It’s been a month since the schools closed down in Tokyo. It seems likely that this will be extended into early May. As an entrepreneur working from home is not new to me. If I’m not delivering corporate training, meeting clients or attending events, I work from home.
Working from home with my kids in tow, completely new experience.
Each day I’m learning and adapting as I’m sure you and your team are. Early in March I found myself getting super stressed when my kids would be around during a conference call. What if my clients don’t think I am professional?
I realised though that this tension was impacting my presence on the call. I was so anxious about possible distractions that I was not focused. I was listening out for any sign of an imminent yelp or too loud burst of laughter.
It was whilst recording the Small Business in Japan podcast that I decided to change my approach.
When my son decided to jump into the shot only in his pajama pants, I just gave up! The whole situation was too ridiculous that I had to laugh. Thank goodness it is an audio not video podcast!
When you listen to the podcast you can also hear that Josh Smith has applied some music to the recording. It’s there to drown out the indoor table tennis tournament and the sounds of my kids getting over excited during the making of the Lego Harry Potter Hogwarts Great Hall that I panic bought after the schools were closed.
So this is my rethink about professionalism when working from home with kids.
- It is professional to be present.
- It is professional to be accepting.
- It is professional to be understanding.
- It is professional to be human.
According to Google’s Project Aristotle Research :
The most significant element of team success is what’s known as psychological safety: a culture of trust where people feel safe to speak up, take risks, and know that they won’t be ridiculed for making mistakes or dissenting.https://rework.withgoogle.com/print/guides/5721312655835136/
Whilst you and your team are adapting to new circumstances, allow people to make mistakes, to be less than “perfect” and apply a new perspective to what “professional” means.
Early in 2020 I decided to support the Points of You® Japan Tribe by volunteering to be a facilitator at the annual Shiawase2020シンポジウム. I was excited to co-facilitate and introduce Points of You® to a new audience of people and to talk about happiness. And to do all this with a monolingual Japanese team would be a new challenge for me as I often work in a bilingual environment.
Of course, in early March we got the announcement that the session would move online. Points of You® is very much about creating full body experiences. We use sight, sound, smell and touch (maybe taste in the snacks on a longer session?!) How would we bring that to 80 minutes online? It was time for rapid prototyping and innovation.
I had already begun experimenting with online sessions using the Points of You Online tool running sessions about resilience so had some sense that the human connection could still be made and powerful coaching works online. Through open communication within the team of facilitators, a great idea emerged to really make a simple, clear and powerful workshop to work online. It was amazing to see the attention to detail, the commitment and devotion of the team
We surprised ourselves with 3 core ideas of Points of You®:
Breaking patterns with quick skill development
Open hearts for learning and sharing
Creating a sense of belonging in our virtual team and virtual workshop
Whilst I love the use of all the senses at a F2F workshop, we really created a powerful journey online to talk about happiness. Very refreshing in these challenging times! I could feel my ikigai reigniting as I connected with the people in the virtual room!
Leadership and executive coach Jennifer Shinkai has shared tips on coping with the COVID-19 crisis—both personally and professionally—in the second webinar hosted by the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ).
In a lively Q&A format chaired by Graham Davis, BCCJ senior adviser, the expert on change management and communications discussed the need for individuals and organisations to adopt flexibility, resilience and action in the face of the current global pandemic.
Shinkai explained that this approach is important because people are feeling the strain of the crisis, with immediate concerns relating to health, welfare and family as well as wider concerns about the economy and the future. Such stress can result in many different reactions and coping mechanisms, of which not all are healthy.
Acceptance and solution
Taking a moment to grieve the loss of business, professional opportunities or former work situations can be helpful, she said, but it’s important that the next step is forward-thinking; remaining stuck in a negative mindset is damaging.
She called on members to be strong and reminded them that anyone can be resilient, even those who think it is not their inherent trait. “Resilience is a muscle,” she said, and “having the ability to bounce back is a practice.”
Organisations can play a critical role in helping their people on this journey of grief to being constructive.
“As a leader, realize where you are—in terms of acceptance and solution—and accept that everyone is working through it at their own pace. Think about how you can shorten the time of that change curve and move people into action as soon as possible,” she said.
