Depositphotos_26362793_original pain-hand-small
February 19, 2016

Ergonomics

Sitting is the new smoking

Source: Mirror.co.uk

They say sitting is the new smoking and they may be right. Listen to your body.

I am currently in the write up and editing stage, and in the midst of a tonne of reflection as the result of wandering through the valley of sh!t. To be honest, I’m probably more limping through this valley, as I am feeling the effects of sitting at my computer supposedly writing. ‘Supposedly’ writing – but it’s more like this:

Source: PhD Comics

Source: PhD Comics

I like to sit cross legged on my seat for long periods of time, and this has resulted in hyper extension of ligaments around ankles and knees – leaving me with very sore feet and ankles at the end of the day. I’ve also had a notable increase in knee pain in ascending and descending stairs.

I’ve also noted issues in my hands. Not so much with typing, but with my mouse. I started with a Trackpad, and have moved through a few alternatives with varying results:

  • My Apple trackpad is great for fine control on my computer, however I noted pains shooting down the back of my hands up towards my wrist – probably due to the strength required to click.
  • My Logitech mouse – totally love it, however I have noticed that my thumb can get tired over time due to the heavy reliance on the thumb for scrolling, and I have pain now even when I’m not using it.
  • Now I’m back to a traditional mouse – it’s too early to report any change in symptoms, but I probably have some sort of RSI in my hands by now. I am going to look at some exercises to reduce the impact of these instruments.

From Trackpad, to Logitech ergonomic mouse, to regular Apple mouse

In terms of sitting, I now have adjusted my seat and have a foot rest – it still needs improvement as I am always itching to put my feet up on the seat of my chair. I have sat cross legged most of my life and I am very uncomfortable sitting with both feet on the floor. I probably need to look at exercises like finding my primal posture, as per the video below.

I have tried a standing desk, and that is great for short bursts. However if I stand too long I need to sit as my feet start hurting. I have aquired some rubber thongs (aka flip-flops or jandles for the non-Aussies), as I realise the long standing time on the marble isn’t doing me any good. I had been using a carpet to stand on, however the help of that wears off pretty quickly.

While the experts may not agree, it seems we ultimately need balance and variety of movement, and I think this is more relevant especially as we get older.

“What’s best for your muscle and joints and your mind’s productivity? Sit for no more than 20 minutes at a time, Hedge recommended, and stand in one position for no more than 8 minutes. You should also take a two-minute moving break at least twice an hour to stretch or walk around.” —Boston Globe

Buffer, a company I respect a great deal has a practical work philosophy towards movement, and while it’s not practical and highly disruptive to my already disrupted writing to implement all at once, I’m going to start to slowly implement some of the suggestions. I’m starting this week with work breaks: I am now setting my timer to 25 20 minutes (the Pomodoro technique recommends 25 – I’m changing this to 20) and alternating positions or just taking the time to get up and go look out a window. We’ll see how that goes.

Depressed and lonely teenage girl with hands over her face sitting on the railroad

Recently I was reading a post on The Muse, an online career resource website, and I was drawn to this post because of the title: “How to Work Hard When You Really Just Don’t Care Anymore”. Unfortunately this is where I am at with my PhD.

In doing this PhD I have been very fortunate in that I have had mostly positive experiences in getting through milestones. I did well at proposal acceptance as well as our HDR Conference. I also received positive feedback from case study participants as to the worth of the research that I am doing. Even set backs with regards to access that required I reassess how my research methodology was going to work was not something too daunting, and I was able to reframe my approach to meet the limitations that I had encountered.

However the writing always bugged me. I have been back and forth between people that have said that my writing style is straightforward and easy to read (very positive in some people’s opinions in academia) and others that say my writing lacks the academic weight (they would say gravitas) that is required in writing at PhD level. I’ve been trying to argue for the inclusion of stories, as that is a key part of the cultural/sociological aspect of my research, and have met reactions to this that vary from extremely negative to those that just don’t get it in the academic environment.

My writing has been my insecurity throughout this whole process, and now that I reflect on this, it probably overflows from my professional life as well. I have been requested to produce articles, however in writing professionally (in industry magazines) I am hesitant to put my opinion out there as an expert. I have done articles and such, however not with the frequency of some of my male counterparts. In writing for magazines, I am exposing myself to be criticised for my claim of expertise. I feel that I might be criticised for a variety of things – my writing style, my lack of specialisation in my career (although my career has been tremendously rich and fulfilling and I see every job that I have done as something that gives me a rick, holistic view of organisations), my lack of experience in one aspect of the topic that I am writing (although who can really claim to have a full view of every perspective?). These all lead to tremendous insecurities about writing and being criticised for what I am putting out in to the world.

