Monday, September 27, 2010

Art of Procrastination

Why do we like to procrastinate? The old maxim of "what can be done today should be put off until tomorrow" is as fresh nowadays as a nice bunch of asparagus at a farmer's market on an early Saturday morning.

The reasons may be numerous, and all of them relate to the intrinsic "lazy" component of the human nature. We know about procrastination that:

  • an activity will take all the time allocated to that activity -> make sure you set up earlier timelines to avoid last-minute fixes and unnecessary stress;
  • people over-rely on their abilities -> point out the impact of unpredicted circumstances and underestimated complexity of the task;
  • "inshallah" mentality is deeply ingrained in our consciousness (it will somehow happen) -> most difficult procrastination cause to battle... guess tightening the bolts and clearer accountability assignment with transparent consequence management measures will be best.
After all, much depends on the culture of the organization, and culture, as we know is a collective phenomenon of the mentality sets of its members. Everything begins with working on an individual basis and ultimately it ends there as well. Why isn't it as easy as a piece of machinery???

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Creative Resumes

A couple of nice companies are coming to the campus a week from now, and I was thinking of making something special for a couple of them, like - preparing a creative resume. After all, I need to stand out from the crowd of job-eager throat-cutting crowd of mighty MBA candidates. The question is how far do I want to stand out.

I started searching for creative resume templates, and stumbled across this web page: Some of those are truly awesome and would definitely catch my eye if I were hiring. 

Has anyone had experience with people sending you out-of-the-way resumes? How did you go about it?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Stress continued.

OK, now that we know what stress is and how stressed we are, it's time to find out what we can do about it. As I have mentioned before, a healthy dose is good, as it pushes our limits and raises us to new performance levels. For example, when you go to the gym and push 5 kg more than you did yesterday, you are stressing your muscles and the body response makes you stronger. Same with your nervous system: the ability to recognize and experience stress in a correct way makes you stress-resilient.

Here is the menu - it is not MECE (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustible), but this will keep you busy for a while...
  • Physical exercise is the best tension reliever. Half an hour of physical exercise (cardiovascular takes the cake) can do wonders to your feeling of gloom and depression. The rule is that AM is to energize and PM is to relax/destress. Yet, a word of caution: don't overdo it. I recall seeing a cartoon of a fish in a fish tank saying to itself, "I swam 32 847 laps today and I'm still stressed out!"
  • Ventilation. You need someone to talk to... to someone who will not start solving your problems. Share your problems and concerns with others. Develop a support system of relatives, colleagues or friends to talk to when you are upset or worried. "Dear diary..." works too.
  • Transference: hold a rock in your hand and envision all your stress and anxiety flowing through your fingers and palm into the rock. After you "feel" that the bad stuff has been transferred to the rock, throw the rock away or bury it or toss it into running water. Another cool transference technique is an imaginary balloon that you tie to your wrist and let go when it's full with your negative emotions and pain.
  • Humor and Laughter Therapy. The simple truth is that happy people generally don't get sick. Laughter stimulates the immune system, offsetting the immunosuppressive effects of stress. The ability to laugh at a situation gives us a feeling of superiority and power. Just think about all the positive effects of laughter: muscle relaxation, reduction of stress hormones, immune system enhancement, pain reduction, cardiac exercise and others.
  • Music. Listening to music does wonders to alleviate stress. It has always been a great healer. There is no universal rule, which music will be right for you - it is strictly individual - try and pick for yourself. However, generally, if you are seeking relaxation, go for tracks with less than 60 bits per minute. Water Suite is a great album to start with.
  • Progressive Relaxation (or PMR) is a technique for reducing anxiety by alternately tensing and relaxing the muscles developed by Edmund Jacobson. You can find a wide variety of exercises using PMR by simply googling it.
  • Imagery. Surround yourself with images of what you like, what makes you feel good, relaxed, what takes you away from the current situation and helps you look at the current problems from an outer perspective. The so-called, double-loop learning starts here: by taking yourself out of the equation, you get the external view of what is really happening, and it helps you re-frame the issue.
  • Breathing. Breathing properly is difficult. Most people do not know how to breathe. Breathing from your chest is not economical and may increase tension, simply because our lungs are not large enough to contain a lot of air, when we need it in situations of high distress. Thus, abdominal breathing is what we have to practice. You can get the basics of proper breathing in any yoga class, and there is a plenitude of exercises you can find online.

