Don’t focus on making something easy. Enjoy getting faster.

I was talking to my brother the other day on Facetime. Having just returned from a run, he asked me how it was. Currently we are living in Mexico City, which is at 2500 meters altitude. So I told him it was tough. The air is thin, your lungs feel restricted and your body has to work harder. Having done a lot of runs over the years, I joked about how I was in altitude training and couldn’t wait to get back to Melbourne and run at sea level. I said ‘I am excited as the rewards will pay off and I will finally find it easy’. In a serious tone, he replied ‘it doesn’t get easier, it just gets faster’. (Which is apparently a quote by cyclist and Tour de France winner, Greg LeMond). Since then, I have thought about this a lot. Firstly, how this applies to so many areas of life.

And secondly, why did I want to find it easy?

Paradise - Island with palm tree

Living in Mexico, I am on a mission to improve my Spanish. Everyday I am surrounded by people speaking a language that is not my own. I drive to work listening to Spanish talk back and music on the radio, I sit in meetings with customers and colleagues speaking Spanish, I order coffee, food and beers in Spanish and attempt to build relationships and friendships in Spanish.

This is a constant challenge and I keep telling myself that ‘it will only get easier’.

But after two months here I don’t feel like it has. I still feel like my skills and knowledge are pushed to their extreme just as they were on day one. I experience the same level of discomfort when I feel that I can not portray my true character in this second language. Even though my grasp of Spanish is definitely advancing everyday, I don’t feel any closer to finding my job here easy. And since the conversation with my brother I have been thinking about how the goal of getting to the point of ‘easy’ means I am focussing on the wrong thing.

Mountain reflection

In regards to my Spanish, on day one there was a whole lot of unknown. As little bits of this unknown become clear, I also learn more about what I didn’t know. And so the cycle continues. As I learn more, I speak more, people reply more, the language we start using is more complex and of course both myself and my amigos speak faster. Although in the midst of it, I miss that they are using the subjunctive, I get confused with the verbs and lose track of the conversation. At then at the end of it, all I remember is that it is not easy… yet.

As we develop a new skill the challenges that we take on grow in parallel with this new capacity to achieve them.

Just like when I was telling my brother about how I was excited to run back at sea level and find myself floating free in this fit, sunny world of easy running, I was hoping to achieve the same with my Spanish. Although I do hope to be able to talk and joke and work like I currently do in English, getting to a point of easy should not be my goal.

I use to also look at Haile Gebrselassie and think how he made the marathon look so easy. That compared to how I huffed and puffed my way around the 42km course he just glides around in world record time with ease. But of course he doesn’t. The pain and fatigue that he feels is probably greater and more intense than the average runner. Running never got easier for him, it just got faster.

Haile Gebrselassie

So why would I want to get to easy?

Because then I can relax, do nothing and be content. But I am someone who likes challenges, who likes learning and growing. Why would I want an empty to do list, with no actions for further improvements. I don’t. It is just a default response to focus on things that are currently difficult and how much better life will be when they are easier.

Instead I need to enjoy the process of getting faster. Not focus on reducing the energy that is going into the activity but instead on what is being achieved in the process. The little achievements along the way. Like that last week I finished my first full novel in Spanish, and ran in a 16km Fun Run at an altitude 500m above any mountain in Australia. Both of them were definitely not easy… nor fast. But now I am already onto the next challenges. A new book and a longer run. This to do list will never be clear. The process continues. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets faster.

Working outside our organisational borders: #_Unbound Mexico DF

On Friday 11th April we kicked off our first #_Unbound day in Mexico City. It was hosted by the wonderful team at Extend in their centrally located office on the Reforma. We had a great free form space, a terrace, some food, coffee, wifi, work and great conversation. These guys went above and beyond on their hosting responsibility and they even made up a welcome sign for us 🙂

As per the original #_Unbound concept the day brought together a small group of people from different backgrounds and organisations to work together for the day. We had people coming and going as it fitted with their schedule, and those who couldn’t be there physically joined by phone and online. The number of people fluctuated between 5 and 10. The perfect number to allow valuable work to be done independently but also enable fluid group conversation involving everyone.