However as the post stated:

As Leandra Medine, the founder of Manrepeller.com, says on her podcast “Monocycle,” “We have to reframe our methods of thinking. Because everything has the potential to be good. Everything has the potential to be seen as a learning experience and a tool of motivation to make us better.”

Ultimately, I think I need to adopt the perspective of writing as a conversation. This is different to my verbal conversation style. I have in the past tended to adopt what I call an absolute tense… where I have phrased questions as statements and invite people to contradict me. Somewhat confrontational, I guess. :-) I think with writing I am perhaps less certain and possibly very tentative, couching statements and limiting what I am willing to say about my perspective as a result, in case I am criticised.

What has resulted is me wandering around in the valley of shit – a phrase that is famous in PhD circles – where my confidence is at an all-time low. This is not helped by the fact that during the end of the write-up period we are generally trying to find a job. I have been told by many to hide my PhD research if I am applying outside of academia, so on top of the rejections, it makes me feel like the work I have done over the last few years has been for naught. Freaking awesome.

I need to work out how to frame this as a learning experience, focus on transferable skills, and just bloody write. I need to get over this paralysis.

This too shall pass, I guess. :-(

language

I was recently in Vietnam and having a late dinner with some colleagues from various universities. We were very fortunate in that we had someone who could speak passable Vietnamese (her words), as we were trying to find a place that would serve us local Vietnamese cuisine after “last-call”. As we were happily munching on a variety of dishes put together by the chef, we started discussing language. Our Vietnamese speaker was telling us she has the vocabulary of a 10 year old – enough to ask for directions and order food – the result of growing up in a Vietnamese family in the US. Just as we were getting in to the conversation, she exclaimed “Hot!!” and starting making waving gestures in front of her face.

“Spicy?” asked a colleague.

“No, temperature,” she replied.

It occurred to me, as it had often before, that English has a single word for both of these concepts. My limited knowledge of Bahasa (Malayu/Indonesia) had made me realise that there are different words for this in some languages – panas for temperature-hot, and pedas for spicy-hot in Bahasa is one such example. I asked her if this was the case in Vietnamese, and she informed me that it was.

One of our colleagues turned to me and asked me if I spoke any other languages. When I replied that I didn’t, she turned away and I felt shut out of any further conversation on language with her.

In an attempt to re-open that conversation, I then shared a story I often tell – where I tried to say “ni hao ma” to some colleagues when I first moved to Singapore. Apparently my pronunciation was excellent, if I had wanted to ask “how is your mother’s horse.” 😐 Everyone had started laughing and at 23 that put an end to further attempts at speaking Putonghua (aka Mandarin). The Vietnamese speaker at the table shared a similar experience she had gone through in attempting to speak Spanish in the US.

It may have been my own perception, or it may have been an accurate description, however there have been a number of cases where I have experienced this or heard it from others – where those that are new to a language or who don’t speak a local/second language are not included in the “in-group.” However does that necessarily mean we can’t understand some of the mechanics of language from our own native language, or try to understand the cultural aspects of a nation without speaking that language? It is common to criticise researchers who try to understand culture without speaking the language of that culture, however a certain group of professionals must do this, and do it often: business negotiators, travellers and expatriates.

Language is a key aspect of communication, and it has been found to dominate as a challenge in process compliance in business operations (Gray & Massimino 2014) and affect strategy setting and communication (usually originating in the language of the home country) and strategy implementation (the local response to the communication) (Luo and Shenkar 2006), however what can be more subtle and certainly confounding is when we speak the same language but the cultural differences between us change the meaning or the subtext associated with that word. Some researchers have attempted to find out if language or culture have a greater impact on understanding, with Zander, Mockaitis and Harzing  (2011) performing an investigation in to this, resulting in no significant differences between instruments that were half completed in English and half completed in their native language. This then points to a conclusion that differences in understanding results from cultural and gender differences rather than language.

In business, English is generally considered to be the “native language”, particularly in multinational corporations. Expatriates, negotiators and managers of multiple regions are often required to navigate their responsibilities and relationships with colleagues without necessarily having language training. In my own research, all interviewees reported that English was the language of the office. In some countries, this was a matter of pride for the employees. So while this allows communication to be possible between locally engaged employees and foreign colleagues, the foreign colleague needs to negotiate their position within and understanding of the local environment from an etic, or outsider perspective.

Having lived and moved through several cultures and not necessarily speaking languages of those cultures, I find that I have negotiated my own way, and been able to successfully complete a number of projects. Having said that, I know Putonghua (Mandarin) speakers from Singapore who have not been successful in China. So language, while important, is one aspect of success in navigating through cultures. I may be a language outsider, but are there other ways to be part of the in-group?