Good luck!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Do you know that if you throw a frog into a bowl of boiling water, it will jump out of it (somehow frogs have such ability). However, if you put it in a bowl of cold water and start heating it up, the frog will boil alive.

Same with stress - we are unable to feel incremental adjustments of demands, workload, emotional tension, etc., so long before we know it, we are stressed. That is the main problem with it: the first symptoms are only recognizable way after you have passed the ZONE stage. The ZONE is the area of your peak performance in medium stress level. Correct, a healthy dose of stress is good, because it makes you stronger, faster and smarter, but excessive amounts of stress will make you disengage from the world and your brain will send you a message that you are in a threat.

Staying stressed for a short period of time is OK, like, for instance, during the exam week. You mobilize your internal resources and pull it off even if you have not studied at all throughout the term. Still, if the stress is perpetual (i.e. there is constant stress hormones secretion), it attacks the weakest part of your body and starts eroding you from there. High stress equals to direct physical pain. And it is not only about "them". How often do you convince yourself that it's other people who are prone to stress and that you can handle it? It is about everyone. Strongest people are more prone to stress because they take on more and more and do not want to show signs of weakness.

What is worse, stress has residual effects. It resides in personal, group and corporate memory. It has the ability to reinforce itself and self-generate without a direct stimulus.

Thus, you are an exploited human being if you allow such things to happen!!! well, those things make you feel important, but at the end of the day, you are stressed!

Why don't you take 2 minutes of your time and do a quick stress level test:

If you score high, do not freak out: there are many ways how you can manage your stress, and I will write about a couple of those fairly soon.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ethics is not desired at MBA schools

Today's Cost Accounting Class was more of an Organizational Behavior discussion. We were talking about the ways people take decisions, and whether those decisions are based on hard and rational facts or sentiments and other considerations, such as other people of this vague notion of ethics. The outcome of the discussion was that there are no "hard" and "accurate" facts, and all information can be tweaked to satisfy and fit this or that specific story. Imminently, the questions of the validity of the MBA education popped up.

Our professor mentioned a book, in which a former MBA student accused her school of giving her a wrong type of education - focused on the bottomline and profit as the ultimate factors of success. Thinking wider, this is a major drawback of most schools topping the ranking lists - Harvard Business School, London School of Business, or even IMD. IE Business School, luckily, stands slightly aside from that general cohort with a differentiated focus on entrepreneurship, sustainability and social responsibility. At least, we hear those nice things quite often.

Another interesting point that we picked up was that some of my classmates (and I have no reasons not to believe it, as I am aware of some of the personal stories) are in the same class with me because they lost their jobs because of the crisis, attributed to over-relying on the financial side of the MBA programs. Some schools were directly blamed for the crisis. So, now those (un?)fortunates are doing their MBAs. Vicious circle?

In my opinion, the curricula need to be reviewed, but if all of a sudden the business schools start producing armies of environment-conscious, people-loving and sustainability-concerned professionals, won't it cause the opposite effect? Finding the balance is going to be hard, and the battle field may not be in the corporate boardrooms or at government offices but in the classrooms of the elite educational providers across the globe.

Friday, September 17, 2010

I am not a HORSE!

Look carefully at the picture below and answer honestly if you felt like this at least once when it comes to management expectations of your performance:
The ability to balance others' expectations of you with your personal objectives and your own notion of work/life balance might be the only key to success of winning this rat race called "career advancement".