At the beginning of the day we shared our expectations and any key conversation topics we were hoping to cover with the dynamic and interesting people in the room. Although there was no set agenda for the day, we found it valuable to capture these thoughts, questions and challenges on the walls. As new people joined the #_Unbound day they could gain an insight into the minds of the people who were already there or those who had passed through.

The visual display of these expectations also provoked many interesting conversations throughout the day. Some topics which really sparked discussion were the changing role of physical office spaces, the growing gap to employees without smartphones as the reliance on technology increases and the measurement of business value in immature enterprise social networks.

As an individual attending my first #_Unbound day I really enjoyed it. I am, however, use to the idea of working remotely, from different locations with new people. So for me, the feedback from people who did not find this so ‘normal’ was more insightful. Some of the participants were from relatively rigid and traditional organisations. This was the first day that they had ever ‘worked’ out of the office. For them the idea of no set agenda, at an ‘event’ was difficult to comprehend. As a group we struggled with how to deal with this a little. In the feedback rounds at the end it was proposed that next time we would have a very basic agenda to keep the day fluid. For example, allocating individual work time and discussion time. This does sort of goes against the grain of #_Unbound but perhaps it is a way to transition to this new way of working and an approach to make those who are used to more structure feel comfortable attending their first #_Unbound day.

Overall though the day was great, and all participants said they would like to be part of a regular one. So we are looking at doing another one in June.

The #_Unbound concept is iterative. Each event is different. They are popping up in various locations around the world and people are seeing what happens when they come together for the day to get work done outside of their organisational borders. At #_Unbound Mexico DF we shared good conversation, fresh coffee and a valuable work day. Why don’t you run one, see what happens and let us know how it goes?

Embracing the chaos in Mexico City

I am a person who likes lists and being on time. I like asking questions and getting things done.

I like efficiency and feeling effective. I like goals and solving problems. I like the feeling of crossing a finish line and understanding what got me there. So what happens when someone like me, lands in Mexico City. Both the lifestyle and business culture contrasts everything that I know regarding how to get things done. The streets are chaotic, the traffic is exhausting, meetings don’t start or finish on time, agendas are never adhered too and decisions are made in the last 5 minutes of a four hour meeting. But somehow it all works. The events happen on the day they are planned, the strategies are rolled out successfully, and the people you are counting on do turn up. And in a chaotic display of adhesiveness they all have the desired impact.

Night time traffic around El Angel de la Independencia, Mexico City.

Night time traffic around El Angel de la Independencia, Mexico City.

In this new culture I am adapting. I can not push my previous expectations and understanding of business etiquette, agendas, and timelines onto this new environment. I still ask questions, I still turn up on time (and regularly wait half an hour for others) and I still write lists. But I am trying to change my rhythm to match the beat of Mexico. I am trying to embrace the chaos.

And what I am realising is that when you embrace the chaos there is no finish line.

Just like the new 2km running loop that I am discovering. I always end up back where I started but I have changed. Everytime I go around I see something new and appreciate something that I missed before. Whether it be someone playing music, a woman weaving bags, a man walking his dog. As I run my mind also ticks. I do come up with new ideas and ways to tackle problems, remember peoples names, and practise my Spanish vocabulary. But I am realising that in this less structured and more chaotic environment there is no real end point and even if there was, I am not quite sure what it would be. Things are not linear with a start and a finish line.

When you embrace the chaos you learn. And although you don’t move forward in a predetermined structured way, you have achieved something. You have taken that learning, adapted, stepped sideways and moved towards a goal that is continually growing, strengthening and having more purpose.

Just like how on day one I was too scared to drive out into the mayhem of Mexico City traffic and now I thrive in it. Something about the freedom of driving without lanes or an indicator and being swept into a responsive network of exhaust is both exciting and a challenge. I like that.

I guess that works with my embracing the chaos theory… learn and adapt from those around you but continue on your own journey. Just like a goal, effectiveness is a fluid term that takes on meaning from the environment it is applied to. In a new environment I need to let go of both my previous definition of being effective and approach to getting things done. I need to breathe with the network that is Mexico and avoid creating a finish line for myself or those around me.

