Why Your Story Matters at Work

By Naazish YarKhan, Class of 2010

What is America built on if not the Abe Lincoln “Log Cabin to White House” story about this country being the land of opportunity? The Rosa Parks story and the Emmet Till story have served as reminders of the injustices of segregation, better than statistics about hate crimes or discrimination, could ever. It was the story of the tenacity and courage of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that held the world's attention and its heart strings. Similarly, it was insufficient stories from flood hit Pakistan this June, that resulted in the tragedy falling under the radar. 1/3rd of that nation was under water and more people died in those floods than the combined lives lost during the Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti Earthquake. How many of us know that? These facts go to prove that story has the power to influence and the strength to mobilize or water down both relationships and movements. As Cohen and Prusak assert, this is true irrespective of whether a story is rooted in fact or fiction, or presented as a fable or as a comic book. When there are working groups with members who do not know each other well, divergent opinions could end up creating walls, bad feelings or hostility even. As we get to know each other’s stories, even seemingly inconsequential ones, we discover commonalities. Bonds form. Lunch room conversations slowly become the “connective tissue” that the chapter Sharing the Journey talks of. Over time, exchanging stories has the power to create a work environment where members feel safe enough to express divergent opinions, and take risks, without fear of being misunderstood or devalued. We have the potential to graduate from being working groups to Senge's synergized 'teams'. The trust underlying the exchange of stories, gifts individuals the latitude to see fellow team members idiosyncrasies as just that, rather than as reasons to take umbrage. When interactions are only task oriented, the feeling of being connected that gives team members mutual leverage for use during negotiations or persuasion, is rarely forged. This is exacerbated when working virtually. Instead if we take a few lines in a few emails each week, to also discuss a book we’ve been reading or ask for advice on a non-work matter, we evolve from just being words on a screen. Instead we become someone the other can identify with at some level. We now become more willing to give each others perspective a platform, even if we may disagree with it. The act of simply being willing to hear the other out, conveys respect and oils the wheels of team work.

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

The quarter has ended only too quickly. I feel there is still so much more that we could learn from both the Decision Making and Leadership class and the one on Change Management. Did we learn a lot? Yes, we definitely did. Did all the writing and reading we did in Decision Making help? Absolutely. It helped internalize everything that much more. I hear my next elective has as much homework and reading and while I know it will make juggling homework, children and work deadlines all that more challenging, I also feel that maybe the only way to actually internalize the volumes we are learning. The class party at Gio was really fun. It was the same people we spend our entire day with at school, but a change in atmosphere, seems to bring out our softer sides. It was truly a pleasure to hang out and enjoy each others company. I am so going to miss the intellectual stimulation, the camaraderie come July. And to think I wouldn't have known of the program if it weren't for my colleague and MSC Alum Maria Omar. Thanks Maria! I owe you big time!

Women's Wages - A Vicious Cycle

One of my final readings reviews were "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership" and "Diversity and Community in the 21st Century". Both were surprising at many levels. Reading "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership", I was struck by the causal relationship drawn between the use of the metaphor of the glass ceiling and its impact on solutions proposed. I would never have realized that metaphors were that loaded. The labyrinth, I agree, is a more accurate metaphor. However, it fails to reflect a vicious cycle. Women are paid less, so when choices have to be made as to who should cut hours, or drop their career, to care for an elderly parent, raise kids or move when a spouse changes jobs, women take the hit. That reinforces every assumption about women in the workforce and the cycle continues. I think one of the root causes that women are paid less has much to do with how parenting is viewed. Since women tend to be the maincaregivers, I advocate a paradigm shift when attaching a value to parenting. Women would not be paid less than men, or considered second choice for a job, if parenting were given an economic value. Rather than see it as a ‘drain’, parenthood should be acknowledged as no less than the very fuel for tomorrow’s economic engine; an ‘incubator’ for the next generation of great leaders. Absentee parenting, instead, should be deemed a drain on the promise of a bright future. Parenting requires team building, negotiation, decision-making, compromise, multi-tasking, long hours, and working under stressful conditions. The years spent as a full time parent should be given equal if not more importance, as a job in the “official” workplace, rather than a gap in one’s career.

Quick Picks and Must Reads

The holiday season in Chicago really isn't about relaxing by the fireplace and snuggling into a good book, despite visions of the same. Nonetheless, these are the books that you've got to add to your wish list, if you have a sliver of time to read. If you'd rather not read why I treasure them, perhaps it would suffice to say that all of them have received rave reviews on Amazon.com.

I began 2010 with Charlene Baumbich's Stray Affections. I read it on a 36 hour, transatlantic journey back to Chicago after visiting with my parents in Muscat, Oman. It is always gut wrenching to leave my parents who live continents away. This trip back was particularly hard. My sister had had a fall and had broken her wrist. She had to have rods inserted into her arm to hold her bones together. Further, my parents had just completed a tiring house move. Stray Affections become my antidote to tears on the long flights back. Don't let the title fool you - this isn't a mush and gush romance. It is a warm chick flick in a book and left me with a lingering sense of well-being and hope. It also became the first 'grown up book' I shared with my tween daughter, as opposed to the many Young Adult books she reads that I find more adult than Young Adult. Both of us loved Baumbich for the same reasons and discovered a great author to bond over. We're waiting for days off from school - for both of us - to begin reading Baumbich's latest, Divine Appointments.