My advice is not scientific at all, but it proved sensible over the years:

  • say "no". Nobody can make you do something, it is always your own choice. However, a bit of diplomacy and tact won't hurt. Try getting back to your boss with something like, "This is such a great opportunity! I definitely can get on board with this. Which of my current tasks and responsibilities do you want me to drop?" Trust me: you will be in a much better bargaining position after having said that and you'll feel great of not being the door mat once again.
  • remember that you are not a horse. I love horses, don't get me wrong, I truly believe they are the most beautiful animals with the saddest eyes you can imagine. I am using the concept of a work horse here, one that is tugging the plow and only praying for soon and imminent death. There are things in your life outside of the office, or are there?
  • be visible. Don't let your colleagues (and particularly your boss) doubt the fact that you are loaded 130%. Don't miss a chance to share some big project your are working right now, always carry a sophisticated-looking chart of a presentation and ensure that at social mixers you rub shoulders with big shots praising your boss's visionary leadership of guiding you on those high-profile endeavors. You will see that after that you will be encouraged to work on the projects you like and you will be able to sweep the less desirable part of your portfolio into someone else's backyard.
  • believe in your own worth. This has nothing to do with arrogance or blind overestimation of own capabilities. Know your market value, know what is reasonable and unreasonable to demand of you, and what is your real value-adding contribution to the organization you are working for. Walking into a negotiation from the position of power gives you the edge you need to get ahead.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How well do you spell?

This is not a spelling bee competition invite. This is more of an opinion poll. Something I have been thinking about for a while and since my worst worries are being reconfirmed now by my fellow students and professors, it's high time we have a heart-to-heart on this.

I am a purist and a perfectionist when it comes to commas, hyphens, word order and, first and foremost, spelling. If you are producing a document that you are going to share with someone other than your mother, please make sure you proofread it and rid the text of any errors it might contain. I realize that minding your aposiopeses and chiasmi is maybe too much to be asking of, but basic grammar and correct spelling is a must. Or is it?

I was schooled in an old-fashioned way, when points were taken out in a Maths paper if you misspelt a word. Now that I am doing my MBA, professors preach that they do not care about grammar or spelling as long as the questions are answered and the points are addressed. I think that allowing this in an academic environment might send a message that back in the workplace it's even more OK. Am I being a pain in the neck going on about it? After all, nobody is shocked anymore at "donut", "thruput" or "cul8r". The question I am trying to contemplate is what a regular employee (let's assume, well-schooled) think of a boss who is struggling with the plain English language. I do not consider business English particularly creative or difficult - after you've come to terms with a few buzz words or phrases, you can be released into the wild without adult supervision. Still, I tend to get cross with people sending me e-mails or reports (or even worse - presentations) containing mistakes.

What's your take on this?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Electronic Resources for Landing the Best Job

After a second session with Mr. Daniel Porot on job search and career management, it has become clear that:

  • best resume is no resume and CV is a curse word
  • postpone salary negotiation until the recruiter is ready to pull out the torture instruments
  • you are not selling, they are buying
I don't know if I am fully convinced by these approaches, but definitely they would work, perhaps, in the majority of the situations. Not if you are dealing with a professional recruiter though. That's why Porot is an ardent advocate of targeting the hidden market and approaching anyone but HR.

Some of the tools that I find particularly interesting (or at least unorthodox) in the process of job search. I do not promulgate their use - simply alerting you to their existence...

Free Mind. A mind mapper, and at the same time an easy-to-operate hierarchical editor with strong emphasis on folding. These two are not really two different things, just two different descriptions of a single application. Often used for knowledge and content mgmt. Downloadable from many sites, for instance, this one. Alternative software: NovaMind, xMind. These easy-to-use tools will help you understand better your strong points and make connections between your past work experiences, which might result in unique combinations, making you a unique professional in a particular area.

WORDLE. Wordle is a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. The images you create with Wordle are yours to use however you like. You can print them out, or save them to the Wordle gallery to share with your friends. Why is it useful? Simply take a couple of job ads of positions/industries you are interested in and put them into Wordle. You will get a list of key words, which should be incorporated into your CV, making it stronger and more attractive to your prospective employers. 

WebMii. An interesting toy to discover your popularity index. Use WebMii to find out how frequently you are mentioned in the world wide web. "Sergey Gorbatov" returned a pitiful 2.9 score, and I am sure you are going to do much better. WebMii will help you see if there is anything on the Internet that you are unhappy about - references, pictures, links, etc., which might raise an eyebrow or two of a recruiter who will be doing background checks on your candidacy.

