Japan Society Event: Embrace Rural

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

In late October, I attended a talk about economic development and innovation in rural communities in Japan and the US.

What got me interested in this topic was a video I watched about a rural Japanese town where pretty much the only people left were older residents; many young people had moved to big cities.

Despite everyone being 65+, the residents still try to maintain an active way of life. The video comes from two researchers focused on a study centered on “active” aging — “active” being a term created by the World Health Organization. You can read more about “active aging”, the Global Age-Friendly Cities Project, and also download the brochure on their website.

Being Old in Rural Japan

Synopsis: The story portraits two single-living seniors: the 84-year-old Shimako, a former farmer wife, with a husky deep voice, who still grows vegetables. She regularly meets her neighbors for tea chats and joins the village choir and gymnastics course. Her biggest passion however is gateball, a very popular senior team-sport in Japan, similar to croquet. And there is the 93-year-old Genichi, the oldest man in his village with driving license, who hates sport but loves composing short poems (tanka) on daily events. As he enjoys his freedom in old age, deciding for himself when to get up and when to work, he refuses to live with his son’s family. Also he still cultivates his agricultural field for self-subsistence.

I thought it was a fascinating video. It’s about 35-min long, in German with English subtitles.


Talk Overview

The talk was co-organized by New Food Economy; Design and Urban Ecologies, Parsons, The New School for Social Research; and Slow Food New York City. Presented at the Japan Society as part of their Innovators Network.

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Our first speaker was Richard McCarthy, from Slow Food USA. He went to Japan to discuss and explore rural strategies through the Innovators Network. There was a moderated discussion following the presentations, led by Kate Cox, New Food Economy editor.


Rural Japan and Kuni

The Japanese speaker, Tsuyoshi Sekihara, is an artist who is involved in rural Japanese development. He was sharing the concept of Kuni and how it developed.

Kuni Manifesto

It’s easier to show the manifesto rather than explain it.

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Explanations of Kuni:

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

 


Rural US and the Aspen Institute

I learned a few interesting facts from the Aspen Institute speaker, Janet Topolsky, focused on Rural Development Hubs:

  • About 49 million Americans live in rural communities
  • Over 50% of the Native American population live in rural communities
  • The top industries in rural areas are: education, health, and manufacturing, in that order

Rural Development Hubs: Strengthening America’s Rural Innovation Infrastructure

Rural Development Hubs Executive Summary

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

 


Observations

Seems like there are a lot of business opportunities in rural areas for creative entrepreneurs. Rural areas tend to get overlooked. Traditionally, businesses focus on scaling up. Rather than focus on scalability, the speakers suggested focusing on penetration. That is, what percentage of a population is using your business.

Marketplace, on NPR, recently discussed the lack of broadband access in rural Georgia.

A lot of rural America is a desert when it comes to high-speed internet access. And that’s a drag on economic growth: Communities without broadband have a hard time attracting new residents and businesses…

Another problem rural communities have is dwindling populations. Here’s a recent CBS Sunday Morning video about the population struggles of small towns in Japan, now facing extinction, as the country’s overall population decreases from a peak a few years ago. For instance, in the town featured in the video, the school’s 6th grade class now only has 6 students, down from dozens.

The video above reviews some of the more creative and technological solutions Japan has invented. Ideas range from repurposing malls to senior centers, to high-tech mausoleums, to robots — Japan likes robots — officiating weddings due to a shortage of monks. Lot of interesting concepts to think about.


Now that I think about it, this story of rural villages populated by an aging population reminds me of Tokyo Story, by Yasujiro Ozu.

Hiring for “Cultural Fit” is Kind of BS

An examination of “culture fit” for hiring…plus some videos from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice!

This post is inspired by a topic that was trending on LinkedIn. The post asked about the practice of hiring for “culture fit”. Unfortunately LinkedIn doesn’t allow for sharing articles outside of LinkedIn, so I took screenshots of their main points.

The post was inspired by articles published by the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review. (Probably paywalled.)

I have a lot of thoughts about the idea of “culture fit”, because rarely is culture so clearly defined in a company. I think most companies use it to discriminate and/or to try and get away with bad behavior.