Shinkai said businesses and individuals should make the most of online software-as-a-service solutions to help maintain productivity, motivation and engagement while working remotely.
Online conference provider Zoom, for example, features video webinars, online meetings, conference rooms and breakout rooms to suit all kinds of needs. There are also chat and comment functions so activities can be interactive.
While she admitted such meetings require more rigorous facilitation, to ensure input is balanced across participants, she said they can result in “really good engagement and interesting conversations.”
Technology can also be used to stay connected informally. Shinkai suggested anyone feeling isolated should consider inviting a colleague for a virtual coffee—and not feel guilty about it. These kinds of interactions play an important role in helping staff do their work well.
Additional benefits to working remotely include greater productivity and the opportunity to boost connections online. As an entrepreneur, Shinkai has found using online tools to connect and talk to people has expanded her professional network over the years, helping her to have a “better global view.”
“When I was working in corporate, I was very mindful about how I was building my network within the organisation and local community,” she said. Now, she is mindful of building her network online and called on members to do the same, particularly at this time.
Disruption and opportunity
Noting the importance of innovation for business success, the BCCJ’s Davis asked if the COVID-19 crisis presented opportunities for organisations to be disruptive and stimulate new ideas.
Shinkai suggested that it was a good time to experiment, albeit with some caveats. Firms should “reduce the perception of risk and reduce the scale,” she said. For example, start something on a small scale and with a low budget, and use it as a learning activity.
“Applying a design-thinking mindset can also be great,” she added.
Staying structured, connected
For Shinkai, experimentation today is both an opportunity and a necessity. As her clients shifted their priorities from training to crisis management, her short- and medium-term sales pipeline dried up in late February, leaving her to look at other options.
Her passion was to continue helping people to integrate ikigai (life purpose) into their work, so she created Make March Matter, a free online community of professionals seeking to maintain productivity during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Piloting something new freed me from being a perfectionist,” she said, explaining that she created and launched the project in one day because she had no fear of failure. “Once I made the decision [to launch], I had an amazing change of energy and clarity to help me produce [the content],” she added.
Make March Matter aims to offer accountability, connection and inspiring action via three online sessions per week. Participants get regular check-ins and structure, which helps with their motivation, energy and mental health. The community also encourages and inspires each other, while evolving organically to adapt to user needs.
Shinkai will continue Make March Matter in April under the theme of “Action in April.” https://www.facebook.com/groups/makemarchmatter2020/
“I’m glad that I’m being useful at a time when I thought that I couldn’t be, and I encourage everyone to find a moment to think where they can find opportunity,” she said. “It’s a serious time, but also a time for play because everyone is changing, and the rules are changing. Start small and see what happens.”
Agile and open
Shinkai advocated flexibility, a “default-to-action mindset” and openness during this time of crisis. Entrepreneurs may be more agile and better equipped to adapt to new challenges, but corporate staff can also play their part in helping organisations be more agile.
When asked what lessons can be gleaned from the crisis, she said organisations should take time to realise the extent of what can be done online, celebrating what they were able to shift from in-person to online. “When forced to do it online, we’ve made it happen,” she said.
With many organisations also embracing change and disruption to keep their operations moving, it’s also a great opportunity to practice inclusiveness during troubleshooting, creation and decision-making. Engaging more staff not only improves morale, it also guarantees more ideas and therefore better results.
“It’s a great opportunity to hear different perspectives and different ways of doing things,” she said. “As each opportunity comes, we should be listening to different voices because they are seeing the world in a different way.”
Found yourself with an empty book of business due to the Coronavirus? Join this free online community of entrepreneurs , freelancers, and professionals focused on accountability and action to make March 2020 meaningful to future success. Sessions are in English and based on Tokyo time – all are welcome!
Join the Mailing List or the Facebook Group
Commit to delivering one of those “to-dos” you have been putting off. Make March 2020 the month that you update your website, write that book or streamline your processes
Regular Zoom calls support community. Gathering diverse professionals gives a chance for innovation, collaboration and new ideas for your business
Support each other to make things happen and get a regular dose of inspiration to support your resilient mindset in these uncertain times.
Join the Mailing List or the Facebook Group
How will we connect?
Accountability Kick Off
Monday mornings means Accountability Kick Off!
