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December 2007


(This guest post has been contributed by Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating.)

Just about every month, there’s a new research report detailing the seemingly higher and higher degree of worker dissatisfaction. Whether it’s a Gallup poll or a Conference Board report, the results are strikingly similar — workers are becoming more and more dissatisfied with their work.

While the majority of “reasons” for dissatisfaction usually point to elements of the workplace itself such as: management style, task design, work role, environmental conditions or opportunities for growth, few if any, of these reports ever point to the possibility that the employee himself or herself may be a major contributing factor to their own dissatisfaction.

Looking closer to home

In many instances of worker dissatisfaction, it’s a question of “physician, heal thyself.” In a culture of blame and victim consciousness, many dissatisfied and disgruntled workers should first look inside, rather than outside, for the root causes of their dissatisfaction. Here’s why.

First, I would echo Karl Marx, and paraphrase something he said: “Where the economy creates a class of losers, where wealth gravitates easily into the hands of the haves, the fortunes of the have-nots become more desperate.”

For me this translates into: in our culture, most everyone operates from an insidious and incessant need to be “somebody”. Thus, for me, the dissatisfaction I read about in workplace satisfaction studies such as the Gallup Polls and Conference Board Report is an aspect of this desperation.

My take on the dissatisfaction pointed to in such reports is that often one’s perspective of dissatisfaction is largely a philosophical one. Meaning? Many of the folks who are expressing and experiencing “dissatisfaction” have a misplaced world view, or perspective, that dictates how they view themselves and their life at work, and the meaning of work; and relatedly, along with the rise in dissatisfaction, comes a rise in stress, boredom, burnout and rustout. Rustout is a lack or deficiency not of energy, but of passion.

Look inward, where the heart rests easy

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in a Time Magazine article, states: “Anything can be enjoyable if the element of flow is present. Within that framework, doing a seemingly boring job can be a source of greater fulfillment than one ever thought possible.” The Dalai Lama says: “I do nothing.” His work and life are the same. Anything can be enjoyable. Anything.

These two do not say it’s the manager’s responsibility to make anyone happy. They don’t say It’s the flowers and plants that make folks happy. They don’t say it’s the extra percentage in the bonus, or the new training equipment, that accounts for one’s happiness. They simply point to what’s going on, or not going on, inside a person that accounts for their satisfaction.

The question of job satisfaction starts “inside.”

An important question to consider is: “What takes me out of that state of flow and presence and moves me in the direction of dissatisfaction?”

Until and unless you get to root causes of dissatisfaction and unhappiness, which are, at the end of the day, inside issues, more than outside issues, such job satisfaction reports can only describe the landscape surface. They certainly not explain why the landscape is barren. Again, you need to look underneath the surface of the barrenness.

Seeking deeper answers

Exploring and inquiring underneath the landscape, that is “going inside”, leads to some questions:

  • Why can’t I forge true and real friendships and relationships at work; really, really, true and real relationships and friendships, not surface acquaintanceships? What gets in the way of that?
  • Why are trust, honesty, openness, and an emotional feeling of safety lacking in so many workplaces and within so many teams and groups?
  • Why are bullying and gossiping so prevalent in our workplaces?
  • Why do so few find real meaning in their work?
  • Why is true and real well-being lacking in so many work environments?

Perhaps, one day, not too far off, we’ll find that it’s not only about 401Ks, task design, work roles, the latest and greatest training tools, cool icebreakers, plants in the atrium, and the same business and leadership models, theories and concepts in new wine skins.

