The best non-fiction book I read this year

I didn’t like the title or the cover. Heading into chapter two, I was still unsure if I had made a good choice. But since it was mentioned in another excellent book, I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did.

It’s Mindsight, by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, and it’s one of those rare books that can truly teach you how to change your life.


A powerful combination

The author is a psychiatrist who has written several books about the brain. In Mindsight, he weaves together neurobiology with psychotherapy to help us understand the physical underpinnings of our behavior. Here's his definition:

“Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them…”

It sounds a lot like mindfulness taught by Buddhists and others for thousands of years. But what the author does beautifully is relate those concepts to the underlying mechanisms in the brain. His personal stories and those of his patients, sometimes funny and sometimes heart-wrenching, reveal how the lack of mindsight can harm us. Then, importantly, he shows how we can “focus the mind to change the brain,” and alter how we relate to the world and people in it.

“By developing the ability to focus our attention on our internal world, we can resculpt our neural pathways, stimulating the growth of areas of the brain that are crucial to mental health.”

There are many good books on mindfulness and psychotherapy and on the recently-discovered plasticity of the brain. Mindsight ties the ideas together in such a way that you can apply them to your own life.

I hope you enjoy it - and find it as useful - as much as I did.

The story of Oney Judge

If I hadn’t looked up, I never would have known about her.

This past week, I was in Philadelphia and was waiting to meet someone near the Liberty Bell. I noticed a few posters hanging on a wall outside, and something about one caught my eye.

It was about Oney Judge.

Oney Judge

Her story

She was one of George Washington’s slaves, and she had escaped from his home in Philadelphia while he was President. Here’s the quote that was on the poster.

"Whilst they were packing up to go to Virginia, I was packing to go, I didn't know where; for I knew that if I went back to Virginia, I should never get my liberty. I had friends among the colored people of Philadelphia, had my things carried there beforehand, and left Washington's house while they were eating dinner.”

I decided to read more. I learned that Pennsylvania became the first state to establish a process to emancipate its slaves. That was in 1780. Part of this “Gradual Abolition Act” was that slaves held in Pennsylvania for more than six months could free themselves.

I learned that Washington purposefully rotated his slaves while he was President in Philadelphia, sending them back to Mount Vernon or to New Jersey for a few days so they would remain enslaved. This violated a 1788 law that had been passed, but Washington continued to do it until 1797 when he returned to Virginia and was no longer President.

Newspaper ads were placed offering a bounty for her kidnapping. “Ten dollars will be paid to any person who will bring her home.”  But there were fears such an abduction would cause a riot among abolitionists.

When she was spotted in New Hampshire, the customs officer sent a message to Washington that she would return if the President would free her upon his death. He declined, saying he would not “reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference [of freedom].” A year later, in 1798, Washington’s nephew met with her and planned to kidnap her himself, but she was alerted and went into hiding.

Read the entire Wikipedia entry if you can. There are much longer accounts too listed in the notes. It brings to life how human beings were treated as pets or objects. The language is chilling.

“At about age 10, Oney was brought to live at the Mansion House at Mount Vernon, likely as a playmate for Martha Washington's granddaughter Nelly Custis. She eventually became the personal attendant or body servant to Martha Washington.”

“Following Judge's 1796 escape, her younger sister, Delphy, became the wedding present to Martha Washington's granddaughter.”

What else have I missed?

Simply by looking up from my phone for a minute, I saw something that changed my perspective.

Until then, I had an almost cartoonish image of George Washington. I would think of him stoically crossing the Delaware in that famous painting. Or admitting to chopping down the apple tree as a boy (“I cannot tell a lie.”).

Of course he must have been more complicated than that, his ethics and values not nearly as lofty or even consistent as I had believed. Even just a few minutes of paying attention brought me closer to the truth, and to an appreciation for all the shades of gray in a world increasingly seeking black and white.

What else have I missed?