123People. The idea is largely similar to WebMii, but the outcome you are getting provides more information. Log onto and find out (sometimes surprising) facts about yourself: blog, documents, videos, pictures, links, new, IMs, microblogs and others. Be particularly careful about this one, as it captures bits and pieces of your IM conversations.

Suicide Machine. The essence of this web service is best described in an article from Time magazine:
Need to disappear from Facebook or Twitter? Now you can scrub yourself from the Internet with Web 2.0 Suicide Machine, a nifty service that purges your online presence from these all-consuming social networks. Since its Dec. 19 launch, Suicide Machine has assisted more than 1,000 virtual deaths, severing more than 80,500 friendships on Facebook and removing some 276,000 tweets from Twitter.
 Happy experimenting!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Finding strengths

StrengthsFinder 2.0: From the Author of the Bestseller WellbeingHave you heard of StrengthsFinder 2.0? I am sure this title has sent a number of my group mates into shudders. Some don't like, others are fascinated by the outcomes, but one thing that nobody can negate is that it is one of those rare personality assessments that focus on the strengths rather than on weaknesses.

From early childhood on, we are being reproached for what we are bad at, but rarely are we praised on our strong points. Why? Because the society likes to hold firm stereotypes of what we should be and once we wander away from the "ideal" picture, there is always a hammer to bang us back down. When you are a genius in Literature and failing in Maths, you will be sent to Maths courses and will have to spend innumerable hours with private teachers and Maths problems, rather than reading more books and honing what you have a natural talent for. It's time to shift the perspective.

StrengthsFinder helps you identify 5 areas (talents) that are your natural strengths. It was fascinating for me to go through the discovery process. At first, I read the book and tried to guess what my 5 talents were. Then I asked a friend who knows me well to guess what those were for me. After that we compared the two lists. Finally, I took the test. The interesting part is that none of us were able to guess more than 3, and two strengths came out of nowhere, but now that I am looking at the definitions, I can surely see myself in those.

The big question is, as always, what am I going to do with the results? Well, the first thing that I did was incorporating some of the strengths and the wording from the book into my resume and it does look nicer. Secondly, I used this concept at the interview when I was going through the assessment center at DHL. I was asked why I believed I would make a good consultant and I compared the qualities I thought a good consultant would possess to the 5 talents identified through SrengthsFinder. I am not claiming it helped greatly, but I got the offer. Thirdly, this assessment provides some suggestions on how you can build up even further in your self-development. After all, we all grow from the positive and strong, not the negative and weak.

If you have not read the book yet, I would definitely recommend, but take it with a pinch of salt. As everything in this world, nothing is definitive, not even death and taxes.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bosses matter

Think about your three last bosses. Which of them are you genuinely grateful to for your professional and personal development? What was your experience of a WOW boss? When you go for a new job, either in your current company or a new one, do you go for a position or a boss?

Some advocate that bosses should not be a reason in the future job decision making as there are cases when you are interviewed by one person, but when you actually start the job a month later, that person is no longer there and you are all of a sudden report to a complete stranger. At the same time, there is a different camp of thought: bosses ultimately define the quality and success/failure of your job.

This article in McKinsey Quarterly talks about the importance of bosses in our everyday lives:
They matter because more than 95 percent of all people in the workforce have bosses, are bosses, or both. They matter because they set the tone for their followers and organizations. And they matter because many studies show that for more than 75 percent of employees, dealing with their immediate boss is the most stressful part of the job. Lousy bosses can kill you—literally. A 2009 Swedish study tracking 3,122 men for ten years found that those with bad bosses suffered 20 to 40 percent more heart attacks than those with good bosses.
I have been blessed in my life with bosses. Most of my professional growth and learning have come from them, and I religiously stay in contact with them, as they have grown into more friends/mentors/counselors rather than "just a boss". And I hear the stories from people who had disastrous experiences with their "corporate parents". Still, whenever we start playing Who-Had-The-Worst-Boss game, I always lose. Am I damn lucky or is it true that there are more good bosses than bad ones?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Of age and cheese