How will you #makemarchmatter?
What do you need from the group this week?
What do you bring to the group this week?
Monday Morning Accountability Kick Off Schedule
Monday March 2nd, 2020 8:30am to 9:30am JST
Monday March 9th, 2020 8:30am to 9:30am JST
Monday March 16th, 2020 8:30am to 9:30am JST
Monday March 23rd, 2020 8:30am to 9:30am JST
Monday March 30th, 2020 8:30am to 9:30am JST
Mid-Week Power Hour
Wednesday Afternoons means Mid-week Power Hour
We will use appreciative inquiry as a way to get new perspectives on our challenges and fire up through hump day!
We hold this early afternoon as 2:07pm is the sleepiest time of the day. Brainstorming in our community will leave us energised and ready for action!
How will you #makemarchmatter?
Bring a specific challenge or opportunity to discuss and get insight for the group to move you forward!
Wednesday Mid-Week Power Hour Schedule
Wednesday March 4th, 2020 13:30 to 14:30 JST
Wednesday March 11th, 2020 13:30 to 14:30 JST
Wednesday March 18th, 2020 13:30 to 14:30 JST
Wednesday March 25th 2020 13:30 to 14:30 JST
TGIF (Or Thursday!) Week in Review
We made it!
Wrap up the week with a review – brags, failures, new ideas and inspiration.
TGIF! (although sometimes this will happen on a Thursday due to my schedule and the National Holiday!)
How will you #makemarchmatter?
TGIF (or TH) Week in Review Schedule
Here are where things get a little complicated and subject to possible change!
Friday, March 6th, 2020 17:00 to 18:00 JST
Friday, March 13th, 2020 11:00 to 12:00 JST (Schedule may change )
Thursday, March 19th, 2020, 17:00 to 18:00 JST (Friday is a National Holiday)
Thursday, March 26th, 2020 17:00 to 18:00 JST (Schedule may change)
Find out more?
I’m writing this as my incredibly health son starts three days of 学級閉鎖 (class shutdown) for the flu rampaging his class. It’s common practice in Japan that if a third of the students are sick to shut down the class to prevent the further spread of infectious diseases. Needless to say: Working parents hate it! We are fortunate that we are both in jobs where we can work from home if needed. And as I mentioned, my son is not stricken with the flu and is generally very 元気 (full of energy), sometimes too much. So in the great scheme of things, I’m grateful of how things turned out!
Whilst I try to keep him off the Nintendo Switch, I’m trying to work out an issue with a client over an upcoming Points of You® Academy programme in February. After cancelling programmes in 2019 due to not meeting the minimum requirement of 6 people, I find myself having to stop ticket sales as we are overflowing the room at 10. Argh! What should I do?
It all reminds me of working at Wall Street Associates (now en world) after my first maternity leave and I was put in charge of Client Relationships and organising “Leaders of Japan” networking events for our C-Level clients. I was reporting directly to the CEO, Nick Johnston. As we were drawing up the lists of potential guests, I started to panic,
“But Nick, what if too many people come? What if we are over subscribed?”
“What? Why are we worrying about Champagne problems?”
“Huh?” My blank face showed him I had no idea what he was talking about.
“This isn’t a problem. It’s great! If we are oversubscribed, brilliant! We can create a waiting list, we can run another event at a later date. We know that we have really hit the nail on the head and the clients love this idea.
“That’s a champagne problem. Not a problem at all but an opportunity. Next!”
A quick search today on google shows me that the term “champagne problems” generally seems to be another way to say #firstworldproblems, talking about the scale and impact of your “problem” in the context of wider social issues like conflict, poverty and so on.
However, I prefer Nick’s view and the lessons on reframing and giving yourself the option to think about the opportunity to achieve more than you thought was possible.
I often talk about champagne problems with Japanese managers in the midst of organisational transformation. When we have an organisational culture with a tendency to focus on what might go wrong, to avoid risk by not taking any, we keep ourselves in a holding pattern.
“There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, What if you fly?”Erin Hanson
We should not be a Pollyanna and be blindly optimistic but allowing room for an exploration of the upside of success can be thrilling, motivating and, most importantly, give opportunities for further innovation and brainstorming.