Preparing for your TED talk

Before you think “I’m not giving a TED talk,” you should know that there are 47 TEDx events happening today alone, and over 50,000 talks to date.

You should also know that the same lessons for creating a good TED talk can help you prepare for a wide range of big moments in your life.

Here are five things I learned from my TEDx experience that might help you.

"Working Out Loud: The making of a movement"

Learn the basics.

Public speaking is a skill like any other, meaning that you can readily get better at it. You can get better much more quickly by understanding what others have learned before you.

The book Resonate will help you craft a more engaging story that’s more likely to, well, resonate with your audience. Presentation Zen will make your slides better than 99% of most presentations. Talk Like TED will summarize the lessons of what makes for a good talk and provide and analyze excellent examples.

Then read what speakers write about their experiences, and watch as much as you can to refine your own taste of what you like and don’t like.

Doing this research helped me. Next time, I’ll do even more.

Make the audience the hero.

The initial drafts of my talk were too much about me and my own story. While some of that is necessary for context, the key is focusing on how you can help the audience. Though my talk was about “Working Out Loud: The making of a movement,” it would be more engaging and useful if it helped the audience with their own movements.

As Nancy Duarte says in Resonate, be more like Yoda than Luke Skywalker. Enable heroes instead of trying to be one.

Get live feedback earlier.

I waited too long to practice in front of a live audience. Although I solicited feedback on the script two months before the talk and went through many iterations, I waited until just 36 hours before the event to rehearse in front of friends. Not good.

I fell into a trap of thinking I had to memorize it first. But by then, I had become too attached to the material and had little time left for major changes. That made everything more stressful than it needed to be.

Keep working on it till it’s authentic.

I’ve always confused spontaneity with authenticity, figuring that practice would somehow make my talk feel artificial, literally “scripted.” Now it’s clear that was just an excuse to avoid work I found uncomfortable.

The truth is that it’s hard to be yourself when you’re struggling to recall what to say, particularly on camera. There is no substitute for putting in the time to memorize your material - to know it so well that it’s a part of you and you can offer it naturally.

Make it fun.

Perhaps this seems obvious. After all, it would be hard for the audience to enjoy my talk if I seem anxious and miserable on stage.

Yet, I almost failed on this point entirely. In my rehearsal just before the event, I was practically somber. I was so focused on not losing my place that I lost myself. My small audience had to tell me to “Put more of you into the talk.”

I tried making the talk a bit lighter, and even got a laugh on my second slide, but I have a long way to go before I can relate to this kind of audience like I relate to people in my other talks and in my every day.

Your second TED talk

Yes, the process was uncomfortable (and worse) at times, but going through it unlocked learning and possibilities, including the chance that I’ll be better next time - and less anxious.

Whether you’re about to deliver a TED talk or make a video or give a performance in your own living room, treating it as a learning experience is liberating. It might even be fun.

At approximately 4:03pm on Saturday, April 9th

I’m asking for a rather strange favor. My friend and coach, Eve, would call my request a bit “woo-woo.” That’s our way to describe mystical things we can’t explain but we think just might work.

Mystical - and maybe it works

This Saturday afternoon, I’ll be on stage at a TEDx event in New Jersey, delivering the most important presentation of my life.

I’ve been increasingly anxious about it for months. Though I’ve given many talks, this one is more like an 8-minute movie than a regular presentation. I’m acutely aware that every mistake I make will be amplified on video.

So here’s my woo-woo request. If you’re reading this before 4 o’clock this Saturday, would you think a positive thought for me? Perhaps send me a mental message encouraging me to act like myself instead of The Presenter. Or wish that the audience receives my talk as a gift and not an imposition. That instead of being nervous and tense, I project humility, openness, and happiness.

I’ll be sure to provide a detailed update next week. In the meantime, please #BringTheWoo.

Thank you!

Asking for help

If the first step to overcoming a problem is admitting that you have one, then consider this a first step for me. This week, I’m asking for advice instead of giving it.