Perhaps, one day, not too far off, we can look outside the box of common dissatisfaction to “new” possibilities, new answers:

  • People exploring and going after what truly brings them fulfillment in their work.
  • Remembering that even a boring job can be a fine experience when one is in touch with oneself; and thus not completely dependent on “someone out there” making satisfaction happen for you.
  • Discovering their values that emanate from their true and real self, their heart and essence, from their moral compass, rather than from their ego-driven needs and materialistic “taste du jour.”
  • Feeling connected first, to their self, inside, their inner spirit, on an inner plane, which can then, and only then, lead to true connections, interactions, relationships and contact with others.
  • Exploring their own internal deficiencies and feelings of lack which lead to petty jealousies and envy of others, dissatisfaction that fosters conflict, gossiping and bullying.
  • Putting people before work, in an honest and sincere and self-responsible manner.
  • Discovering you passion and the strength and courage to live it or seek it in work, doing what you truly love to do.
  • Staying physically, mentally and emotionally healthy, and spiritually strong; and living a life rather than being obsessed with a lifestyle.

Perhaps the dissatisfaction element, as it relates to work, is directly intertwined with life in general; and, at the end of the day — the workday — there is no compartmentalizing of our lives. There may be something about the way you live your life in general that brings dissatisfaction, not only at work but in all the other aspects of too.

(5 votes, average: 4.8 out of 5)
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New Year’s resolutions are easily made and even more easily abandoned. Yet only one is needed: to follow your own path in life, despite the difficulties this appears to offer. Anything else means either walking in your own footsteps — which must keep bringing you back to where you started — or trying to follow others who are headed for places you neither chose nor are likely to relish.

 
IMAGINE SOMEONE TRYING TO WALK THROUGH DEEP SNOW; I mean really deep, maybe three feet or so. It’s hard work. Slowly, this person pushes forward, carving a thin path where he or she has stepped. From time to time, rest is necessary, for the effort is draining.

In one of these rest breaks, our person looks back at the path behind. There’s still a lot of snow there, but it’s much less deep. If you walked back that way, the going would be easier.

That’s what the person does, retracing former steps, going back where they came from. And it is easier to walk, much easier. At the starting point, the person turns around again. Now the snow in the pathway they have made is even less deep, trampled down by two sets of tracks, going and coming back.

The person sets out again. Even easier. After several repeats, the snow path is reduced to a residue of hard-packed snow that it’s possible to walk on with only the occasional slip.

Other peoples’ paths

Of course, going backwards and forwards along a single path is easy, but it does become rather boring. So when our person finds someone else has crossed their pathway, making fresh tracks that veer off to the side, it seems like a good idea to follow for a while. That other person has done the really hard work of making a fresh path through the snow. Walking in their footsteps isn’t too difficult.

But that track goes where the other person wanted to go, and our walker decides he or she mustn’t stray too far from their own path way. They return, trampling down the new track nicely.

Now they have two paths: their own, original one, and the part of the other person’s track they were willing to follow.

As a few more unknown people cross their path, they carve out more tracks, each one moving away from their own path in a fresh direction — at least until they realize they are going too far from their chosen direction and turn back again.

In time, they are moving around a small network of trampled tracks. The going is easy, even if they are no longer heading anywhere in particular. These tracks feel safe and familiar. As still more snow falls, the areas outside this network become deeper and deeper — and harder and harder to push into.

Maybe our person tries once or twice to push again in their own direction, but the untouched snow is now four or even five feet deep and it feels nearly impossible to make any progress. So they turn back again; back to the familiar, well-trodden paths, where fresh snow is soon trampled over and they can move without much effort.

Hemming yourself in

In time, of course, even the extended network of well-trodden paths becomes stale. It’s like eating the same, once-favorite food for every meal. What was once a pleasure becomes wretched and nauseating. But moving outside these familiar pathways seems impossible. The snow has piled up to a point where pushing into fresh areas would take massive effort — if it could even be done at all.

Our person is trapped, frustrated, and unhappy.

No matter that he — or she — did it to himself. The result is a limited, tightly circumscribed pathway in life. At work, it means laboring over and over again at tasks that have long lost any challenge or interest. IN the rest of life, it means spending time in boredom — or maybe trying drastic means such as drink or drugs to bring some spark of difference. Any effort to change has become impossible. Motivation is now as flaccid and stale as life itself.