 

Two Stories About “Cultural Fit”

There are 2 stories I think about when I hear about companies hiring for “culture fit”.

Story One: The Power of Diversity

A few years ago, I attended a one-day women-in-tech conference here in NYC. One of the speakers talked about her experience with diversity and joining a team with less than ideal experience.

I will never forget this talk because something she said was so relevant about why diversity is important. She said: if everyone is the same, it means they can all fail the same way.

As a new member of her company’s engineering team, she came in with a bit of a non-traditional background, which gave her a different perspective when approaching problem solving. In her example, she explained how she solved a critical error that all the other experienced team members failed to recognize because they all thought about the problem in the same way. Her value to the team was not her skill as a developer. Her value was her knowledge about their customers. It was that unique perspective that allowed her to view this critical problem differently and find a solution that everyone else missed.

Story Two: What is your culture?

The second story is my own experience from job hunting. A few years ago, I was on a call with a creative director and the CEO/President of a small e-commerce company selling men’s clothes. As I talked to them about the role and what they were looking for, they revealed that they’d spent a long time looking for the “right person” who could fit into their culture. When I asked them how long they’d been looking, they told me 8 months. (8 months!?)

When they told me that, I realized they didn’t know what they were looking for and all this time they’d come up with some type of excuse to eliminate candidates from their list. And I basically told them that it sounded like I was unlikely to get the job. I even asked them, what was special about their culture. They couldn’t articulate any details about their company culture that made them any more unique compared to any other company.

So what is culture anyway?

I love going to cultural events. It’s such a great way to learn about people and different parts of the world, without actually traveling and spending money on a trip. 🙂

Culture is the combination of art, language, food, dress, religion, music and social rules of a society. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities and habits of the individuals in these groups.

Humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and socialization, which is shown by the diversity of cultures across societies.

A cultural norm codifies acceptable conduct in society; it serves as guideline for behavior, dress, language, and demeanor in a situation, which serves as a template for expectations in a social group. Accepting only a monoculture in a social group can bear risks, just as a single species can wither in the face of environmental change, for lack of functional responses to the change.

I think companies neglect the second paragraph: enculturation and socialization. Enculturation is the process by which people learn the dynamics of their surrounding culture. Socialization is the process of internalizing the norms and ideologies of society.

The first question to ask is whether a company is truly aware of their culture, and the second is if they have a plan to help new employees learn it. All companies have a culture, but do they recognize the elements of their culture enough to help new people learn them.

With so many companies cutting back on HR departments, I wonder how many of them have truly invested in the process of enculturation and socialization to help people learn and internalize the culture of their workplace. And have they considered how much time they’re willing to allow for assimilation to happen. My guess is too many employers are looking for exact matches, which makes no sense because the only way someone would have a company’s exact culture is if they already work there.

Is “cultural fit” just an excuse for bad behavior?

To be totally honest, when I hear people talk about “cultural fit”, what I think they really mean is:

  • Will this person complain or push back at working nights and weekends?
  • Is this person going to get offended at our sexist jokes?
  • Can we drink in the office or have bottles of liquor on the desk?
  • Can we swear like pirates at work?
  • Can we get away without a true HR department?

Maybe in some cases, it’s Will this person turn us in for doing something illegal?

But I think what they’re really asking is: Is this someone we can control? To some extent, that’s a fair question. On the other hand, is anybody asking, controlling for what?

Same Words, Two Deliveries

I sometimes think companies try to squeeze the individuality out of their employees, so that they can all become the same type of person over time. For that, let me share an example from Shakespeare (aka culture).

In this video, two well-known actors discuss and act out their different portrayals of Shylock, the main character from Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice. The actors are Patrick Stewart, of Star Trek fame, and David Suchet, of Poirot fame — and also one episode of Doctor Who!

The scene is from, ACT I, SCENE III. Venice. A public place. The character Antonio has just asked for 3,000 ducats and Shylock contemplates.

