The new workplace currency is training. Title is not important if you’re not staying long term. Salary increases of 3 or 4 percent are ceremonial. So use the clout you earn to get training; it will make a difference in a way salary and title cannot because training can fundamentally change how you operate and what you have to offer.

This column shows you how.

The book I’m reading right now is by twenty-five-year-old Ryan Heath: “Please Just F* Off, It’s Our Turn Now: Holding Baby Boomers to Account.” The book is great and offers incredible insight into what young people have to offer and why baby boomers need to get out of their way.

It’s published in Australia so you can’t buy it in the U.S. in stores. So it’ll cost you $40 to buy the book from the Australian publisher and have it shipped, but it’s worth it. In any case, I will tell you some of my favorite parts here.

The premise of the book is that baby boomers refuse to retire, refuse to admit that their ideas are outdated, and they are making their institutions irrelevant to young people, who are basically refusing to take part in baby boomer institutions. Heath focuses a lot in Australia, because young people are leaving in droves. But a lot of his points resonate in the U.S. also, where young people have little interest the all-consuming corporate life that baby boomers have institutionalized.

Heath describes his generation with great one-liners like, “We’ve been to IKEA more than we’ve been to church.” And he does a great job of describing how totally different his generation is from the baby boomers. Of young people’s energy he says, “It’s not a counter-culture or a mass protest. It’s not even a movement — it’s a view on hundreds of little movements, technologies, communications, social networks and practical philosophies.”

His ability to describe his generation is reason enough to buy the book. Young people will cheer at his ability to frame them in an extremely positive light and his ability to inspire excitement. The U.S. supports a large industry of baby boomers selling themselves as experts on generation Y to other baby boomers who want to retain gen-Y employees (who usually leave after less than two years). This book also makes you wonder about the ability of baby boomers to train other baby boomers on how to handle gen-Y employees.

Heath also does a great service when he tells boomers to change how they are dealing with young people. He warns boomers that, “We lead a much grander lifestyle than our incomes suggest, we solve problems in a flash and we’ve read about the latest dumb thing George Bush said before most of you have even turned up to the office.” He describes the power of blogging and being part of a networked community and says, “We want conversations not lectures.”

Heath shows that the impact of a networked community and a generation that refuses to receive lectures is that hierarchy is dead. “You are playing the wrong game if you thin power and influence and even fun is about being in control anymore,” warns Heath. “Hierarchies can’t cope with the new complex world we live in unless they are rigidly enforced as in the case with armed forces. But they aren’t needed for most things in our lives. Networks are designed to negate hierarchy — their members collaborate rather than compete.”

He has great insight, and he’s brave to dis the boomers when they still control almost all media outlets. Generation X might bristle at the unbridled self-confidence and optimism of Generation Y. But the Xers will be relieved to see that finally young people have the demographic force to take the boomers to task. Ryan Heath is the beginning of a tidal wave.

You have to specialize. Not right away, but figure out how to own some sort of niche. It is the key to your freedom. A specialist in a large company can demand flexibility, but a specialist also has an ability to leave corporate life and succeed on her own, which is something generalists can’t easily do.

There is good research to show that you will have an easier time staying employed if you specialize. This research comes, in part, from Hollywood, where people say they don’t want to be typecast, but the reality is that being typecast is a great way to get steady work.

In the corporate world, headhunters always have a job description they are trying to fill exactly. If you are a square peg, you can go in a square hole. If you do not define exactly what kind of peg you are, a recruiter can’t put you in a hole: No calls from headhunters.

But most people who are strategizing their career right now are not thinking long-term employment, they are thinking entrepreneurship. (Industry pundit Paul Saffo said in the EETimes, “I think the unintended consequence of the dot-com bust is that we have created the largest generation of entrepreneurs this country has ever seen.”)