Career session today. Main takeaway: do not provide any information about yourself that is revealing and can impede your chances to get closer to the coveted position. In practical terms:
  • No references to your age
  • No mentioning of nationality, race or religion. Instead of wiring "Sergey Gorbatov" write "S. Gorbatov" (well, in my case is sort of obvious but if you have an Arabic name or don't want to disclose your gender, think of creative ways to disguise it)
  • provide info only when asked for!!! --- make them interested.
From this perspective, job search is like screening potential marriage partners, you flirt a lot. Unfortunately, the reverse it true. If you played your cards wrongly, the consequences are ghastly to contemplate...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Vampires, Boomerangs and Rabbits

Have you ever thought what type of problems surround you on a day-to-day basis? There is a theory I have been sticking to for quite a while. Tried googling it, but little luck, so not sure where it is coming from, and at the same time don't want to attribute it totally to myself.
There are three types of problems that you want to avoid, and each type needs to be dealt differently with:
  • Vampires: those suck your life out of you until you cannot concentrate on anything else and they they finish you with a classic bite-'n-suck.
  • Boomerangs: no matter how far you throw them and how much force you apply, they keep coming back to you, bringing new stuff to deal with directly proportionate to the effort you took in order to get rid of them.
  • Rabbits: these small balls of hair, nuisance and noise appear from nowhere, like bats from the belfry, cause havoc and destruction and sometimes disappear just as quickly. Can be harmless, but often need too many resources to be localized and slaughtered for consumption.
How do you deal with those? One thing is clear: you have other more important stuff to deal with apart from these three non-value adding types of distraction. Great if you have a personal guardian angel in the flesh of a crisis manager, who thrives in chaos. Great if you can afford an expensive consultant to spend hours of his or her time running around with spreadsheets and presentations. Great if you can outsource the whole bloody thing. But what if you cannot, or if it concerns you personally and not the business you are working in? What can you recommend?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mobile Job Search

In a rather insightful article in The Washington Post you can learn how your job search can be facilitated with the help of modern technology, particularly the smartphone applications. It looks like those snazzy little intelligent machines are becoming a sine qua non of today's life. Scary... Adapt or die.

What are the must-have mobile apps for job seekers? Consider these, in addition to LinkedIn, Twitter and Craigslist:

-- iJob delivers "millions of jobs to your iPhone" and allows keyword searches.

-- BeamMe is a free universal business card exchange on your BlackBerry or iPhone.

-- LinkUp allows you to search company Web sites for jobs by keyword, location and category and apply from your iPhone.

-- Real-Time Jobs analyzes, indexes and makes searchable Twitter status updates so you can identify job openings.

-- lets you take the job search engine with you, including recent searches and jobs added since your last search.

-- TwitterFon keeps up to date with Twitter so you can send or reply to tweets.

-- Hire*A*Droid, a job-search app for Android users, supports LinkUp, Indeed and SimplyHired, allowing users to find job listings fast.

-- reviews iPhone apps in business, productivity and many other subjects.

-- offers Web sites, apps and tips for productivity.

-- CNET has a mobile download section with reviews, lists and news at

Monday, September 6, 2010

Support Blood Red Monday 06 September 2010 – Say NO to CRIME in South Africa

Today is a Blood Red Monday in South Africa: an example of SYMBOLIC MANAGEMENT in public administration:

  • sends a strong message: on a deep emotional level (reference to spilled blood)
  • raises awareness
  • creates a sense of belonging by using same symbolic attributes (color red)
Classical example often used in politics (best campaigns would have a kick-line, e.g. Obama for Change, a visual attribute, e.g. a clenched fist for ANC, and a mass outreach: make sure your message cascades all the way down through the organization).