One resolution for a New Year

If you recognize any part of your own experience in this fable, beware. Millions of people before you have gone through the same, self-inflicted frustration. They gave up on their own path or career hopes, because it felt too difficult to make it through life’s snow drifts. From time to time, they tried paths others had already started — only to turn back when they found those paths headed only towards what that other person desired.

At this time of the year, people begin to make resolutions for the year to come. Most scarcely last through January before being abandoned. Our minds are so good at creating reasons to drop what seems to be too much effort. By March, the vast majority of resolutions are forgotten, as well as abandoned.

Only one resolution is needed: to make your own path through your life and career, despite the apparent effort. Winter snow does not last for ever. The path you make towards your own destination will soon reach a time when the snow melts and the going will be easier. There may be other difficult areas to cross later, but at least you will be going where you want to go.

Your own path will never become stale. There will be more than enough challenges to keep your mind sharp and your interest high. And whether that path is long or short, leads to dizzy heights or stays in the valleys, when you reach the end it will always have been yours.

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How “reference anxiety” can cripple you

(This guest post has been contributed by Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating.)

 
Many folks are “making a living” yet lack a sense of significance: a “meaning” in what they do. Rather than exploring the nature of their dissatisfaction by going “inside” and looking at the real reasons for their frustration with work, they prefer to find fault with externals: the education and training programs, the health and pension programs (albeit, today often quite justifiable), management, and environmental conditions. They are driving themselves to their own spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical poorhouse in new automobiles, eating at smart restaurants, watching plasma TVs, all the while bemoaning the reality of increased stress, overwork, and an environment polluted by industry. They allow themselves to be devoured by the corporation and spend relentless amounts of energy and time (a lifetime, for many), scratching and clawing their way up the corporate ladder to achieve corporate success; to be “somebody.”

One the way, they set aside their dreams (once, real dreams) and tailor their lives and personalities to what the market demands. They practice the arts of “power dressing”, power lunching, having or creating “winning personalities,” all the while steeped in a state of emptiness, leading to dissatisfaction. In order to be “somebody”, they burn out without ever having been on fire.

What is it about work that leads so many to be dissatisfied?

The January 17, 2020 special Issue of Time Magazine had an article about what is known as “reference anxiety” — “keeping up with the Joneses” — constantly comparing one’s self and one’s “stuff” with someone else’s. Much of this takes place in work environments and is characteristic of many of today’s workplace cultures.

This “reference anxiety” syndrome even accounts for the widening gap in income distribution. The Time article states:

Paradoxically, it is the very increase in money . . . that triggers dissatisfaction [. . .] clinical depression is 3 to 10 times as common today than two generations ago . . . money jangles in our wallets and purses, but we are no happier for it, and for many, more money leads to depression. [. . .] millions of us spend more time and energy pursuing the things money can buy than engaging in activities that create real fulfillment in life . . .

Perhaps the dissatisfaction element lies on a much deeper level of the psyche: it’s about the inner person, not about the externals.

It’s not the work

It’s curious that of the thousands of business books that are published each year, there’s hardly one chapter devoted to friendship in the workplace (real and true friendship, not the “good-old-
boys-back-slapping stuff” that is a faux substitute).

Relationships rule the world, even the world of work. Finding meaning rules one’s deeper sense of happiness, fulfillment, and well-being, even in the world of work. It’s relationships — first with yourself, then with others — that must be examined to explore the true and real root causes of dissatisfaction.

The spirit of an organization begins and ends with the spirit of each individual. When we come to life with the right values, we are grounded on a foundation of truth, honesty, sincerity, and self-responsibility, dissatisfaction can more easily morph into satisfaction.

So, really, really, why is satisfaction falling?

Perhaps it starts with “me,” not “it,” “him/her.” or even “them.”

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If your luck is mostly what you make it, how can you make it better?