For this generation, specialization is key to getting OUT of corporate life and into a more flexible work situation. You can’t market yourself to clients if you don’t offer any specific, unique service. And you can’t start your own company by selling to everyone all at once. Specialization is what will make you stand out enough to make it on your own.

When you are wondering why anyone would go work for a big company, the answer is to learn a specialty. Think of corporate life as an apprenticeship so that you can start your own company. Big companies are crawling with mentors and training programs that will help you narrow your focus effectively.

If you’re looking for a road map, there’s a nice story this week about how Christopher Burge became a specialist in running snooty auctions.

And when you get a little further down the specializing road, check out the book Slightly Famous, which, of course, has a web site in an effort to dominate the how-to-be-slightly-famous niche.

According to Newsweek, more than 3.4 million people have a daily commute that is longer than 90 minutes. Insane. I know it’s insane because I used to do it – Los Angeles to Orange County — and I went nuts. My whole life was organized around getting up at 4am to beat traffic and getting to sleep in time to get up the next morning.

I took the job because it was much better than any offer I had in LA, but I didn’t want to lose the life I had in LA. The thing is, I didn’t have a life anyway with my commute. I left that job after a little less than a year. To be honest, the job was great and enabled me to land future jobs in Los Angeles, near my home.

But what blows my mind is the people who think an extreme commute is a long-term solution. It’s not. Your life starts rotting away. Your friends and family don’t see you, you have no personal time that is not in the car, and perhaps most importantly, there’s no time for sex.

Take this last point seriously. David Blanchflower, professor of economics, found that the most important factor in one’s happiness is not money, it’s sex. And the two are not related, according to him. On top of that he found that the thing people do that makes them the most unhappy is…drumroll…the commute.

So stop rationalizing that a long commute will get you something you need. And stop living in denial about the true cost of those hours spent in the car: It’s your happiness, and good money or a big house in the suburbs will not improve things.

The best jobs are the ones where you are learning; the work is not too easy and not too hard. (The Yerkes-Dodson law says that optimum difficulty leads to optimum performance.) So forget looking for a pay increase (what is three percent of your salary going to buy you, really?) and forget a new title (titles only matter if you are going to stick around for twenty years and climb the ladder). Keep your eye on training perks. That’s what really matters. Training can change you, challenge you, set you up for the next great project, and generally make your work more fulfilling.

In an article about office politics, in Fast Company, it becomes clear that office politics is really about jockeying for the good training and good projects. Career coach Marilyn Moats Kennedy says, “Workers today compete for schedules and projects, for money and training. But they rarely compete for power – especially when that means power over others. Instead of power, people want assignments that build skills valued by the market. Learning experiences are what’s really important.”

That said, don’t settle for cheap, poorly run training. Ninth House published a white paper on what types of training top-performing companies use. Here’s a list to give you some ideas of what to ask for from your own company:

1. Executive coaching. No surprise here. But a good reminder that this sort of training is expensive and you should try to get your company to foot the bill.

2. Rotational assignments. Companies that grow their own executive management usually have intensive training programs that include many departments and businesses within the company. Push hard to get yourself into one of these programs. They are treasure troves in terms of both learning and prestige.

3. Quantitative measurement. There are ways to objectively quantify your leadership effectiveness (for example, 360-degree performance reviews). And then you can quantify your improvement, too. Ask for this. It’s a great way to find out what other people think of you without sounding lame for asking.

4. Learning by doing. Role playing is the best teacher there is, even though we all hated to do it. It’s the new rage. I see it in ads for business school, everyone claiming that they teach this way the most. I see it in image management consulting firms. I even noticed on Passover that my Haggadah has role-playing sections for kids. So even if you think you are too cool for role-play-based training, go to it if you have the chance.

I founded a company with a guy who was single and good looking and everyone who met with us thought we were dating. We weren’t. He was almost twenty years older than I was, for one thing. But we did spend ten hours a day together, and at some point it’s hard to say it’s only business.