Switching gears from heartwarming to intellectually stimulating, I suggest Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. People either love it or hate it. I have one word for this little gem: Potent. I read it as part of my Masters in Communications at Northwestern this Fall. At 100 pages or so, give this book a chance. It may very well alter how you look at life. Also, part of my course work is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - it too falls in that same category. I've only just begun it and every time I put it down, it seems to call my name. It's the kind of book you wish you could devote all day to.

Now what if I told you there was a book that acknowledges that our obsession for all that bling "yields environmental destruction and social inequity" but also "fuels creativity, the desire for discovery, and needed economic development. Properly channeled, the treasure impulse might actually propel us toward a fairer and better world." That is precisely the stuff of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future by Essex Junction, Vermont resident and University of Vermont professor, Saleem Ali.
Saleem H. Ali is pro-consumption and pro-environment."--Forbes Magazine.

Saleem Ali thinks like an environmentalist, a diplomat, a wealthy industrialist, an impoverished villager, a government regulator, a product innovator, and a father. To him, environmental conservation can succeed only if vying factions communicate and collaborate. - National Geographic

This is the kind of book my dad would love to dissect with me, my kids and any one who'd care to listen. Infact, all these books open a window to a world that you didn't know existed. Narnia for the thinker in you. Here's my interview with Saleem for Aramco World Magazine.

Next on my reading list is Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal Omar, a Washington D.C resident. As co-founder of Refugee Assistance Programs ( RAP), here in Chicago, I'm all too familiar with the fallout of war, right here in our backyard. There are scores of Iraqi's who've been displaced since the US decided to invade Iraq. As US refugees, the Iraqi people struggle below the poverty line, determined to make it in this city we call home. Again, two thumbs up for Barefoot in Baghdad which falls into the same category as Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi.

Farah Ahmedi, a Wheaton IL resident and former Afghan refugee was mentored by my good friend and fellow do-gooder, Alyce Litz who is a Board Member of Love Christian Clearing House. Rarely do you find such a courageous read. If you're having a bad day or are living through a nightmare, read this book. Not only will it jolt you into a reality that little children in many, many nations live through, it will also give you that shot in the arm you so need. So if you think I'm attracted to just gloom and doom, it could not be further from the truth. I know there is a God, and I know He is a better friend to us than we can ever be to ourselves. That in a nutshell has always been my philosophy. If that little girl, Farah Ahmedi, could do it despite a leg lost to land mines, three years in a German hospital without any family by her side, despite all her trials.. so can you. There is a time for self-doubt and helplessness and there is a time to recognize that there usually is a light at the end of a horrific tunnel. This is a book that will help you make that leap.

As I always say, pick a book that matters. Let it challenge you, touch you, make you to grow. After all, we only have so much time.

Lessons Learned - Just Do It !

It’s Christmas Day and we’ve spent it with family and friends. It has also been a day where I am trying to get back into school mode and am actually back to reading some of the suggested readings that I could not quite get to during school. So much so that when my husband, who has the week off, suggested a road trip, I shook my head. Besides what I haven't read last term, I must also read at least some of the books assigned for the Winter quarter while I have the time. With a house move looming and full time work on the horizon, I can’t be irresponsible when blessed with time. You see, I’ve learned my lesson.

I have paid the price when I “put off for tomorrow what I could do today” and then had a totally unexpected crazy busy week, which left me careening on the edge of insanity, playing catch up. Oh how I kicked myself for not having used my down time to get reading or homework done – to get that rip taken care of before it became a tear. The scenario repeated itself once or twice before I learned my lesson. But better late than never, it eventually became a ‘learning experience’.

‘Get it done when you have a chance, even if it’s not urgent’ has become my motto. So I fill the gas tank in my car when I have a chance, without waiting for it to get really low. I no longer wait for it to run almost empty. After all, who knows when there may be an emergency and I absolutely need a full tank of gas and have no time to stop at a gas station. Similarly, I purchase stamps as soon as I run out of them without waiting to actually need them, and I’ve taken to buying milk in bulk even before the current batch in my fridge runs out. I hang the parking permit in my car days before I head off to campus and yes, I’ve even requested some of the texts we need during the quarter via interlibrary loan since my library didn’t carry them.

Forearmed has become my Northwestern-earned newest strategy. Still, I realize, there’s a ways to go before I pat myself on the shoulder. After all, I am currently down to my last parking permit when I could have replenished the lot, without leaving it to the last minute. Ah, yes. There is always room for improvement. And that is precisely what New Year’s Resolutions are for….

There are More Ways Than One To Milk a (Cash) Cow

I didn't have to take notes in my Communication in the Global Workplace class - my first for the quarter ! Having been raised on international news and as a global citizen and from India to boot, many of the Prof's references were all too familiar.

To share something from my own readings, and my industry, here are some stats/figures re: The US and Global Muslim consumer market. Valued at USD $2.1 Trillion annually, the Muslim consumer is the latest "it" market, worldwide. Companies such as Nestle, Abbott Nutritionals, Tom's of Maine, Pfizer and other big wigs are already on that bandwagon.
"While Saudi women comprise only 14.4 percent of the labor force, they have more than 40 percent of all bank accounts, she noted. In fact, Dr. AlMunajjed added, women in Saudi Arabia are financial powerhouses and control $16 billion in banks inside the Kingdom." - Washington Report on the Middle East
As Prof. would agree, having a businessperson's perspective means actively looking beyond the "if it bleeds, it leads" media race for ratings. There are definitely more ways than one to milk a cow! Just ask Nestle, my clients and
Food Navigator