I also hear clients complain about the challenges of working with a team that is “too diverse”. Again, I am like “what?! You are having creative conflict and you have a chance to really leverage the benefits of different perspectives. Champagne problem! Next!”
So next time, you hear someone complain about being too busy because of too many customer requests, or having to take time out of their schedule to onboard their new hire, remind them of the idea of champagne problems and ask them how they can reframe this as an opportunity.
I’ll remind myself that I can enjoy some quality time with my son and enjoy his company one on one for the next three days! #champagneproblems
What type of situations might thinking about champagne problems be useful for you?
So how did this lass from Bury, in the north west of England, become so interested in this Japanese concept of Ikigai?
Of course, moving to Japan in 1999 with proximity to the culture would be a simple explanation but I did not become aware of the concept until 2017. It was only after I discovered my Ikigai that I discovered Ikigai.
I wish I had known about it in 2015. It really was my “annus horribilis”.
The year began with me laid up in bed with a slipped disc. Agony whatever I did, unable to lie comfortably or move around, unable to take care of my family or commute on a crowded train to Tokyo to go to work. I could not sit or stand. Lying down was not even that much respite. I endured some terrible physio that probably made the issue worse before I asked around locally and finally found someone who could help.
But during these weeks as I struggled with pain and felt let down by my body for the first time in my adult life, I started to sink into depression. I cried when I could not carry my infant son, or even do simple jobs around the house, I could not play with or comfort my daughter. There were no more impromptu dance parties, tickle fights or circus skills. I was never a great cook but now the act of shopping, cooking and cleaning up was more than I could handle.
Who was I as a mother?
So to my husband. He had to take on all the caregiving, as well as his full time job. As a Japanese salaryman, even at an enlightened company, the fact that he could not do overtime every day was beginning to take its toll. And as for intimacy…well, that was very far from my mind. And not only in the physical sense. I had no energy to listen to his troubles, no fire in my heart to support and cheer him on. I was locked in my own suffering and frustration.
Who was I as a wife and partner?
And then my work. Truth be told, I was glad not to have the commute. Something had shifted in my engagement and satisfaction. I had been with my company since 2004. They were challenging but enjoyable years. However, after my second maternity leave I came back to a different job, with a different boss. And to be frank, I was underperforming in my role. I had no fire in my belly for the work. More importantly for the first time in my career I did not feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie with the people on my team. I could not see where the role would take me.
Who was I in my career? What was my role in the firm?
In the key places where I defined my identity, (mother, wife, professional), I felt a failure. I felt I had nothing to offer.
There were a few bright spots. I had an incredibly supportive network of women through my leadership of a Lean In Circle, a peer to peer networking group, that I founded in Tokyo. I also had the camaraderie of my local running group although obviously running was off the cards during this period.
With perfect 20:20 hindsight, I see that the slipped disc was a great way of getting me to slow down. I was forced to take stock of my life and what I valued.
The slipped disc was certainly a real issue. I have the MRI scans to prove it. I can’t help but think that I was sending myself a warning. Something had broken inside me and I could not get out. Be warned, gentle reader, that I will talk a LOT about listening to your body. The signs that our parasympathetic nervous system sends us are an incredibly valuable message.
Then slowly, slowly, the pain relief started to work. I was able to return to “normal” life and pick up all those roles again. But the seed had been planted and the nagging thought in my mind was there.
“Without these things, these roles that I thought defined me, who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?”
Big questions with no easy answers. And as a harried working mum with a young family, they were questions that were easy to ignore.
Around the time that I started to recover, I had dinner with a friend, Renee.
“How are things?” she asked.
“Not so terrible” I said, trying to reframe my current situation, to put it in perspective of my #firstworldproblems. I wanted to remind my self that in the great scheme of humanity that as an Oxford educated, white woman in a white collar job in Tokyo with a healthy family, a lovely house and many options and support, things were indeed not so terrible.
“But darling, Jen! Not so terrible is not the goal. You deserve more. Everyone does!”
And then it hit me, that I was settling. I started to think about how it was possible to give myself permission to ask for more. It wasn’t greedy or self indulgent to want more and by aiming only for “not so terrible” I was holding myself back. By settling in a role that I wasn’t engaged in, I was also becoming a drain on resources in my firm. I was transforming into the very type of colleague that I most disliked: The safe, the bored, the clock in/ clock out, the ranks of the disengaged.