Patrick Stewart VS David Suchet – Shylock – Merchant of Venice

Patrick Stewart VS David Suchet. Two brilliant interpretations of 'Shylock' from the 'Merchant of Venice'. Their analysis, followed by their performances. Which do you prefer??(acting begins at 8:00)

Posted by In The Moment on Sunday, August 6, 2017

What I love about this is that despite the words being exactly the same, the director gave them the freedom to express their own versions of the character. The video is under 12 minutes, so it doesn’t take long to view.

This example is kind of the embodiment of what I wish companies would really get about “cultural fit” and diversity. I really don’t think the question to ask is ‘Do you fit in?’ To me, that list is pretty short:

  • be pleasant to be around
  • be safe
  • don’t do illegal stuff at work or on behalf of the company

You know, Girl Scout stuff.

What does this example show?

It shows a theater company that has hired two accomplished actors who can do the same role and speak the same exact words, yet their individual and diverse perspectives are what brings value to their performances. It also shows that the theater company, either at the same time or at different times, not only values the diversity of a heterogeneous theater troupe but they also recognize that their audience does too.

I hope that for-profit companies can also get to a place where they value that some of their employees will express the company culture differently than others, or express different aspects of the company culture at different times — and they’re OK with that. They’re still getting the job done, but the uniqueness each person brings to the job is still valued and ultimately will be a benefit to their company and their customers.


And just for fun, here’s Al Pacino doing the same scene:

Notes from “Career Management for Introverts”

I recently attended a 90-minute talk on career management for introverts, held at the Science, Business, and Industry Library in NYC. Here are my notes.

Overview

A review of the speaker and the talk

The speaker was Win Sheffield who is a career coach. He speaks at the NYPL on job hunting and career management. He’s giving an upcoming talk on networking in October.

For this talk, an overview on the NYPL website says:

Do you feel you shouldn’t have to sell yourself? Are you uncomfortable around people who are talking about their accomplishments? Do you find yourself looking for ways to get out of conversations rather than into them? Perhaps instead you find yourself coming up with the answer while the person you are listening to goes on and on or maybe you like to take time to consider your answers. If you have had any of these experiences, you may be interested in this talk.

This talk is part of the NYPL Career Services series. You can read about the talk online: https://www.nypl.org/events/programs/2019/09/11/career-management-introverts.

I also included a link to the Facebook Live video at the end. But, if you don’t want to watch a 90 minute video, you can read my notes below.


My Notes

Ok, let’s get into my notes.

First we discussed the difference between introversion and extroversion.

  • Remember that introverts are hired for skills related to being an introvert — such as reading, working independently, and deep thinking.
  • The US is NOT an introverted country, but the UK and Japan are.

Phone Conversations

Turns out, no one likes talking on the phone.

We discussed why phone calls are annoying:
  1. The expressions and body language of the person on the other line are hidden.
  2. It requires an immediate response; you cannot mull over your answer.
Some tips to help make phone calls easier:
  • Put up a mirror by the phone, to help you remember to smile.
  • Stand up while on the phone, to project more energy.

Small Talk

Despite the stigma, small talk is good for introverts.

Although we kind of hate it, small talk is a good way to make connections.

It can help if you think of ideas in advance. Good topics can include the weather, food, transportation.

We also discussed talking about decorations or photos someone has on their desk or office. That can help put the other person at ease.


Tips on Meeting People

Show empathy

I can help to put yourself in their shoes. For instance, if you see someone is wearing new shoes…. Imagine they still need to break in their shoes. Their feet are uncomfortable!

Send questions in advance

It can also help to send questions in advance, particularly if you’re job hunting. This is a low-pressure method to ask for support. For instance, you can say:

“I’m not seeking a job from you or anyone you know, but I’m looking to move into [name job area] and I’d like to get your opinion about [the information you’re looking for].”

When having conversations with extroverts:

Extroverts can have a tendency to dominate the conversation. Sending questions in advance can be helpful, to help keep them on track.

Remember to talk to people with whom you feel comfortable:

  • People who’s job it is to talk to you and provide help (help desk, customer support)
  • Friends
  • People in a non-authority role

The most important thing when meeting someone is talking about what you’ve already done.