Good news, bad news

Most of the work I’ve done on Working Out Loud has been solitary. Writing, Giving talks. Sending out books and peer support guides via email. Many people have contributed ideas and shaped this work – the acknowledgments are several pages long – yet looking back I see I’ve been doing things largely alone.

That worked well up until now. The book is finally ready (just need to approve the physical cover before it’s available on Amazon) and peer support groups are gradually spreading across 7 countries. There may be 1,000 of them by the end of the year.

But to help the millions of people I want to help, the movement needs things I can’t give it, or at least that I’m not good at. It needs better logistics, beautifully-designed materials, engaging short videos, and a long list of other things. Doing everything myself is limiting how quickly we can spread the practice and help more people. I have to make some changes.

When I ask & when I don’t

It’s not that I don’t like working with other people. I ask for help all the time – Would you mind looking at this draft? I’ve even written about ways to ask for help.

But usually I limit my requests to things that are reasonably small, like asking for ideas and opinions. When it comes to asking someone to do work, I freeze. I can pay someone to produce videos, for example, but even then I’m afraid of…something. Maybe it won’t be worth it. Maybe it won’t come out well. So I’m more comfortable doing it myself – “I’ll go to YouTube bootcamp!”

That approach will take too long as there’s too much I don’t know. Although I’ll benefit from the learning involved in doing things myself, if I’m going to help more people I’ll need to let go, take more risks, and start forming a team.

What would you do?

Amanda Palmer, singer, songwriter, deliverer of an excellent TED talk, wrote a helpful, intensely personal book called The Art of Asking based in part on her years as a performance artist on the street asking for contributions. This quote may hold some of the answers to why I’m reluctant to ask for help:

“Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me.

Asking with condescension says: I have the power over you.

But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.”

And this one:


“What was the difference between asking and begging?

A lot of people related their experience with their own local buskers: they saw their tips into the hat not as charity but as payment for a service.

If asking is a collaboration, begging is a less-conected demand. Begging can’t provide value to the giver; by definition, it offers no exchange….Asking is an act of intimacy and trust.”

Whether the issues are shame or trust or fear, it’s time for me to get over them. So here’s a commitment I’m going to make to myself:

  1. Pick the top 3 things I need to get done to improve and scale the Working Out Loud movement.
  2. Actively look for people who can help me.
  3. Trust enough to ask them to contribute or collaborate with me (paid or free).

What would you do? How do reach out to people to ask them to contribute or collaborate, to build something together that’s bigger than anything you could do alone?

The smartest kids in the world

My youngest daughter was doing fine in first grade. She was fluent in two languages, played piano, and seemed to enjoy school. The teachers and staff we met at our public school were dedicated and kind. Then, last summer, I got an education about what goes into making a great school and smart kids.

3 signs that something was missing

It was towards the end of the school year when we heard the second-grade student-teacher ratio would be 33:1. That seemed high, and my wife and I wondered how any adult could maintain order in such a class, never mind teach all those children.

Some friends were looking at private schools, and my wife suggested we find out more. But I resisted. I loved the sense of community at our local school. Besides, I said, “It’s only second grade.” When our daughter  seemed to struggle with math, we figured “maybe she’s just not good at math” and took solace in knowing she was good at languages and music.

We talked about this over dinner with my cousin, who founded the Milestone School in Mt. Vernon, NY. Her young students put on Shakespeare plays, learn a foreign language, and play chess. Her curriculum seemed fundamentally more rigorous. She taught me that, although our daughter was only in second grade, the skills and learning habits she acquired now were crucial for when things get more difficult in later grades.

Then in July we went to Japan and stayed with my sister-in-law’s family. Their kids attended public school but they also went to after-school sessions and did extra homework. We saw how even the younger child was doing math far beyond what our daughter was doing. She was embarrassed. So she took some of their worksheets and practiced. With a little help, she caught up in a few weeks.

If the US is 36th in math, who’s better?