I will also just make the most of that 30 minutes I have before everyone else arrives for the meeting 🙂

Go local or Go Online.

We all know that technology is changing not only the way that we communicate, but also the way we organise. Whether it be organise our documents, our thoughts, our calendars or our life events. It is great when you can do everything without leaving your couch, but even better when this is contrasted against its old skool cousin – going local.

In an attempt to be less wasteful, lower impact, and generally more efficient in life while also being more connected to both my global community as well as my local one – my new approach to life is either go local or go online. So far it is working out well. Instead of getting in the car to drive and buy something – I either try to source it within walking distance or buy it online.

In the new model where sustainability and efficiency take priority those businesses in the middle of the spectrum fall through the gap. If they are not tied into my local community or they are not at my fingertips online then I don’t need them.

I tested this theory organising our wedding a couple of months ago. Not only was it organised in a really short time frame but as far bringing together 130 people for a party, it was relatively low impact. Lots of people have asked me for detail on where all the elements came from so I thought I would share that example here. Read on if you want the wedding detail – otherwise let me know if you agree with only going local or online?

Just married in an efficient and low impact way.

Just married in an efficient and low impact way.

In December last year my Mr Right and I got married. Growing up in a house with three brothers I was never a girl to dream about a big white wedding. I did want to have all the elements of the happily married life, the family, the house, the mess and the laughter. But I did not necessarily see the wedding as a critical element in reaching that.

But after 7 years together, a pending move to Mexico City, 2 years travelling, 2 years house renovating and 2 years living with my parents… we both decided that bringing our family and friends together to witness the happiness and love that we share as a couple was something that we wanted. So after making this decision, 8 weeks later, we got married. During this time I was also travelling a lot for work so I guess that cut the time down by a few weeks also. It is funny how such a short turn around seemed incomprehensible to many people. Lots of people have asked me how can you organise a wedding in a few weeks?

I say, either go online or go local.

Going local.

Engagement Ring
Melbourne Designer, Rebecca Pocock, from e.g.etal .

The ceremony location
We got married in the gardens of the See Yup Temple. A beautiful Buddhist temple right near our house. So I walked out the backdoor. We gave a donation to the temple for allowing us to be married in this spiritual space.

The Music
Having talented family members my brothers both shared their musical prowess on the ukelele and the didgeridoo.

Wedding Dress
I was lucky enough that my mum not only had a great fashion sense in the 70’s when she designed her dress, but also that I put it on and it fitted like it was made for me.

My mums wedding dress, bamboo arch from the garden and locally sourced flowers.

The Arch
My parents made an arch out of bamboo from the garden.

The flowers
Jess from Ivy & Eve did all the flowers. She is located across the road from the Temple gardens. Amazing.

The Reading
A very talented friend Nat Silber, read a poem she wrote for us as the solo reading at our ceremony.

The celebrant
We were lucky to already know Matt Finch and he added an amazing personal touch to a ceremony that was really ours.

Bicycles. It was 1km from the ceremony to the reception. So what better way to travel than by bicycle!

Best way to travel is by bike... even on the wedding day.

Best way to travel is by bike… even on the wedding day.

The Reception
The reception was at the community hall at the South Melbourne Commons. Great location, hall hire fee goes to the community.

Amazing Latino inspired catering by Let Me Be Frank cafe which is also part of the South Melbourne Commons.

The Cake(s)
We had a cake table with around 20 cakes made by amazing aunties, mums and friends. Lots of choice made with lots of love.

The Decorations
All our decorations were made by our awesome family members from recycled jars (mainly gathered from the parents at the school where my Mr works), resused wood and locally bought material.

The Photos
We were lucky again to have talent in the family and our lovely cousin Tori from Tori & Sal captured the day for us.

The cake table, bunting and jars all made with love.

The cake table, bunting and jars all made with love.

Going Online.

