Tag Archives: Problem solving

A Once Familiar Route, or Planning to be Disoriented

Every once in a while I become aware of the changes that have occurred in my routine for various reasons.  For years I headed east from my house – for work, family, errands.  Everything that I needed or wanted was pretty much east with the rare exception.  When my workplace actually moved closer to my home, my usual radius became about 6 miles, mostly east.

 

And then my life changed and now my well-worn route is south and north.  Work is south, with a slight alteration thanks to the onset of construction season.  (A quarter mile section of my regular road is being completely replaced, requiring me to go over a mile out of my way…)  New personal commitments and interests send me north several times a month.  Occasional jaunts take me to once familiar areas east of my house.

 

But I digress.  A person that I know is starting a new job this week, and my one of my sons started a new job a couple of weeks back.  Both are pleased with the opportunity for full time employment.  Both are interested in doing a good job and succeeding.

 

A new job is exciting. But it is also unfamiliar and disorienting.  A new routine, all new co-workers, tasks, procedures, culture, etc.  When we start a new job, we look forward to the additional money, the opportunities to use our skills.  We forget to think about the disorientation – all those new names and faces, the different commute – so much change.  That disorientation can really bite hard.

 

It wasn’t so long ago that I was in the midst of it myself.  At least being a writer helped me because of the necessary skills in observation and identification.  I never stopped being able to identify with new people at my previous job.  To help them to understand why their head was spinning.  Even still, I had to have more than one talk with myself when starting my current job to remember the plan.

 

How can a person plan to be disoriented?  A big part of the plan is just that – to know that it will happen, that it is a normal part of a new experience.  Normal means it happens to almost everyone.  The next part of the plan is to know that it is temporary.  Fairly quickly something will seem familiar, and then another something and another.  Friendly faces will offer assistance, ease the transition.

 

There is so much to learn and acclimate to in a new job, many go from being the person that everyone goes to for the answer to the person who feels lost.  But you are still you.  You still have the skills that got you the job, they just have to be applied in this unfamiliar place.

 

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Long ago this was a familiar route to me.

Things that we look forward to – a baby, a job, a house, a move, a marriage – are stressful because everything that was once familiar suddenly is shifted and disorienting.  If it was an anticipated change we have trouble figuring out why we are discombobulated, disoriented and we get frustrated.

 

Sometimes familiar routes cease to be current routes, but fairly quickly the new route becomes familiar.

 

© 2015 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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Number Stories

(Originally posted on 9/25/14 to a shared blog – http://blogtowork.wordpress.com/2014/09/25/number-stories/)

photo credit: Huffington Post

photo credit: Huffington Post

Math and numbers have never resonated for me the way that words do.  I understand that they have a practical use – at least basic math – and appreciate knowing how to use them for things like balancing my checkbook.  And I’ve always been happy to know people who really get numbers so I can ask them for help when things get beyond basic.  It has only been in recent years that I have discovered an area of numbers that really is fascinating – statistics.

 

Statistics are stories told with numbers.  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me?  Not story problems like why did the train go faster from station a to station b or whatever nonsense.  No, number stories – data meets the story arc.  Very intriguing.

 

Why am I bringing this up here?  Because job search is loaded with statistics, some of them quite contrary, and all of it worthy of some attention by job seekers.  We all know about the unemployment rate, at least the national one that is regularly reported on the evening news.  But there are state and regional unemployment rates.  Rates based on ethnicity and age group, level of education and industry segment (healthcare, manufacturing, service, etc.).  Oh and make sure that you know how it is calculated because that is a whole other facet of the story for this number.

 

What about the workforce participation rate?  I don’t remember ever hearing about this one until the Great Recession.  This one is the percentage of adults who are working for pay.  This number is also at an all-time (read since this has been tracked, I believe starting somewhere in the 1970s) low and seems to be dropping.  The story is in understanding better why it is dropping.  And in comparing this data to the unemployment rate – if the unemployment rate is dropping, why is the workforce participation rate also dropping?

 

Then there is the job opening ratio – the number of posted open positions juxtaposed with the number of qualified applicants who are actively looking.  This seems to be coming down a bit, there aren’t quite so many qualified applicants for each open position, but still too many for the comfort of each job seeker.  This is the number that directly affects another number – the average number of weeks or months it can take someone to land their new position.  Last year I know that this average was hovering around eight months.