The Smartest Kids in the WorldI saw that I had, in effect, completely outsourced my children’s education to a school and that was irresponsible. My wife and I started doing more research, which included reading an excellent book, The Smartest Kids in the World. It’s a book I strongly encourage every parent to read.

It’s from that book I learned about PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment. It’s a test aimed at gauging critical thinking in a standardized way around the world. The results for many countries are shocking. The US ranks 36th in math, on par with Lithuania and the Slovak Republic. Countries that spend far less per student than the US, including Finland and Poland, ranked much higher. Why?

Common suggestions are that the US has more diversity, more immigrants, or more poverty. But none of these are the cause of our educational issues. What the PISA data show and The Smartest Kids in the World brings to life is that three factors make the biggest difference:

Great teachers. In the education superpowers, teaching is a respected, competitive, well-paid profession. “Getting into a teacher-training program [in Finland] is as prestigious as getting into medical school in the United States.”

Higher expectations and more effort. The school days are longer and the curriculum is more rigorous.

A culture of learning. Students, teachers, and families all take school seriously because it is serious. Your performance in school often dictates your access to a better career and a better quality of life.

In some countries, access to such an education wasn’t a privilege but a right. “In the twenty-first century, it was easier for a poor person to get a great education in Finland than in almost any country in the world including the United States.” As one UK politician put it, “If you want the American dream, go to Finland.”

The best school

After reading The Smartest Kids, my wife and I were determined to be more engaged  in our children’s education. She spent weeks investigating the complex web of public, charter, and private schools. We watched chilling documentaries like The Lottery. We attended information sessions and spoke with other parents. BASIS Independent Brooklyn

We finally decided on Basis Independent, which was mentioned in the book. “At BASIS public charter schools in Arizona and Washington, D.C., teachers train students for academic conquests the way most American high schools train fort players for Friday night games.”

They were opening up a a new school in Brooklyn, kindergarten through 12th grade. We were awed by their curriculum: Mandarin and Engineering from the beginning, Latin in 4th grade, Logic in middle school.

I was lucky to attend a high school that changed my life. It was led by smart, accomplished professionals who had high expectations for us and pushed us to meet those expectations. I loved that school. At BASIS, it seemed like my children could have that experience starting at a much younger age.

So far, after more than half a year, the academics have surpassed our expectations. We’re also seeing two things we didn’t expect. The first is that the teachers and administration are providing a caring, nurturing environment. There’s rigor, for sure, but it’s backed up by a support system that helps each child through their individual challenges.

The biggest surprise has been my daughter’s reaction. It used to be a struggle to get her out of bed at 8am to walk the 2 blocks to school. Now, she’s up and eager at 6:30am to catch the bus. She loves her teachers and they’ve instilled in her a love of learning.

The smartest kids in the world don’t get that way because they’re rich or gifted. They’re smart because they have great teachers and high expectations, because they put in more effort, and because they’re surrounded by people focused on learning.

Every kid deserves a chance to be a smart kid.

“Because it’s the right thing to do.”

I’ve worked in banks for over 20 years and understand the range of issues people have with them. This week, though, I participated in an event that was unambiguously good. It was something that made me particularly proud to work for a bank. And something you could be part of, too.

Out on the Street

Out on the StreetThe extraordinary event was called the “LGBT Leadership Summit” and it was organized by a group called “Out on the Street”.

Out on the Street is the first lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) leadership organization created for Wall Street by Wall Street, and brings together LGBT and straight ally leaders from the international financial services industry to discuss vital issues, network, and collectively set a forward-looking agenda for the community on the Street.”

It was at Goldman Sachs’ headquarters and I was sitting with a few hundred people from dozens of financial services firms. We were in a beautiful auditorium, listening to fascinating panels: CEOs explaining why they cared; activists and lawyers discussing the issues; and lesbian executives talking about their day-to-day experiences.

Did you know...?