 

Gray, J.V. & Massimino, B., 2014, The Effect of Language Differences and National Culture on Operational Process Compliance, Production and Operations Management, pp. 1043-56.

Luo, Y. & Shenkar, O., 2006, The Multinational Corporation as a Multilingual Community: Language and Organization in a Global Context, Journal of International Business Studies, 37(3), pp. 321-39.

Zander, L., Mockaitis, A.I., Harzing, A.-W., Baldueza, J., Barner-Rasmussen, W., Barzantny, C., Canabal, A., Davila, A., Espejo, A. & Ferreira, R.F., 2011, Standardization and contextualization: A study of language and leadership across 17 countries, Journal of World Business, 46(3), pp. 296-304.

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I recently had a discussion with a group of students that started with me stating a rather unusual request. 

“You need to stop asking questions.”

This is counter to almost everything I encourage in a learning environment. The classroom (be it online, in a room or onsite)  is supposed to be a safe place to fail, and a place to ask as many questions as you like – discussion is supposed to be healthy and a key part of learning, isn’t it?

The problem that I had was two-fold: respect and effort. 

The type of questions that were being thrown up were of the “I don’t know anything about X” type. Variations of this include “I’ve never heard of that” and “that’s beyond me” are included in this, and aren’t constructive questions. 

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Find out what it means to me

By saying “I don’t know anything…” or something similar, as an instructor I have to start all over on a particular topic as you have given me no frame of reference to provide the information you need that will make the subject matter understandable. This results in me having to restate material that you possibly already have grasped, resulting in frustration on your side AND mine. 
How you ask a question shows that you respect the instructor by giving them something to start with. Frame the question in terms of what you have understood and what is missing. “I understand that …, but I don’t see the connection with …” Is one way to state this. 

This is particularly relevant when there are others in the learning environment as you need to respect the time they have with the instructor as well, and if I’m repeating information you all understand, that frustrates everyone.

Effort: You need to do the heavy lifting

By framing the question, it’s shown me that you’re thinking, and allows me to answer the question in a way that will get you to the knowledge quicker, without having to go through all the materials again. 

Also, there may be some nuances of the materials that are required reading before the class. Some students like to get their instructors to teach the readings, but at Masters level this may not be possible. 

If you haven’t done the reading, then you may need to use those smart phones smartly and Google terms you don’t understand, especially if the majority of the class clearly does. You may need to make up for lack of effort before class… Even if it is through no fault of your own (we all get busy schedules). 

But that heavy lifting requires you to think about the questions you ask and to make sure that you are going to get an answer that helps you, not just a repeat.

This discussion ended up with a heart to heart in the class about imposter syndrome (something that affects me), as well as the difficulties faced by students who are just starting their masters (or undergraduate, for that,after) when some of their classmates may be in their final subjects. The students who have been studying longer have usually picked up a vocabulary that can be intimidating to some who are just starting out. Our discussion finished with some wise words from the other lecturer in the room: “Some times you’ve just got to suck it up and learn.”

freeimages.com/Miranda Knox
August 17, 2015

From a Western Mindset

I’m borrowing the title from a book I randomly pulled off the shelf yesterday – Working Across Cultures, by John Hooker (2003) – as it certainly describes the attitude that I carried to Singapore as a young adult migrating from Australia. On temporary assignment, I was being posted for nine months to complete a project to deliver an effective quality system in a distribution environment across two countries and three locations. The multiple locations I had done before, however looking back I can see that I was unprepared for the multiple countries and the multiple cultures I needed to work with to achieve my aggressive target.

FreeImages.com/Andy Naylor

FreeImages.com/Andy Naylor

At the time I was briefed and prepared by the management at home and expatriate management in the host country – I was going to teach these people… These people who called mobile phones “hand phones” and who added -lah as a suffix to words at odd places… I was going to teach them how business was done.

Such was my attitude when I called my first meeting of management stakeholders. Scheduled at ten in the morning, a time I deemed suitable in case anyone was late or needed a few minutes to tackle those urgent requests. I was waiting in the conference room for 15 minutes before I realised that it appeared no one was coming. Being a small office I quickly stuck my head around corners and checked if we were still on. “Coming, coming,” was the general reply. I went back to the conference room and waited. We started at 10:45am.

This was my first introduction to a small difference as to ‘how things were’ and my perception of ‘how things should be’. I spent the first two months of my posting trying to hold meetings on time before finally discussing this with other expatriated westerners who basically agreed that this was “just the way things were.” The Singaporeans didn’t seem to think this was a problem, and it seemed that I was the only one bothered by it. What was wrong with these people?

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