 

There are plenty of other statistics, but you get the idea.  These numbers aren’t just for the media and politicians to bandy about – there are lives behind each one.  Stories of individuals affected, but also of how the information is collected and applied.  The statistic isn’t the end of the story, but the beginning.

 

It comes down to your number story, which is quite simple.  Back to basic math; one person who needs one suitable position.  At least knowing some of these number stories can give you discussion points with Aunt Betty the next time she asks you again why you don’t have a job.

Running Inner Commentary

There was a noontime broadcast this week for Chicago’s current heroes – the team that won US Little League Champs, Jackie Robinson West – that reminded me of the worst trait of commentators.  Their inane blather to fill the air while we wait for the event, or the next stage of the event.  I’ve only watched Netflix or streamed shows on the computer for the past year and so I had forgotten.  But then it made me think of something else that I think is interesting.

 

There are parts of the brain that keep up a running commentary – did you remember to bring your phone, haven’t made an appointment to get your teeth cleaned yet, oops your cousin’s birthday is coming up.  This is the part of the brain that sometimes doesn’t want to cool it so you can sleep.  The part of the brain that spews your self-talk.

 

Notice how my brain commentary examples are slightly or definitely of a negative bent?  Your failings – real and potential – on a permanent loop inside your head.  Yippee.  Or how about; so busy, can’t keep up, busy, busy, busy.

 

sometimes my thoughts resemble my niece's zendoodle

sometimes my thoughts resemble my niece’s zendoodle

All of it just about as useful as the filler from those news commentators.

 

Do you ever stop and listen to these thoughts looping through your head?  Somewhere in the past few years I did start to realize how unhelpful these thoughts usually are and started to challenge them.  When the thought ‘you can’t do that’ came up I asked why not.  When they said ‘busy, busy’ I asked how productive.  And so on.

 

Not every day, but regularly enough that I think it has made a difference.  Of course sometimes I have to agree because I really do need to make that appointment for the dental cleaning and my cousin’s birthday is coming up fast.  Now if I could just get the thoughts to look up the number for the dentist and make the call.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Here You Go

Problem solving has been an important part of my job description for as long as I can remember.  I like to put on the detective hat and sift through things to find the parts that are important, put them together in the right configuration and arrive at a solution.  Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward to figure out and sometimes plenty about the situation is a bit ambiguous.

 

There is one thing about problem solving that got old a long time ago, but is part and parcel of the problem solver’s lot in my experience.  It is the person who makes it a habit to hand over partial information, or fragments here and there in multiple email or phone messages.  They want you to solve it, but they can’t be bothered to try to put anything together in any sort of cohesive single place.

 

public domain image

public domain image

I’ll take the person who isn’t sure what they want or need kind of problem over the person who dumps a mess every time.  Most times.  Every once in a while I use the big mess as an excuse to be left alone to puzzle it all into something coherent.  But mostly I see it as a different facet of rude.  That person’s time is more important than mine.  (Though I concede that there may be other ways of looking at it…)

 

Sigh.  Focus on the boost that I hope to get upon resolution and not on the drudgery of slogging through the junk. This is why there are stories of the really good stuff one can find hidden in junk.  Think of ways to prevent the junk dump from repeat offenders.  Get caught up in the chase for the best solution.

 

Don’t be a here you go, dump and run person.  Please.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

Unintentional Teamwork

Not only is it still allergy season for me, I am getting over a summer cold therefore I had facial tissues on my store list.  The smaller cube shaped boxes fit well in my bathroom and I was down to my last box.

 

There I stood facing the industrial shelving that holds the paper goods, staring at the several feet of empty space between me and the store brand facial tissue cubes arrayed at the very back.  How helpful.  I looked over at the name brand cubes to my left – of course quite handy.  I looked at the full sized boxes to my right and was quite pleased to see that there was a full selection of the 3 ply version for my main bathroom.  I grabbed a few.  And went back to staring at my intended cubes about five feet from my nose.

 

A woman about my own age came up behind me.  “Did you need some of those?”  She pointed at those cubes.  “Yes, I am considering my options.”