 
I don’t believe in luck. Before you start pointing out all the times things happen entirely by luck, let me add that I definitely understand that chances — pure randomness — plays a major part in events, often the greatest part. We live in a world dominated by chance. Unfortunately, few people recognize this and substitute the false notion of luck instead .

Chance is random. That means it occurs with no fixed pattern. Luck is assumed not to be random. Some people are supposed to be luckier than others; others suffer life-long bad luck. Luck is even assumed to be affected by simple actions like crossing your fingers, carrying a lucky charm, or avoiding black cats.

I am certain that what we call luck is no more than an observation that some people seem to find more opportunities, and suffer fewer setbacks, than others do. Events come along more or less randomly, but some people have a pattern of dealing with them more effectively. You make your own luck by what you do in response to what life throws at you. Suffering from instances of “bad luck” isn’t anyone’s fault; but that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to improve the situations.

There are ways you can influence your luck for the better — not by superstitions, but by clear choices of action. Here are those I believe are most useful.

Don’t outsource your choices.

Many people allow their choices in life to be made for them by fashion, other peoples’ expectations, friends, or family members. Never do this. You can’t improve your luck by expecting others to do it for you.

Allow yourself enough time to see how events are going to turn out. Many bad choices are made in haste, long before it has become clear what impact events are really going to have. Slow down. Don’t allow fear, anxiety, or foolish pride to push you into action before you are ready.

Don’t allow yourself to become too attached to specific plans or hopes.

I don’t mean that you shouldn’t be passionate about your future; non-attachment doesn’t mean some kind of spacey disinterest in what is going on around you. Be as passionate as you like about what you want to achieve (this will help your motivation to stay firm), but don’t get too attached to any particular way to get to your goals.

Life may block your ideal road and, at the same time, open up some wholly unexpected alternative. If you’re stuck on one route only, you’ll waste time and energy cursing your “bad luck” while completely missing the new option.

Manage your commitments, especially financial ones.

If you’re completely spent out every week, or — much worse — living on credit, you’ll never be able to take the risks needed to pick up the opportunities that life continually offers you. Instead, you’ll have to limit yourself to whatever can make you enough money to keep going, even if that means doing a job you hate.

It’s easy to overspend, given all the marketers who devote their lives to making that happen. If you’re in a tight financial situation, one of the best ways to improve your luck is to slow down your spending and work steadily to move into the realms of greater financial freedom. If you routinely take on more than you can handle, your “luck” will suffer as a result.

Ignore fashion.

The surest thing about fashion is that it will soon change. It’s like basing your choices on the way the wind is blowing.

In fashion, timing is everything. Get too far ahead of the crowd and you’ll have the “bad luck” to find your ideas are ignored. Get too far behind, and you’ll also find “bad luck” — the bad luck of being dismissed as a sad sack who jumps on the bandwagon when everyone “in the know” is already moving on to the next big thing.

Be realistic about relationships.

Good relationships are an enduring source of “good luck” in life; bad ones produce exactly the opposite. Sadly, nearly all of us vastly over-estimate our own value to others and their interest in our well-being. As a result, we set expectations for many relationships that were never going to be met. We set ourself up to experience “bad luck” in our dealings with others.

Being realistic doesn’t mean shying away from relationships, or being negative. It means allowing relationships time to reveal what they can bear, then staying within those bounds. Those who have constant “good luck” with others are always careful to keep each relationship at a level where it’s beneficial for both parties. They don’t demand more than others are willing to give; and they don’t push more onto others that they are willing to handle.

Put yourself first.

This isn’t being selfish: that’s demanding others conform to your wishes, regardless of their own needs. Putting yourself first means recognizing that no one is more interested in your well-being than you are — so if you don’t look out for yourself, how can you expect others to do better?

Learn more. Practice more.

When you experience the “bad luck” of finding you can’t get where you want to go because you lack some knowledge, skill, qualification, or experience, recognize that all of these are things you can change. Just about anything you lack can be learned or worked around. All it takes is a little sustained effort. Ask just about any professional sports player. the more they train and practice, the better the luck they have during competition.