 Support Blood Red Monday – Say NO to CRIME in South Africa
image source:

Support Blood Red Monday – Say NO to CRIME in South Africa

  • Are you a victim of crime?
  • Do you know someone that is a victim of crime?
  • Are you sick and tired about the crime in South Africa?
  • Do you want to make a stand against crime?
Stand up united and  Support Blood Red Monday – Say NO to CRIME in South Africa campaign
Crime is getting out of hand in the country. Our streets are flowing of blood from all the victims of crime. Crime is something you can't see. All victims of crimes feel isolated.  If you wear red on a monday, it will make  CRIME visible and known
All you have to do is wear something RED on Monday.
You could wear :
  • a red shirt,
  • red tie,
  • red ribbon,
  • red arm band,
  • red bracelet,
  • red scarf,
  • red hat,
  • red tshirt,
  • red dress,
  • red shoes
  • red clown nose.
Anything red. (we won't notice the undies though)
Enough is enough. We will not be oppressed by criminals in this country.
IF we stand together we can take back peace in our homes and  lives. We fought apartheid we can fight crime.
In reality there are only a small percentage of tsotsi's that are giving our country a bad name and putting fear in us.
Aims of  Blood Red Monday – Say NO to CRIME in South Africa:
  1. Awareness that there is a crime problem
  2. people to identify with each other that there is a crime problem
  3. people to share their  crime problem with each other
  4. To discuss and find out the root cause of the crime problem
  5. Find the solution to the crime problem
  6. Eventually combat and act against the crime problem
Maybe, just maybe, we all can stand united and fight crime together.
Let's take a stand against crime in our beautiful land.

In memory of all the lives lost to crime.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Larks Attack Owls

I could not pass by this beautiful Facebook comment exchange yesterday. Two of my classmates were clearly expressing their circadian cycle preferences using the modern social media platform.

There are mountains of research on phychophysiological differences in those who prefer to wake up early in the morning opposed to the lazy bags opening their eyes in time for brunch (by the way, I am pretty sure that the idea of "brunch" is attributed to an "owl"). Most often, in scientific and popular literature those types are referred to as "larks" and "owls", which quite accurately pins down the major characteristics of those who enjoy their 7 am breakfast with orange juice and croissants and those who can sleep through a nuclear explosion until it's time to wake up somewhere around lunch. If we try to summarize such differences, Harvard Business Review published a nice comparison table in their latest issue:

  • Morning People: agreeable, optimistic, stable, proactive, conscientious, satisfied with life
  • Evening People: creative, intelligent, humorous, extroverted, pessimistic, neurotic, depressed
I am not sure how much I am willing to believe that, after all, I am a very much an evening person, but anyone who tells me that I am pessimistic and depressed is getting spat at. One thing we cannot deny though, and it is that our bodily functions are to a large extent governed by the circadian rhythms, which are illustrated in the following picture:
It basically tells us what our body should (supposedly) do at different times of the day. There is a reason for siestas, believe me. That reason is a circadian cycle! Your body wants to rest after lunch, as your heart rate and blood pressure go down while sugar levels rise. Spaniards are wise people!

Now, what do you do if you like to sleep in, but your work requires you to come in early? Tough. Most likely you will have to shift your daily pattern. Good news - it is possible. Not optimal though. Optimal body functioning is following your circadian rhythm and it is highly individual. When I first arrived in South Africa, my boss informed me that the starting time at the office was 8 am and most people actually arrived at 7 am (in South Africa it is customary to get up with the sun, which is around 4.30-5 am in summer). The look of utter bewilderment on my face somewhat took him aback, so we were able to negotiate the 9.30 am starting time just for me.

Now, an intriguing part of the HBR article: morning people get promoted, while evening people are now the minority of the business world and as they put it "the next diversity frontier". That is indeed an interesting way to look at it, but to be fair, in the recent years it has become extremely popular to introduce flexible schedules and be more understanding towards those who hate the smell of morning latte. Thus, the issue of chronotypes is open and I am keen to find out what will come out of the studies next.

And while we are still on the topic, I would like to share a poem I learnt at school, which provides an alternative perspective on the entire subject:

If you are a bird, be an early bird,
And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.
If you are a bird, be and early, early bird,
But if you are a worm, sleep late!


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