I was surprised to hear political conservative Ted Olson talk so eloquently about his reasons for arguing for gay marriage in front of the Supreme Court. A recent LA Times profile provided more detail:

“Olson says he doesn't think his politics have changed, though he concedes that he has ‘learned a lot’ about himself from the current case. He believes gay marriage is a conservative cause.

‘There are libertarian conservatives, fiscal conservatives and social conservatives,’ he said. ‘I feel conservative in terms of limited government, individual responsibility, self-sufficiency — that sort of thing.’

‘Why would [conservatives] be against individuals who wished to live together and have a stable, loving, long-term relationship?’”

And I learned about what corporations were doing. For example, one of the topics discussed throughout the day was gay marriage. I'd had no idea how many firms were providing so much support for it:

I was proud that my firm was one of over a dozen banks that signed that brief. And, listening to gay rights activists, I was amazed to hear them say how corporations were “way out in front” and “taking the lead” in prohibiting discrimination in the workplace.

But I was still wondering: why would they? Why would CEOs go to such lengths to support Out on the Street and LGBT issues?

When corporations are in touch with their humanity

Yes, they mentioned it was good for business. How important it was, for example, to attract the best talent no matter their sexual orientation or race or gender. But they also mentioned various difficulties: lost customers; pushback within their own organizations; friction with other firms.

Towards the end of the day, Lloyd Blankfein, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs, explained how he came to be such a visible supporter. It started when he was co-chariman of a group of NYC CEOs and same-sex marriage was being discussed among the group. Lloyd made a short video describing his position, and that video attracted more attention from the media and other groups. He didn’t see it as an extraordinary contribution but as taking part in a cultural shift that was overdue.

He joked that “If I’m on the right side of history and people give me credit, I’ll accept it.” And he wondered “How would you make the case for the other side?” Like Ted Olson, he talked about seeing the joy of two people getting married in states where gay marriage was approved. “Why would you want to take that away? Whom does it hurt?” 

Over the course of the day it was clear many of these business leaders didn’t aim to be out in front on LGBT issues but they also wouldn’t shy away from it. When people asked them why they would be involved despite some of the negative consequences, it kept coming back to a phrase that’s not often associated with corporations:

“Because it’s the right thing to do.”

Everybody’s issue

I used to think LGBT issues didn’t have anything to do with me because I’m not gay. Yet when I heard stories from panelists and learned about what they go through I felt differently. Women who’d been out for decades and yet still feel like they’re having to explain themselves every day, multiple times a day. Gay parents describing the awkward situations for them and their kids.

By the end of the day I understood that LGBT issues at work aren’t limited to people who fit neatly into the acronym. And it’s not just about gay marriage or benefits. It’s about creating a more humane workplace. About not discriminating and letting everyone bring their true selves to work.

That’s something we can all want. Something we can all contribute towards.

Dear reader

Thank you. I appreciate the time you spend reading what I write. I’m still nervous every Saturday morning when I hit the “Publish” button. But, after 75 posts, I’ve come to love writing them.

Looking back, I was curious to see which posts are the most popular and how they compare to the ones I liked writing or thought were most practical.

I thought you might be curious, too.

The 5 posts you liked the most 

Here are the top 5 posts in terms of views. “Working out loud” is the most popular by far with almost triple the views of any other post.

  1. “Working out loud”: Your personal content strategy
  2. When your audience says: “No time. No money. No thanks.”
  3. It’s about time: How changing a keystone habit at work might change everything
  4. Relationships and reputation in the enterprise: a course outline
  5. Why smart managers do stupid things

The 5 posts I most liked writing

Some posts are a joy to write. In some, I'm simply sharing stories or things I love. Others are cathartic essays, channeling a past frustration into a contribution that might help others.