Dresses for the Special Ladies
Having been tainted by the bridesmaid title we went with term special ladies. The ladies got dresses by Sohomode who is based in New York. They chose their material and style and sent through their measurements and voila, two weeks later the dresses arrived.

Wedding Ring for Her
A second hand 1950s vintage ring with a story from GloryBeVintageWares on Etsy.

Wedding Ring for Him
An eco sterling silver wedding ring from Ephierell Jewellery.

As you can see from this list. We did not give any service to the guy in the middle. Without him, we were efficient, low impact and supporting our local community. We only went local or online. What is your approach?

Wedding ceremony in the See Yup Temple garden.

Wedding ceremony in the See Yup gardens.

The Life of a Remote Worker.

I am a proud and happy remote worker. I am also really productive. People often think that these two statements are mutually exclusive. But myself – and all my colleagues – are evidence that they are not.
Currently I am based in Melbourne, my work is predominantly associated with organisations across Latin America, and my manager is in San Francisco. This means I am living and breathing in one country and time zone, working in another, and reporting into a third. People often ask me if I feel lost, confused, unaccountable or disconnected. But to be honest I feel empowered, efficient and productive.

I regularly work at home, at cafes, co-working spaces or – now it is warming up – in parks. This way of working allows me to be get inspiration from different environments, get silence when I want it, work with people when I need it and also make it to the bank when it is actually open.  Last week I also found productivity in a Melbourne laneway (True. Hub Melbourne shifted all their furniture outside for the day and it was superb).

This style of working regularly comes with small agile start-ups. Groups of people who are forming around a shared vision and passion, not a shared office space. And traditionally as you look at larger, older organisations the structure, cubicles and stacks of paper on desks increases.
Originally I was part a small start-up like this, Yammer. Then we were acquired by Microsoft and we thought that perhaps our days of being empowered to work where and how we were most productive would near an end. Pleasantly, we were so wrong. Microsoft is one of the few large global organisations empowering employees to do just this.
The Microsoft Australia head office, for example, is all activity based working (no-one, even the Managing Director, has a set desk or office), and employees are actually encouraged to work in locations other than the office. Earlier this year we had Summer’s Day Out and tomorrow, this is really being highlighted again. This time around though, Microsoft is calling it Spring Day Out, and it is global. A day where the whole of Microsoft is being encouraged to work anywhere but the office and still get things done.
I understand that this is not possible for all types of work and I am part of a tech company which provides the tools and devices to make this happen. But when most people have a smart phone, a lap top and a tablet is there really a need to be in the same place, all day, everyday to do a job that is rapidly changing and evolving? As Pip Marlow, MD Microsoft Australia, eloquently sums up ‘for some reason, so many Australian managers just don’t get the basic fact that work is something you do, not a place you go; people need to be accountable for outcomes, not for time served; 9 to 5 is a song, not a lifestyle’. Hear, hear Pip!
So tomorrow, as part of Spring Day Out, I am planning  on starting the day early (while Mexico is still online) at Little Mule with good coffee & wifi, then head to an Australian customers office, get in a few hours at The Hub Melbourne coworking space, then finish up at my stand up desk at home so I can take some business calls while I stretch. Honestly – I find it makes me so much more productive 🙂
Where are you working from tomorrow?

Use childish logic to solve adult problems.

My partner is a grade 2 public primary school teacher. He regularly comes home with fascinating stories of what kids have done and said. The unique ideas that they come up with and the logical answers that they have to problems. But then in contrast, we also discuss the set curriculum delivered in schools  and the way children are taught to solve problems and to address challenges with process and structure. I recently re-watched the TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson on how schools and organisations are killing creativity. He talks about how no where in the world is there a public education system that teaches more art or dance than maths and sciences.
In my current role I am working with organisations to help them adapt to the changing marketplace around them. As the technology and environment around us changes we need to also shift not only the way we work but also our mindset. We are still using the same learned logic and approach to working and solving problems that we have been using for decades.
Ford assembly line
When I was a kid my parents use to often say I had a fascinating logic and view of the world. I use to stand in the middle of the room and spin around. I would then stop and ask, ‘Mum, do you get dizzy when I turn the house around’. From my perspective, as a 7 year old with endless possibilities and at the centre of the world, this was completely logical.