It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re almost married to someone you work with. In fact, 32 percent of workers feel that way. The Des Moines Register reports that this is generally a common and positive workplace trend. I have to say that my experience of the phenomena was positive, also. We were very in tune with what each other was thinking because we were so emotionally connected. We handled meetings better as a team, and we grew the company more effectively because we were so invested in the other person as well as the company.

This sort of relationship can go bad, though, according to this month’s Oprah magazine, (which, by the way, is really underrated by the intelligentsia. I love the magazine and recommend that you subscribe. After all, what other publisher has the power of Oprah to get anyone she wants in the whole world to be in her magazine?) So anyway, according to the magazine, when these relationships go bad it’s because the people are getting their emotional needs met by a co-worker instead of their boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse. Oprah’s in-house therapist says that’s cheating, even if there’s no spit-swapping. And, she points out that if your marriage sucks, it’s a lot easier to fix it when it sucks than to fix it when it sucks and you’ve cheated.

So really, this sort of workplace spouse relationship only works well if you’re not in a relationship outside of work. It’ll work well as a stop-gap measure to keep things interesting until you can either get something going outside of work or start having sex with that co-worker. (If you’re going to do the latter, it’s tricky to not destroy yourself and/or your career. Here are four tips, along with the comforting fact that 40% of the working world has taken the same, insane risk.)

In case you have had your head in the sand for forever, emotional intelligence is what you need if you want to work with other people successfully. At this point, about four thousand studies have shown that emotional intelligence (“EQ” as in “emotional IQ”) makes people more successful at work. For you doubters, here is a quick summary list of ten studies from the Emotional Intelligence Consortium.

EQ is basically about being likeable. And the truth is that if you are not likeable people won’t work with you. Not that your skills don’t matter. If you need to learn media buying to do your job, then learn it. You will get hired because of your skills, but you will get fired for your personality. In fact, a study by Tiziana Casciaro at Harvard University showed that people would rather work with someone nice and incompetent than someone skilled but unpleasant.

The trouble is that everyone overestimates their own emotional intelligence. To make this point, I found an EQ test that you can take. And, to my chagrin, I found that I also overestimate my own EQ, Not that I am not at the top of the class. I am. But I didn’t realize that being good with one’s own finances is an indicator of EQ. (I confess that I buy the expensive, pre-sliced fruit almost every day.) At least I admit where I fall short. (Which, by the way, is a sign of high EQ.) and Money magazine just released a list of the top fifty jobs.

Here’s how they did the rankings:

Things that are bad are less than $50,000 average salary, dangerous, and small field with little room for advancement.

Things that are good are a growing field, low stress, flexibility in hours and working environment, creativity, and easy advancement.

Here are the top ten:

1. Software engineer

2. College professor

3. Financial advisor

4. Human resource advisor

5. Physician assistant

6. Market research analyst

7. Computer/IT analyst

8. Real estate appraiser

9. Pharmacist

10. Psychologist

I dove for this list as soon as I saw it, but the rankings are not as useful as you might imagine. However it made me happy to see that psychologist is up there at the top — it’s hard enough to go to a therapist, so I at least want to know that while I’m talking she is enjoying herself.

If you work the most hours you look the most desperate. You shouldn’t look lazy, but don’t be the hardest worker. After all, why do you need to work so much harder than the next person? Are you not as smart? Not as organized? Not as confident in your ability to navigate a non-work world? In many cases all three are true for those who work the hardest.

The fact that the hardest worker is not necessarily the most successful rears its head before work even starts: A study conducted by Alan Krueger, professor of economics at Princeton University, shows that when it comes to workplace success, it doesn’t matter if you get in to an Ivy League school, it matters if you apply. In this case what matters is ambition and self-image, not getting the best grades or having the best test scores.

Nonstop work offers diminishing returns after graduation as well. Marita Barth is a student at MIT in biological engineering. She is at the top of her field yet she makes time to play ice hockey and volunteer at local charities. When she talks about taking breaks from her lab, Barth says, I could not maintain focus and energy if I worked nonstop. I would completely lose perspective.”