  1. How’s work?
  2. When are the best years of your life?
  3. 10 gifts for that special someone (you)
  4. Hope in action: the story of the Makenaizou
  5. An idea for saving $10,000,000 + 10,000 lives
  6. 3 lessons from a forced career change
  7. The paradox of “they”

(Yes, I know there are 7, but I had difficulty choosing. :-))

The 5 most useful posts

At work, I find myself referring to certain posts - about life skills, commercial value, and tactics - over and over again. They've proven useful to people trying to change themselves or their firm.

  1. On presenting well
  2. Why you should write more (and the single best tip for doing so)
  3. The best approach to building relationships
  4. “Collective efficiency” - from possibilities to programs
  5. Driving enterprise change in a scalable way (Part 1 of 2)

Thank you

I am in your debt. Writing for you has opened up new possibilities for me and new ways of thinking. I’m more intellectually curious than ever. More social. More committed to making a difference, starting by making work better - more effective and more fulfilling.

I bet you didn’t know your reading a blog could do all that.

Thank you.

10 gifts for that special someone (you)

Are you happy?

You’re probably busy. And stressed. And have a full life. But happy?

“2300 years ago, Aristotle concluded that, more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. Much has changed since Aristotle’s time. And yet...we do not understand what happiness is any better than Aristotle did, and as for learning how to attain that blessed condition, one could argue we have made no progress at all.”

Happiness starts with you. (If you’re not happy, how can you make others happy?) So here are 10 investments you can make in yourself. 10 inexpensive ways to help you create, grow, learn, have fun, and connect.

1. Write.

Working on your writing is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Writing helps you clarify your thinking, is an outlet for expressing your ideas and opinions, and is one of the best ways to shape your reputation and give you access to opportunities.

Whether it’s with a moleskin or a MacAir, find a comfortable cafe and start writing more.

2. Curl up with a good book.

Reading Like a Writer” will give you a new appreciation for reading as well as writing. Reading is a way to learn, to escape, or to simply admire how language can be used by a master craftsperson.

Try some beautifully-crafted short stories like those in “Olive Kitteridge” or “Interpreter of Maladies” or in Hemingway’s complete collection.

3. Subscribe to TED talks. 

Perhaps one of the simplest yet most wondrous ways to learn is to watch TED talks. Every weekday, for free, you can get a world-class presentation delivered to your phone.

Where else could you hear from Seth Godin on driving change and Malcolm Gladwell on spaghetti sauce? Or, in a few engaging minutes, learn about stunning advances in computer viruses and bio-engineering? Or be inspired by an opera singer who wouldn’t let a double lung transplant stop her from singing?

Watch every talk or let serendipity be your guide. Being in the middle of such a confluence of fields and perspectives is where great ideas come from.

4. Speak up. 

Public speaking, like writing, is a valuable and eminently learnable skill. Improving your speaking is one of the best investments you can make in yourself and your career.

Two excellent books - “Presentation Zen” on visual design and “Resonate” on storytelling - will be enough to differentiate your talks from almost everyone else’s.

5. Eat well.

Good food, well-made, has always been one of life’s joys. But Michael Pollan can teach you to think about - and appreciate - where food comes from. “Omnivore’s Dilemma”  and “In Defense of Food” give you a balanced and informed way to think about food.

Far from constraining your choices, Pollan opens up your eyes to what good food can and should be like.

6. Move! (And get a fitibit to help you.) 

Sometimes we’re so fixated on gym memberships and particular routines that we forget the basics. Simple things like going for your annual physical or just walking more may be the best things you can do.

Get a fitbit (a small pedometer) and see how that little bit of feedback throughout the day can help you dramatically increase how much you walk.

7. Schedule time to play.

Why do weekly meetings fit so easily in your calendar but not a weekly date with your partner? Or play time with your kids?

Pull out your calendar and block off time for something different - a movie or a night of stories or a jigsaw puzzle. Having playtime in your life makes all the other hours richer, too.

8. Give thanks.

Sometimes the best way for you to feel good is to recognize someone for something they’ve done.

A hand-written letter, now more than ever, shows you care. And the response you’ll get will make you feel wonderful.