Don’t over-dramatize or get caught in short-term thinking.

These are the biggest sources of “bad luck.” When something goes wrong — as something nearly always will — you focus on the immediate hit, over-dramatize the result, and instantly conclude that your world is coming to an end.

“Lucky” people often suffer just as many reverses, but they look beyond them and don’t let them get out of proportion. Instead of becoming depressed, they begin at once to think about how to get past the blockage. That way, they don’t give up and they often notice the other opportunities chance has brought their way. What seems to be a reverse may be a nice piece of “good luck” in disguise.

Open your mind.

Don’t worry if you’re not sure where you’re headed is right for you. Go along until you find out. Don’t be rigid. When things change — as they will — rational people change their minds. Only irrational, inflexible people cling to the past, marching on into the mire and suffering more and more “bad luck” as a result.

Listen, learn, think, and never rule out what you don’t yet understand. The more you learn, the luckier you’ll become as you begin to see chances and choices hidden from your by your previous ignorance.

Learn to laugh a lot.

Good humor is a wonderful remedy for the blues. If you can laugh at events — and at yourself — they’ll lose their power over you. The world is a crazy place, full of people grimly determined to do wonderfully stupid things. Many of the things we get wrong are truly funny — if only we didn’t get so serious about ourselves.

When you mess up, have a good laugh, learn what you can and start again. If you do that, you’ll end up being one of the luckiest people around.

(3 votes, average: 4.33 out of 5)
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Six simple steps to making Conscious Incompetence work for you

 
In the previous posts in this series, I tried to explain the importance of Conscious Incompetence and how it can work to your advantage. Now it’s time to show you the key steps in turning the theory into practice.

Before I start, I want to reiterate that Conscious Incompetence is all about taking the risk of making mistakes — knowingly and deliberately — with a view to learning as much as you can from every one. It is not deliberately making a mistake; that isn’t going to teach you anything, since you knew whatever it was wouldn’t work from the start. To practice Conscious Incompetence you set out to get things right, but accept the near certainty that some of the time — maybe most of the time with a truly creative new idea — you will end up failing. Then you learn from your mistakes, improve your approach, and try again.

In fact, using Conscious Incompetence is going to ensure, over time, that you make fewer silly mistakes: especially those that come from repeating something that failed before, missing the reason for failure and continuing to get it wrong, and blundering into risky situations without understanding what you are doing.

How Conscious Incompetence works

  • The first and most important step is to engage your brain fully. You must know what you are doing and why, and be ready to size up the likely risks as best you can. Remember this is conscious incompetence; you aren’t going to blunder into something in the vague hope that you may learn as a result. You need to be clear about your objectives before you start, so that you can relate what happens to exactly the actions you took. Without this stage, learning will be haphazard, if it happens at all.
  • Choose your time, place, and circumstances with care. You’re going to do something deliberately risky. Don’t choose to do it in circumstances where failure is likely to be catastrophic for your business, your reputation, or your finances. Don’t practice being consciously incompetent in front of a large audience of key executives. Weight up the consequences of failure before you begin and act accordingly. Successful investors never risk more than they can afford to lose. Successful users of Conscious Incompetence do the same.
  • Decide on likely ways to keep track of the links between what you do and how events turn out. You don’t have to set up elaborate measures — which is not possible anyway in many instances — but you do have to understand what might prove to be cause and effect. It’s no use getting to the end of the trial, only to realize that you have no idea which actions helped and which didn’t because you weren’t keeping track.
  • Seek out all the feedback you can get. It’s very tempting to try to hide your errors, especially the embarrassing ones. Often the last thing you want to do is ask others what they observed, but it can be crucial to learning fully from your mistakes. Most people have a pretty realistic view of the actions of others, their benefits and drawbacks. Just about everyone — and I definitely include myself here — views their own actions through the rosiest of rose-tinted spectacles. We give ourselves the benefit of every doubt — and then some. If you want an objective understanding of why you didn’t succeed as you hoped, don’t rely on your own thoughts and observations. You’re hopelessly biased.
  • Learn from others as well. Life offers us innumerable lessons, if only we have the sense and humility to grasp them. Don’t waste time and energy envying those who are more successful; get your head down and try to work out what they did that made the difference. If others fail, try to learn from their mistakes too. You’re likely, as I said earlier, to have a more realistic appreciation of their actions than you will have of your own.
  • Always, always, go into the process determined to do your very best. Just because you accept that whatever you are doing is likely to fail is no reason to do less that you know you can. You won’t learn properly if you held back and delivered a deliberately sub-standard performance. One of the major reasons why people don’t get what they should out of anything labeled a “learning experience” is that they treat it more as play than real work. Knowing they won’t do well, they don’t try either. That’s stupid. How can you tell anything from a situation where you consciously didn’t try too hard? It’s obvious. All you are going to learn is that lack of effort or hard thinking increases the risk of failure, and you already knew that. Give it all you’ve got. If you fail, at least fail magnificently.
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Sometimes it takes no more than plain speaking to show exactly where business is going wrong today. This article by Bill Taylor, titled “Times Change —The Questions Remain the Same” hits the nail squarely on the head:

How can people expect to perform great inside their company unless they understand what makes their company great in the first place? How can executives claim to be effective leaders if they can’t imbue everyone in their organization with a sense of mission and purpose? In other words, how can any business expect to create economic value if the people who make up the organization don’t share a set of values that gives their work meaning and creates a sense of satisfaction that goes beyond market share, return on capital, and even shareholder value?

Put even more simply, how can any business become great with a perspective that doesn’t extend beyond meeting next quarter’s figures; and executives who cannot see beyond the value of their own stock options?

There has never been greater need of a slow, long-term perspective. It was the opposite approach — the madness of unrestrained corporate greed and Hamburger Management — that created the mess of today. You don’t get out of a hole by following the same prescription that put you in it in the first place.

(4 votes, average: 3.75 out of 5)
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Are sincerity and trust simply economic tools?

 
Here’s a provocative question from Charles H. Green, in his article Faking It Doesn’t Make It: “Have we succeeded in faking sincerity so well that we have fooled ourselves?” It’s not just sincerity either. The whole business of “spin” is an elaborate exercise in faking it that began with politicians and seems to have spread to the business world.

Here’s what Charlie says:

Business is becoming adept at mouthing sincerities about relationships —but in service to itself, not to the nominal objects of those relationships — customers, suppliers, employees.

We seem to have slipped into a false and debased Darwinian view of the world — especially the world of business — where everything is simply a means to winning in the competitive stakes; all is fair, it seems, in love, war, and making money.

I say this is a debased understanding of Darwin’s ideas, because, if you look around the natural world, you find very few instances of all-out competition, and many of collaboration and altruism. It takes only a moment’s though to see that, if all the individuals in a species competed without restraint, you would be left with only one or two “winners” and the species would become extinct as a result. Survival of the fittest is far more likely to demand collaboration and the building of trust, not destroy it. Faking sincerity almost always leads in time to being caught out and destroying any trust others had in you.

Collaboration is the only long-term means of survival. It’s only our stupid love-affair with short-term thinking that lets us believe that having winning over others as out sole goal makes any sense. We’re all disciples of Machiavelli, it seems, believing that anything is worth sacrificing — sincerity, trust, honesty, altruism — on the altar of coming in first.

Balderdash!

As Charlie Green writes:

. . . relationships aren’t means to an end — relationships are the end. Successful businesses are the consequences, outcomes, byproducts of successful relationships. The world is dragging us toward collaboration; but our belief systems are still rooted in competition.

Surely it’s time to expose this dangerous nonsense for what it is: a swift road to ruin, misery, and corporate extinction.