But holding onto this unstructured logical view of the world is difficult when we are educated to look at our surroundings through a lens compiled of rules, processes and formulas that give you the correct answer.

As I sit here writing this post, looking out the window of my flight from Melbourne to Sydney I am reminded of a time when I was scared to get in a plane. I had watched all these plane take off and fly into the distance. At the age of 4, the night before my first memorable plane trip, I was in tears. All I knew about planes was they fly through the sky and get smaller and smaller until they are no more.

I wasn’t sobbing because of a fear of flying or safety but because ‘I didn’t want to get small and disappear’.

This was the answer to my parents question when they couldn’t understand my anxiety for getting on the plane. When your view of the world is not founded on previous conceptions the possibilities are endless… but still logical.
plane in the sky
Imagine our approach to problem solving if we could hold onto this fresh, untarnished logic. We need to add fluidity to the learning model that we have previously experienced.  After primary school, senior school, two bachelor degrees and a Masters – I have a good 20 years of formal education. My logic is now largely confined by the structure and processes that have been ingrained in me over those years of schooling. I have to work really hard to not let this be a limitation. To continue to let my childish logic be accessible to help me solve adult problems.

Watch Sir Ken’s TED talk and when your next challenge appears try to throw away what you know and instead look at the world like your six year old self did. When was the last time you did that?

Remember: A good chef always tastes his cooking.

For most things in life, when we have somewhere we want to go or something we want to achieve we regularly check that we are on track. We look up, see which direction we are heading in, and readjust accordingly. We want to be efficient and make sure we are on the way to where we need to be. We taste the cake mix, feel the temperature of the bath, and check google maps.

When we forget to regularly check-in we end up lost, with a bland cake and scolded toes. I hate it when that happens.

When we look up out of our narrow hole of concentration we realise we have gone way off course.

So why has software development traditionally been different?

Long product release cycles, no check-ins, few iterative changes and rarely developed with the end user in mind. Then they wonder why people don’t use the product.

Last week I was chatting to a man at the Connected Enterprise conference in Melbourne. He was telling me how in software development 18 months is a short time between production versions. He nearly fell over backwards when I told him that Yammer releases a new version every week. That at Yammer we roll out small iterative changes to make sure the platform is always relevant and fits the needs of the end user.

To stay relevant you need to be agile. You need to adapt to the evolving environment. A few whispers on the street last week about how Yammer’s development model is being leveraged. Exciting.

On another not-so-agile note, I did a triathlon the other weekend. Like in everything, one of the key things to remember is to look up every five to ten strokes to check your line. I got carried away, relaxed into a rhythm, felt the water between my fingers, steadied my breathing and felt like I was moving fast. When I looked up I was no longer swimming towards the buoy. It was almost as bad as when I forgot to add the sugar to my chocolate cake. Lessons learned. Agile is awesome.


100% Adoption = Invisibility

Adoption is something that we do with purpose and acknowledgement. We adopt a new technology, device, way of being. As something sweeps through the adoption curve there are the innovators, the early adopters, the majority and the laggards. Initially you notice the physical signs of adoption – the iPads, the bikram yoga studios, the free wifi signs, the quinoa on the menu. But as these trends gain momentum we not only adopt but also adapt. We become less aware of these physical signs of disruption as they become part of our norm.

As something increasingly becomes more visible in our lives it simultaneously becomes invisible.

Take the internet for example. With smart phones, the accessibility of wifi networks and advertising calls to action we are constantly surrounded by and reminded of the internet hundreds of times a day. The connection to the internet itself however, is almost invisible. Previously we accessed a dial up connection from the home or office by a desk top computer. Now you turn on your phone, iPad, or laptop and are immediately online without even being made aware of the necessity to connect. The internet is just there. Invisible.