9. Give back.

Don’t just hope the world gets better. Put hope in action. It’s easier than ever to give and also to get feedback on the difference you’re making.

Become part of a movement like KivaWaterAid, and Donors Choose. Donations to these organizations are truly gifts that keep on giving.

10. Finally, the best being present.

One of the best gifts I ever received was a small booklet titled “be free where you are.”

The book made me aware that I was always looking ahead or looking behind. And how I was missing the only moment I was truly alive - the present moment.

From now on, I don’t want expensive stuff. I want to invest in my happiness instead.

Life is a verb. Go live it.

A simple and effective recognition system

I was recently working with a group that wanted to recognize collaborative behavior and inspire more people to work that way.

Pretty quickly, we started talking about badges and point systems. But these kinds of systems are hard to get right, often producing unintended consequences.

As we wrestled with producing something new, it occurred to me that we weren’t making use of methods we already had.

So, if you’re trying to engender more collaboration, here are 5 basic things you can do right now.

1. Formalize a few collaboration roles

People can certainly volunteer to collaborate, but there are limits to what purely voluntary grassroots efforts can accomplish.

One of the best ways to let employees know that your organization is serious about collaboration is to formally recognize key collaborative roles.

“...grassroots change movements as diverse as charities, open-source software, and crowd-sourced content actually all have well-defined structures.

Even in wikipedia, in which anyone can make an edit, there are key roles of administrators, bureaucrats, and stewards, each with clear guidelines on what to do and how to do it.”

Formal roles recognize the additional contributions of certain people while signaling the entire organization that collaborative work is important.

Thing to do: Approach your HR staff with some specific job descriptions that fit collaborative work in your firm. If you don’t have any clear roles, then consider forming internal communities of practice as a way to bootstrap your company’s social business efforts. Roles like Community Leader and Community Manager are then natural roles to add.

2. Get the boss to write a letter

Does this sound old-fashioned? Yes.

Yet, even with the social business revolution, your boss still matters. As long as there is an org chart, it’ll be the hierarchy that determines pay and promotion.

So, a simple thing like a letter from a manager recognizing collaborative effort makes a difference. It’s a formal statement to the employee - and to all the people he tells about it - that collaboration is recognized and rewarded.

Thing to do: every time you see collaborative work worth recognizing, write it up and send it to the person’s manager with the suggestion they send the employee a letter.

3. Use existing awards

Many firms already have awards to recognize employees. They tend to be great for the individual but they recognize a very broad range of achievements.

By submitting applications based specifically on collaborative achievements, you’ll be using another formal mechanism to endorse collaborative work.

Thing to do: submit an application for a specific example of collaborative work. Then, tell everyone else who cares about collaboration to do the same. Helping a greater share of public awards go to collaborative work helps demonstrate the importance of collaboration.

4. Use existing communication channels

The people in your internal communications department are hungry for stories of good work going on throughout the firm.

You’d be making their job easier - and using one of the best recognition channels in your firm - by writing up stories for them. A story in your division’s newsletter or on the company portal goes a long way to raising awareness about the kind of work the firm values.

Thing to do: write up a story of collaborative work and send it to your local comms person. Then share the story widely once it's published.

5. Say “Thank you”

Finally, the simplest of all techniques is a hand-written thank you note:

“A personal note written by your own hand inside matters far more than a few lines of type into a window that’s so easily available at your fingertips. It shows you care enough to take an extra step.”

Thing to do: buy a pack of Thank You cards and a nice pen and tell someone you appreciate the way they collaborate.

It starts with you

You can recognize someone today with a simple thank you note. Or send a story of remarkable collaborative work to a person’s manager or your communications person. More formally, you can submit someone’s work for an internal award or talk to HR about new roles. Or start a community of practice if you don’t have such roles.

You can do any of those things now. Or you can wait for a new system or for someone else to organize something.

If you truly want to change how your firm works, which one will you choose?