Telling Stories

Tell people what you’ve already done by telling your story.

There’s a formula to telling a story about one of your accomplishments. It goes like this:

  • Setup: What is the context of the story.
  • Trigger: What changed to get the story going; aka “the challenge”.
  • Plan: What was your plan.
  • Unplanned outcome: How did things go off-track
  • Chaos: How did that lead to chaos/unplanned expectations.
  • Success: How did you resolve the chaos and get things back on track.

Where to use this method:

  • Cover letters & resumes
  • Elevator pitches
  • Anytime someone asks you about yourself

It helps to practice though. (Tips below!)

But, what if the story is negative?

Someone asked if you should tell stories even if they’re negative. The answer is Yes. The reason is that without conflict/chaos, the story doesn’t show growth.


Q & A / Pro-Tips!

A technique to improve your storytelling.

Someone who identified herself as a writer asked a question. She said she worked from home alone so much that she was often surprised by the sound of her voice.

A suggestion was to make a video of yourself talking, or telling a story. Then you can see how you come across to others. But you have to do this at least 6 times, and watch it, if you want the best outcome.

A tip for extroverts

Another person asked about being an extrovert. She said that during an interview she becomes very extroverted. She wasn’t sure how to handle that.

As the speaker mentioned, introversion and extroversion is a spectrum. Not everyone is always introverted or always extroverted.

His suggestion for extroverts is to always take a breath before giving an answer. That helps them slow down.


Final Tips

Planning Ahead

  • Conduct a job campaign, not a job search. A job search is you fitting yourself to the company. A job campaign means creating your own opportunity. Network, make small talk, etc.
  • Be aware and optimistic
  • Know your stories

Take thinking breaks

Smokers go outside to recharge with cigarettes. As an introvert, you should go outside to recharge and collect your thoughts.


Facebook Live

Here’s the Facebook Live stream. I may end up watching this again to refresh my memory. You get the handout / agenda here.

BTW, I was the one who said food is a good topic for small talk. 🙂

They recommend using headphones, if you have difficulty hearing.

Win Sheffield presents Career Management for Introverts. #SIBLEvents #WinSheffield #Introverts #JobHunt #JobHunting #CareerAdvice #CareerCounseling #Free #FreeLecture #LibraryProgram #NYPL

Posted by Career Services NYPL on Wednesday, September 11, 2019


I also published this on Medium: https://medium.com/@alliwalk/notes-from-career-management-for-introverts-from-the-new-york-public-library-c6c4f59f5b3

Essays on the Experience of UX Job Hunting: Intro

A few years ago, I was looking for a job in user experience. Despite having years of experience, it was pretty challenging.

Trying not to get too discouraged in my search, I decided to ask a few friends for their advice. We talked about building the elusive portfolio, an absolute must for any UX designer these days. One word of advice was to think about what UX managers might be looking for when they review a portfolio, and to try and build a portfolio around that. That seemed like expert advice, but none of my friends were UX managers so they couldn’t give me one-on-one advice (or didn’t want to).

Given how easy it is to find development info online, I assumed it would be relatively easy to find more information about UX managers online, too. I started hunting for information on what managers might be looking for, what makes for a “good” UX portfolios, and information about job hunting in general.

That search eventually led me to write a long essay about what I found. I split my findings into the following parts:

  • Part I. What are managers looking for?
  • Part II. What Do Hiring Managers Agree On.
  • Part III. Profile of a UX Manager.
  • Part IV. What makes a good (UX) portfolio.
  • Part V. Good advice, Resources.

I’ve been sitting on all of this for about 2 years. At the time, some of what I wrote seemed inflammatory to me. It made me angry. Reading it now, I don’t think so. I think a lot of designers — and knowledge workers, in general — are getting frustrated for similar reasons related to job interviews, evaluation criteria, and other aspects of the hiring process. And several prominent figures in the user experience community have also written about how the education for UX design is broken, leading UX managers to complain that there are no good candidates.

Anyway, after all this time I figured it’s finally time I start publishing, so here goes with the intro. Who knows if I’ll post it all.