Everyday I work with people that are rolling out Yammer across their organisation. They are building it’s visibility across departments as the place for communication and collaboration. The concept of an enterprise social network is powering through the adoption curve. It is currently disruptive and visible. But once it reaches the point of full adoption and it becomes the place of familiarity that people go to get work done, like other things that reach saturation, it will become invisible. The platform itself dissolves into the background and it is the conversations, the content and the people that are the central focal point and become visible. People forget they are using an enterprise social network, they are just working in a collaborative space and better connected to their colleagues than ever before.

If full adoption equals invisibility how does a technology or product continue to be disruptive once it has reached 100% adoption?

They continue to innovate and evolve. Yammer for example, releases on a weekly development schedule. They push people to adopt and adapt. They don’t sit back, relax and bask in the invisibility.They keep pushing the boundaries. You remain invisible for too long and you become irrelevant.


A man at a pink ribbon breakfast is a valuable commodity.

Yesterday morning I went to a pink ribbon breakfast. A great event for a great cause.

Many intelligent, inspiring and strong women in the room and on the panel. The discussion was around what we can do to improve the lives of women. The conversation flowed across broad aspects of various women’s lives. From in the Australian boardroom to in a primary school in Afghanistan. Having just handed in an essay on the gendered dimension of development for my Masters they were conversation points that really resonated with me. But for some reason I found myself looking around at the handful of men in the room.

As these amazing women talked about education and empowerment of females I wondered what the men where thinking.

As the conversation moved to the need for boys and men to grow up on a foundation of respect for women and an understanding for shared home responsibilities I was trying to picture how the men in the room felt listening to this. I watched a man fiddle with a pen, another check his phone and one massage a sore knee. I don’t know why but I felt uncomfortable for these husbands, sons and fathers.

I wholeheartedly agreed with all the points that the women said. But I really wanted to know what the men thought too. And I didn’t. Having an all women discussion about the plight of women felt one sided.

I found myself walking away wanting to hear the male opinion.

Knowledge and education does enable empowerment. But equality is not one sided. To attain equality and improve the lives of women we need to hear the voices of both genders. The men who show their support for attending a pink ribbon breakfast dedicated to improving the lives of women are the ones we  should also be hearing from. They have the potential to influence and encourage their male counterparts to promote a respectful, empowering and equitable society. These men are half the solution to improving the lives of women. They are valuable commodities.

If you are a man who went to a pink ribbon breakfast you are awesome and I would love to hear your thoughts and experience.

Building relationships: You can’t high five in the cloud.

Last week I was over in San Francisco for work. My brother commented that it was interesting that a company which is all about enabling online connections and collaboration still flies us across the world for real in-person trainings with our US based colleagues.

He thought that we should be able to gain the same experience using online tools as we would receive face-to-face. In a way, I guess he was right. We should be able to. But even with all the awesome tools now available we can’t.

There is an honest freedom in the connection associated with invaluable face-to-face communication.

The subtleties of body language and the recognition and understanding that can not occur through Skype, Go To Meeting, or email are imperative to building a relationship. Sure there are lots of ways that technology has enabled these new communication mediums to replace excess meetings and create efficiencies of collaboratively working across time zones.

But to build actual relationships we still need some real-life human connections which can only occur the old fashioned way.

And we need these both at work and in our personal life.

A good friend of mine recently moved across the world. We try to Skype regularly, comment on Facebook photos and follow each other on twitter. But it aint the same.

She wrote a great blog post recently about relationships and how they are an essential part of staying healthy – for both our mental and our physical well-being. That these real life interactions have a direct effect on our overall health. Something that does not occur via the typed or projected kind of communication.

Healthy people make better friends and better employees.

To be healthy in both your professional and your personal life you need strong, honest, and real relationships. These can then be reinforced and developed through online communication, but without the real-life interactions they become stale and hollow.

As an organisation that lives in the cloud I think it is fantastic that my work still values the true importance of building these real relationships. Because of this I can communicate online with ease and familiarity building on the foundations established face-to-face.

Technology and the cloud is changing the way we interact and communicate. But you can’t shake hands, drink a beer or high five up there. That’s what keeps you healthy and is how all the best relationships are solidified right…?