Was this the limit of my potential? Why am I here? What is my purpose?
Around the time of this dinner, a couple of other moments of clarity came to me. Once we start to pay attention, the messages start coming thick and fast. Perhaps that is why you are reading this now?
Realizing that I had been sent a wake up call in the form of a shut down of my body, I had decided to take action. I was working with Anne Good, an executive coach, and drilling down on these questions of purpose, strengths and life design. On our regular Skype calls, we focused on creating possibilities for potential next steps. I developed awareness of my unique strengths. I met fabulous people with really interesting jobs through informational interviewing. I clawed back the agency and control that I had lost over the last 12 months. I found that I was improving relationships within my team, meeting inspiring people with interesting stories and leaning into what I loved.
I attended a speech by Dr. Bob Tobin, author of “What do you want to create today?” and he asked the room “What is your dream?” And in that question, I had the saddest realization. I don’t have a dream. I can’t see beyond the hamster wheel of my work and family life. I am coasting, waiting for things to happen to me. I could not believe it but the truth was staring me in the face. I had given up on the idea of hopes and dreams for myself.
And yet, and yet… I started to see something, a power and presence in me that emerged when I was facilitating the LeanIn Circle. There was a monthly moment of flow. It was during those meetings that I felt the most energized. The most useful. The most me.
From these insights about strengths, possibility, dreams and flow, a new perspective emerged. There might be something else out there for me that could work!
I announced in a session that I wanted to return to L&D and to pursue options in facilitation and coaching. Anne, my coach asked me, “What if you stay in this job and spend the next 6-12 months studying to be a coach?”
Shudder – it was a visceral reaction, the churn in my stomach. I may have even been a little sick in my mouth! Overwhelming feelings of dread at the thought of showing up every day and becoming a little more broken each month.
But then, the practical side of maintaining the status quo held me. What would I do instead? How could I make a living? I was terrified of that too.
This is where I realized the importance of all those informational interviews. Meeting diverse people who can suggest options of how to live or choices to make that you did not know were possible. I met with Ted Agatsuma, an experienced HR professional who was now working as a consultant. I bemoaned the jobs which I had seen on the market in L&D and Training.
“I want to be a practitioner, Ted. I want to be in the room with people and see the aha moments with them!
“The only way that is going to happen is if you set up your own company and freelance,” he told me in a very matter of fact way. And just as the words “I can’t set…” started to come out of my mouth, I stopped myself. What if I could? What might it look like?
And from that moment on, it was all systems go. With the support of my family and the promise of paying my half of the mortgage for a year from my husband, I set about planning the launch of my sole proprietorship.
I had dinner with Ted on February 26th, 2016. Resigned in early May and the business was launched on June 29, 2016 with the help of the first professional I hired, Yasuko Mori, who remains my wonderful and supportive Tax Accountant.
Looking back on my personal experience, I see how useful it would have been to use the Ikigai framework. Once I had a clear understanding of what I loved, what I was good at, what I could be paid for and what the world needed, I was able to take action. Once I worked out what would make me jump out of bed rather than battle the pain of a slipped disc, I was able to start moving forwards.
So as I said, It was only after I discovered my Ikigai that I discovered Ikigai.
We were absolutely stumped on one of the missions in the Tokyo Metro: The Underground Mysteries over the new year. The four of us just could not work it out. The kids got gradually more crabby and we could see the sun getting low in the winter sky. Finally we admitted defeat and opened the page with the answer.
Which I will not reveal – NO SPOILERS!
It was so frustrating not to be able to work out how the answer was reached. Even though we knew where we needed to go next we didn’t know why. (reminds me of my post on when hitting goals feels like failure!) There was a niggling annoyance and disappointment. But time was ticking and it we needed to get moving. Oh well!
Before we got ready to leave the cafe, I popped to the loo. As I was washing my hands, suddenly I had a flash of inspiration. Could it really be that simple? Was it possible that that was the answer?
“Hey, DH, you know the thingy does it have a whatchamacallit on it?!” (I told you no spoilers!)