 

I had considered scaling the rack and also going in search of a long stick – say a broom a couple of aisles over.  She clearly had the same thought, disappeared for a moment and came back with a fly swatter.  Smart woman, she leaned in on the shelf below and started to tease the cubes forward.  I looked at her arm-span and offered to help since mine is greater.  The two of us worked in tandem and managed to pull 6-8 cubes forward.

 

public domain image

public domain image

Only to find that they were the kind with lotion.  Drat.  Ingenuity thwarted by the store’s buyer who clearly overbought this kind instead of the plain old ones that we were both after.  We walked our separate ways empty handed.

 

I don’t know if she meant to work together or just get me out of her way so she could achieve her own goal.  I walked away thinking that while ultimately disappointed in my main goal, it had been energizing to work together with this stranger to overcome that obstacle.

 

Facial tissue cubes are still on my store list for this week.  I wonder what will happen?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

A Subjective, Conditional Experience

Surveys in women’s magazines have such strong allure because they can tell us, once we calculate the results, where we fall on the unique but still comfortably in good company range.  Of course we want to be seen as a valuable and distinct individual, while not in any way too out-of-the-ordinary.  We need concrete, objective definitions for the boundaries then.

 

But life doesn’t work that way.  Plenty of us will do the normal things as we progress through adulthood – find a steady job, pair up and create our own family, settle down with a house and within a community.  But the details will vary wildly and so those concrete definitions of the boundaries get complicated.

DSC03746

We don’t want to be ‘wrong’ – not make the wrong decision, or somehow not right and therefore not fit in.  Except that survey is just based on someone else’s opinion of what is right, on conjecture.  Or on an agglomeration of averages – a high percentage of people picked this school or that profession which must make them more right.  But right for whom?

 

My mom came across Margaret Mead as she experienced college in her 30s and 40s – when I was in grade school and high school.  She became enamored of Mead’s assertion that one should have a different spouse for the different stages of adulthood (Margaret’s way of proving her own path as the right one, perhaps?) all the while being proud of keeping her own long term marriage intact as she set about increasing her intellectual range.

 

Mom admired a lot about the unconventional choices of others, but she stuck to the conventional ones.  Dad was conventional through and through.  And they raised us to think for ourselves, with a high awareness of rules, mores and convention.

 

These ideas are much bigger than a single blog post, and this post has wandered in a direction that I didn’t originally intend.  I keep coming back to these themes – value, self-definition, individuality – because they are rich and varied.  I am fascinated by the conflict inherit between the draw of conventionality (and acceptance) and the determination of each person to be unique.

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

There Should be an App for That

(Please remember as you read today’s post that I have a dumb phone and I know exactly this much – 0 – about phone applications.  However, should anyone reading this decide that this is a viable idea and create such an app – you’re welcome.)

 

I’ve been to a few meetings and events in the past week or so that all start with some version of the announcement to turn off or turn down the beeps, bleeps, trills, rings and singing of electronic devices.  I dutifully turn my phone to vibrate each time because I do rely upon that verbal reminder to take this courteous action.

 

I’ve had a cell phone for about 12 years now, clearly not an early adopter.  My sister and brother-in-law got me into the mobile age by gifting a pay-by-month phone.  I left it in the box until the morning that it was predicted that a huge snowstorm would bear down on us later that day.  I picked up the phone – box, instructions and all – and activated it when I got to work.

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

(A year or so before that, I spent two solid hours inching past Woodfield Mall in a frustrating effort to get home during an evening rush hour snow storm.  I was the 2nd to last parent to pick up my kids at after-school care and due to the emergency situation was not charged the late pick up fee, thankfully.  I could have used a phone that night.)

 

I digress, I use the cell phone for communication not entertainment.  For it to be effective for inbound contact, I need to be able to hear it ringing.  I can count on one finger the number of times that I have successfully remembered to turn back on the sound after a meeting or an event.  I missed a call this past week that once again made me annoyed at myself.  And led to this thought about apps.

 

There should be an application that activates when a person turns off the ringer and then finds a way to turn the ringer back on after a period of time or a way to notify the phone owner that the sound is off.  Yes, this is not necessary for the folks who obsessively check their phones.  But I know that I am not alone in the way that I use my phone.

 

What do you think?

 

© 2014 BAReed Writing | Practical Business, All rights reserved

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