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November 10, 2008
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A Personal Power Surge

A recent conversation with the wonderful Executive Assistant Joyce Alexander included the frustrated recounting of a power surge at the office which caused the computers to briefly shut down and reboot.  Fortunately, no serious work was lost.

It reminded me of the fact that it is not possible to live in the 21st century, even in remote tribal areas in southern Africa, without being exposed to the bits and bytes of the modern digital world.  Arguably, the most frequently spoken language in the world is not English, Chinese or Spanish.  It is “Binary.”  This is the language that increasingly dominates our day-to-day functioning.

This is true of life at the office, life in a vehicle and life at home.  It also reflects a dependency relationship between humans and bytes, which will increase in the future as we forget the simple pleasures of direct conversations with friends as opposed to e-mailing or 3-D video-conferencing. 

ImageWe forget the immense joy of playing a musical instrument personally, rather than listening to electronic versions played through an MP3 player.  We forget that visiting a doctor’s office may often feature MRIs, ultrasound, and other e-tools coming at the expense of the personal healing touch and conversation with a doctor who is also a friend.

Such a dependency on electronics versus direct human interrelations means a codependency on whatever mysterious forces create a power grid.  Should something happen perhaps thousands of miles away, perhaps with a simple switch gone awry, the result can be a blackout of much of the New England states, or, heaven forbid, the loss of reception on cable television in the middle of the Dancing with the Stars finale!  How can we recover when precious work goes up in electronic smoke because we didn’t save it, and the monster power surge attacked without warning?

For a manager, overcoming this near total dependency means taking steps to insure that the work environment is not so dependent on one dimension of work tools that the loss of that particular modality destroys business continuity.  This is not only a challenge during the Atlantic hurricane season for agencies in Florida, but it is a challenge on a regular basis when a loss occurs because of a little local power surge. 

Certainly, power surges can be mitigated by surge protectors, automatic back-ups, lightening protection devices, and a host of other “solutions,” which happy technology vendors would be overjoyed to sell to us at significant prices.  Yet there is another and perhaps more important variety of loss or surge of power.  That is the human version. 

When we hear of a terminal illness suddenly attacking a friend, read of the victims of a senseless crime or the latest casualties in a war that never seems to go away, we are tempted to sing a chorus of Phil Och’s song, “There but for fortune may go you or I.”  All of us are susceptible to sudden power losses. The best protections we can offer to the risks of sudden acute loss of power — whatever the word means to each of us individually — is to step back for a moment and imagine what the risks are for different kinds of losses.  After that assessment, let us act now and act urgently to put up as many barriers as we can think of against the day when we may suffer that loss.

That means acting now to improve and protect our health, our finances, the impact-resistance of doors and windows at our houses, or basic home security measures to put off the day when a burglary might take place.  More importantly, it means active and consistent engagement with our spouses and our children to help steer them on paths of excitement, passion, learning and opportunity to help others.

Read now about another kind of power surge.  This is a wonderful kind.  It is a kind we all need to work toward being able to invoke deliberately.  It is the surge in our personal power to do good things often without personal recognition just because they are the right things and the fun things to do.

A personal power surge may come when there is a work project that makes us struggle, but an idea jumps into our brains in the strangest of places.  Perhaps the flash of insight comes at dinner or in a conversation with colleagues, or in bed at night before nodding off or in a car driving to work.

Perhaps it comes from a thought-provoking insight provided by a mentor or a teacher. Perhaps it comes in the middle of a very bad situation such as being given terrible news at a doctor’s office.  Perhaps that jolt into reality stimulates a thought that wasn’t there before. 

One thing is certain in reading the owner’s manual of personal power surges:  We will never achieve on-demand personal power surges by spending hours and hours a day watching television mindlessly, or sitting on a recliner like a sedimentary rock as the seconds of our limited lives tick relentlessly. 

A personal power surge is derived from the joy of learning and experiencing moments of wonder.  The power surge is derived from building a network of friends who challenge and sometimes provoke us as individuals into taking a risk or thinking in a new way.  There is really no excuse for not taking steps that lead to these positive kinds of power surges.

Ask yourself what you do at work, or don’t do at work, that might lead to a personal power surge that makes you more productive and that makes for a more enjoyable career.  Ask yourself the same question with regard to your relationship with other people or even your pet.

To share a recent conversation about robotic pets with the HR Dog, Kamala, she advised me that she looks at the Sony robot dog Aibo with a mixture of horror, fear and bemusement.  An electronic robot is not as messy as a real dog. It simply requires battery recharging when energy gets drained and never requires a vet appointment.  It will never replace the joy of the morning walk or the tail wagging anticipation when you come home from work.  We ultimately agreed that loss of our personal power requires that we balance the bytes in our lives with the bits of insight and passion we can create by the inspiration of others.  By the way, Kamala, were we both speaking of “bytes” and not the other spelling?

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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