Don’t tell yourself that you work nonstop because you love your work: If you really loved your work, you’d take a break so you don’t mess it up. People who work longer than the typical eight hours a day start to lose their effectiveness quickly. “If you work all the time, you lose your edge,” warns Diane Fassel, CEO of workplace survey firm Newmeasures and author of Working Ourselves to Death. “Often these people are perfectionists, controlling and not good team players. The hardest workers are “not the best producers in terms of efficiency and creativity.”

Ironically, moments that elevate your level of success at work often require time away from work. For example, a grand idea that impacts your company's bottom line probably won’t come to you when your brain is entrenched in workplace minutia. Anyone can work the hardest, but only special people can sit on a rock and come up with a brilliant idea. In fact, even daily troubleshooting requires some mental space. Barth has found that, “It takes a lot of thought to see what’s going wrong and make another plan. And at some point, if I spend too much time in the lab without a break, I’m not efficient.”

If you can’t stop working, you might be in for some bad news: Workaholism. Kevin Kulic, professor of psychology at Mercy College, says, “With any of those -holics, you are one if it causes you or other people a problem.”

But some people purposely create imbalance. “For many people, workaholism is about perfectionism or avoidance,” says Kulic. The hardest workers have actually lost the self-confidence to stop working. They are either terrified of making a mistake or a misstep, or they are terrified of the world that lies beyond their work — for example crumbling personal relationships.

Kulic cites the Yerkes-Dodson law that says too much or too little stimulation is bad. We need a happy medium in order to perform best. And Fassel cites worker surveys that support this law — the happiest workers have a workload that falls in between very heavy and very light.

This rule for working less applies to a job hunt, too. Many of you will be happy to hear that, “The amount of time you work beyond five hours a day has no impact on your ability to land a job” — good news brought to you by David Perry, managing partner of the recruiting firm Perry Martel International and co-author of Guerilla Marketing for Job Hunters.

Perry told me that a job hunt is like training for the 50-yard dash. “Everything is aimed at getting the interview. And you need to be mentally prepared.” Just as an athlete does not over train for the race, a job hunter will also experience defeating fatigue if there’s too much energy spent on the hunt.

Perry is adamant that the best jobs do not go to the smartest person or hardest worker but to the person who best reads his or her situation. So forget being the hardest worker because you need to be “bright eyed and bushy tailed.” Get out from behind that computer each day, he says and “enjoy the rest of your life.”


If you don’t organize your life with a list then you won’t know what is most important. Here are the problems with not knowing what is most important:

1. You spend your life doing things that don’t matter.

2. You drive yourself crazy by doing things of little importance all day long and then having to stay up late doing the things that really matter.

3. You don’t spend enough time asking yourself hard questions. Because what is a harder question than, “What is most important to me?”

I am a fiend about lists. So I was excited to try out Ta-Da List. It’s software that allows you to make linked lists. I love this because I find myself, as a list obsessive, using comment fields in Excel for extra lists. So, for example, I have a list of people to call, and then comment-field lists of what to say to each person. With Ta-Da List, I can have lists embedded in lists without my Excel jerry-rig.

Sometimes, though, when I am writing my lists, I think, gosh, this is so much detail, and I am not a detail person. I wish I had an assistant to dump this stuff on. Then I read that Bill Gates does not have a to-do list. I was surprised, but it makes sense. This is the nicest benefit I have ever heard to being rich and powerful: He can actually think something and it will get done because he is surrounded by such a wide range of competent people (who are, of course, at his beck-and-call).

Until you are Bill Gates, though, you should manage your days with a to-do list. And you should set aside time each morning to organize the list. Otherwise, you will just be reacting to what happens during the day; other peoples’ priorities will dictate your own. And then whose life are you living?