And, yes, it did! We understood how to solve the puzzle. I felt so light and happy!
We all know, in theory, that when we are stumped by a problem we need to create some distance, allow the brain some time to access it. Last week was a really perfect example of this unconscious processing in action.
“Unconscious processing” is the third step in James Webb Young’s 1965 classic “A Technique for Producing Ideas“. And we’ve all experienced it! You know the feeling of the Eureka moment- having our best ideas in the shower, whilst taking a walk, doing something completely different to just let the brain do its job without things being so hard. It really questions the point of brainstorming in meetings and exposes why it is so hard for teams to be innovative in those environment.
As a side note, I recently heard Emily Aarons on James Wedmore’s podcast talking about why that whole water on the head in the shower is such a great way to have ideas – an interesting idea of the power of chakras if that floats your boat! I’ll take the magic and the science – whatever helps!
How to apply Unconscious Processing in daily life?
What ideas are you finding tough at the moment? Where have you been working hard but not seeing any new connection or inspiration?
It might be time to step away from the whiteboard, post its or screen and create some space for unconscious processing.
With no scientific proof, here are five simple ideas to make like Elsa and let it go!
- Find water – take a bath, jump in the shower, sit on the loo, walk by the river, go for a swim, wash your hands – Find flow!
- Take a hike!… or a walk, or climb the stairs, go for a run – get some exercise endorphins to move your brain into a new state
- Get your hands dirty – sketch, colouring in for grown ups, play with modelling clay, legos, play a musical instrument – focus on some different parts of your body to forget about your conscious brain.
- Pause – ah yes, the Points of You® favourite for transitions, shifting energy and opening up to inspiration. Mindfulness, meditation, or just sit and listen to some music.
- Why Don’t You? take inspiration from the 1980s UK classic TV show “Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead?” chat with a colleague about challenges in their business, talk to someone outside your company/ industry, go to a new exhibition, read a magazine or listen to a podcast from an area you don’t know anything about. Innovation and inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places.
Would love to hear your ideas about unconscious processing in the comments!
Want your team to discover unexpected but precise connections? Points of You® Experiences are great places to unlock new perspectives and innovate in an inclusive environment. Take a look at some of the corporate workshops (including finding your individual and corporate ikigai) or contact me to set up a meeting to create a custom made workshop for 2020!
At the second half of 2019, I set myself a goal of finishing 26 books. I didn’t quite make it but I really enjoyed the process and the accountability of announcing it publicly, posting on SNS (Facebook and LinkedIn).
Someone suggested that I start using Goodreads and I put it off until this year so I could start clean! So here we are – 40 books in a year. Watch this space for my progress with quite a few to come in the first few weeks as I have several books on the go near completion!
Let me know what is on your reading list in 2020!
When did you work with Jennifer Shinkai (event, date, her role, areas of expertise)? How did she add value to your organisation?
Bosch Corporation Aftermarket Japan, Gasshuku – Management Bootcamp Nov. 2019: She provided facilitator role with concepts as Points of You®, 4 Tendencies and Appreciative Inquiry in Japanese and English. Focus on Self Awareness as the source of change that needs to enable the whole organization for the transformation in the Automotive industry.
Create creative ideas and sample process to MVP with out-of-box-thinking and Design Thinking Methods, customer centricity and fun in mind.
We all left the day of facilitation exhausted, but happy with a smile for the different perspectives we had a chance to enter.
What were her strengths as a facilitator/moderator/coach? How would you describe her style? What was it like to work with her?
Empathetic and strong in group management, Jennifer always knew what the group needed (we started with a meditation! :-)) and set the tone with different tools throughout the day.
Her bilingual language skills were highly appreciated and were one of the main reasons for many managers to actively participate throughout the whole day.
Why would you recommend her to facilitate workshops/ offer coaching for other organisations?
Great input from various different sources, I met Jennifer due to a Ikigai workshop, which I thought we could do with our management group, but in the course of preparation, we realized it wasn’t the right thing. She has a huge toolset of different methods to unveil more potential in your group.
Any other comments? Questions or Ideas?
Highly recommend Jennifer, great investment of budget and time into a more inclusive and empathetic team !
AA/SMS-JP, Marketing Director, BOSCH Japan