting productivity and innovation. Designer Stefan Sagmeister religiously takes a one year sabbatical every 7 years and closes down his agency. He is convinced that in so doing, he fuels the creative and commercial success that his firm requires for the next six.
We might not all have the luxury of closing shop for a year, but a workaround may be something much simpler; say a long walk. A dozen miles a day in the case of Charles Dickens may seem like slacking off today, but the virtues of leisure as it concerns knowledge work is scientifically sound. Writing, like many other creative pursuits, requires: focus, fluidity and (hopefully) fulfilment.
British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals:
“The journey is everything — and for a writer, life and work are just a series of journeys that are often more important than whenever the hell we end up. The journey doesn’t have to be geographic but a voyage of the heart, soul and brain as well as the body. The journey of the soul is about inspiration; that of the heart is about love; that of the body is about movement and geography but also the senses, the smells and tastes; and that of the brain is about the study of new knowledge. But every stage of my life is divided into a new journey, subject, project and it’s the sense of movement and novelty that is essential.”
Much like Stoyanova, people all over the world are embracing exciting new ways of working. With awareness and abundance they awaken a sense of what is possible. Their dirty little secret: it’s not about the destination but the glory of the ride.
Eavesdrop on my chat with Stoyanova here…
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