Awhile back I was in Munich with a roomful of speakers and trainers, all of them top level subject matter experts from around the world, representing a wide range of business fields and topics.
Someone asked the group: ‘What are the hot subject requests you’re getting?’
I was fascinated to discover some common themes, despite the fact that we cover different fields of expertise.
- People are looking for simplicity.
- There’s a big move to build better relationships.
- And there’s also a hunger for work/life balance.
On the surface these topics seem to be running against the way life is today, for:
- We live in an increasingly complex world.
- Many now work in virtual environments, seldom or never face-to-face with the people for whom they provide services.
- Because of the technology advances of the last eleven years many people work longer hours, an increasing number of them in home offices or as a mobile service provider.
The thing is, nature cannot exist in a state of imbalance. The Law of Polarities always rules. So our complex world of today, crowded yet isolated, wired and fast-paced, demands equal and opposite equalisers.
Which brings us back to my colleague’s question. If we notice what’s happening and then look over our shoulder for the opposite side – there we’ll find the future trends.
1. Reduce complexity
Out of our overdose of complexity comes a craving for ‘the way things used to be’, when changes didn’t happen so fast. It’s not that we want to go back to the old ways (well, not many of us anyway) but rather to take the best of the old and adapt it to suit modern conditions. Check out the Slow Food Movement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_Food and the Simple Living Network http://www.simpleliving.net/
And what about information? There’s more information in any large metropolitan Saturday or Sunday paper than almost everyone in the 17th century had to cope with in a lifetime.
You’re probably like me, with shelves of books, tapes (and not much equipment left to play them on!), cds, digital files on your computer and Ipod – so much ‘stuff’ that we’ll need several more lifetimes to process it all. We’re not seeking more information for its own sake. However, if we ask ourselves how it can be packaged so potential users can grab it, internalise and use just what they need, we’ll find alternative delivery methods. It also must be: a) very specific to our needs, and b) packaged into smaller chunks.
The big increase in demand for coaching is another manifestation of this: most people who use a coach want someone to help them track through the jungle of overload; they just want the ‘guts’ of the information; and they want help to keep focused.
Offer people simple solutions to anything they deal with and you’ll get their instant attention.
2. Build ‘real’ relationships
Ever noticed that the more people we have around us, the more we protect ourselves by carving a little island of privacy and space we can cope with? On the other hand, when we have lots of space almost all of us reach out to bring others into our sphere, to include them. Human contact with others enlarges our souls and feeds our spirit.
Just think of going to a country store, versus shopping in a big supermarket. Or, packed in like sardines in an underground commuter train, versus riding on a small community bus in your local area. If you’ve ever lived in both city and country, in which location did you know your neighbours best? If you have (most unusually) said ‘city’ it will usually be due to some common bond such as school.
So how does this relate to a future trend? Help people connect in a meaningful way and you’ve got a powerful product. In our potentially isolated digital world, where colleagues sitting beside each other communicate by email, there’s also a hunger for meaningful connection, for the personal touch. Think of chat rooms, YouTube, Skype, LinkedIn, FaceBook, MySpace and even products like TradeMe.
So, what can we do in our fields to build communities, and still keep them simple? Just one example – the buzz word I’m hearing now in relation to internet marketing is not so much E-Commerce (Electronics) but rather R-Commerce (Relationships). Check out what Florida technology commentator (and my coach) Terry Brock has to say at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abhnr2wW2U8
3. Work/life balance
There’s been an increasing buzz about this topic over the last few years, benchmarked again by the evolvement of the digital world. Because work has become easier to do everywhere, because we can now be contacted almost anywhere round the world in an instant, we have to be more deliberate about how we manage our work load and still ‘have a life’.
Yet, in the ‘managing’ of work/life balance we again run the risk of getting too complex! What is it about humans that we keep trying to put rules and regulations around everything!? As an example, just look at the current Employment Relations (Flexible Working Hours) Amendment Bill, on the table as I write this article (Sept. 2007). I think ACT has it right. Here’s Party Leader Rodney Hide’s comment:
‘ACT supports total flexibility in the workplace. The only thing this legislation will do is create more red tape and place more regulations on the condition of employment. We believe that employees and employers are quite capable of negotiating requests for changed workplace arrangements in good faith and that the state has no role to play in this matter apart from enforcing contractual law.’
Leaving the politicians to do what politicians do, let’s consider another angle on this whole flexible work practices & work/life balance issue (all of which I’m totally in favour of, of course.)
My greatest ‘aha’ of the last few months is about how we manage our energy. When I suggest to an audience that they track their energy in order to ‘manage’ their time, heads lift, shoulders lift, and the energy in the room lifts. There’s something about the word ‘energy’. Everyone wants more, and everyone understands the lack of it. As we tap into our energy flow, as we use it as a diagnostic tool, we become more tuned in to what we should be doing and when.
I had an example of this. I’d just arrived back from a job in Vienna – 25 hours of flying time. I’d had a reasonable sleep on the last leg home San Francisco and arrived home about 6.30am, keen to tackle a reasonable day’s work. My energy levels were quite high so I had a run and then started on the day’s tasks. After 11 days away there was the bag to unpack, mail to deal with, some urgent calls, and this article to complete. I also really wanted to go to a Weight Watchers weigh-in 20 minutes drive away. (I was more than half-way through the programme and keen to maintain momentum.)
Problem was, to get to the meeting I needed to leave home whilst still in the midst of unpacking and dealing with high-level immediacies. The goal was a strong driver and in the past I would have pushed myself to ‘do it all’; but suddenly I noticed my energy levels beginning to plummet – stress and tension were bubbling up. I stopped for a moment, took a breath, and asked myself, ‘Is it critical to go for a weigh-in today, or would next Monday be as effective?’ After a little tussle with the (not very latent) Type A side of me, I let go of the car trip. As soon as I gave myself permission to stop rushing, the energy levels lifted, the work flowed easily, jetlag barely kicked in until early afternoon when I took a short nap, and the day went smoothly.
Friends, there’s nothing new under the sun. Every new trend is just old thinking repackaged. But there is power in that repositioning and it can come from unexpected quarters. As trainers, facilitators, coaches and HR practitioners, no matter what our topic, if we seek to interpret our expertise through the ‘look backward’ filter, and we look at things through an ‘energy diagnostic’ filter, we’ll always find precious nuggets of possibility.