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When you make a mistake, thank your lucky stars

 
Conscious Incompetence is the action of doing something that you know that you cannot do properly, competently, or at all, for the purpose of learning or practicing how to do it better. It’s consciously and deliberately going out of your depth to learn how to swim well. In the process, you also let go of your pride and allow yourself to appear awkward, foolish, and sometimes stupid.

There are some provisos:

  • Because you are choosing to do this, you naturally try to select times and places where you are not going to cause yourself — or others — real damage by making mistakes.
  • When possible, you practice Conscious Incompetence away from the eyes of critics, especially bosses or jealous colleagues. This is, however, not always possible. Since your harshest critic is usually yourself, you have to be willing to put up with some internal carping and ignore it.
  • You limit the risks by doing a little at a time, when you can. Little and often is a good guide.
  • All episodes of Conscious Incompetence should be immediately followed up with time to reflect on what happened, what mistakes you made, and what you can learn from them. Conscious Incompetence is a learning process, so give yourself plenty of time to absorb the lessons.
  • However badly you do, you don’t give up — at least until you have proved to yourself that the effort is truly not worth it. You are practicing, not trying to win a competition.

Seek out every chance to practice more

Every mistake is both a precious learning opportunity and a chance to do better. Make enough of them and you may even produce something truly important — just so long as you don’t lose heart, give up too soon, or ignore the lessons that mistake can teach you.

Why do star athletes practice so hard? Surely they can already outdo almost everyone?

Make as many mistakes as you can, but do it deliberately

When Roger Federer became the leading male tennis player in the world, he didn’t sit back and decide all he needed to do thereafter was repeat whatever he did in his last few games. Like all the other champions, he’s competing against himself at that level of [/tag]achievement[/tag]: against what he judges to be flaws in his performance, even if everyone else thinks he is amazing. By continual practice, outstanding sports players make more and more mistakes when it doesn’t matter and they can learn from what they have done. That way, when it comes to a competition, all that work will pay off in a better performance than they could have achieved otherwise.

That’s why I call this pattern”conscious incompetence.” Because it is deliberate: a conscious means of setting out to stretch yourself in ways that you know you can’t yet manage competently or easily — actions that mean deliberately taking risks and setting yourself up to make a slew of mistakes.

The result is a burst of learning chances, carefully arranged to happen in circumstances where the mistakes that you make won’t cause you insuperable problems. By focusing on what doesn’t work, you will learn how to be better. By taking known risks, you’ll discover new possibilities. By doing it with the conscious purpose of learning, you can choose your place and time and protect yourself, as much as possible, from any downside.

We all make mistakes, all the time. Mostly we do it when we don’t want to, in circumstances we would much rather avoid. That limits our learning, because the immediate response is always to try to claw your way back to stop the pain and embarrassment. The ideal circumstances for learning demand calmness and relaxation, not a huge burst of fear and anxiety.

Pride is your worst enemy

One last thought: if you’re too proud, or too concerned with preserving your own dignity and status, to be seen to make a fool of yourself, you’ll not be able to learn a thing.

People who can’t risk looking silly end up risking everything else instead. The arrogant can’t learn because they have to pretend they know it all already. Only the humble have the good sense to understand how little they know — and how much is still out there to be learned.

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Management science isn’t scientific at all

 
Charles H. Green of “trust Matters” has a provocative piece today about sales, titled Why Your Sales Process Is Bad for Sales. What he writes can be applied much more widely to management as a whole, especially that slick, debased version known as Hamburger Management.

Here’s the crux of his piece:

Why this obsession with metrics, behaviors and processes? Like I said, physics-envy. For over a century, many academic disciplines — including business, more recently — have had a case of “physics-envy.” They believe that only “real” data is meaningful, only particles and precision make for real “science.” Neuro-fill-in-the-blank is just the latest manifestation. Sociologists have had physics-envy for years, as did MIT’s Business School. Harvard used to be immune, but caught it as well a few decades back.

Today’s metrics-mania has almost nothing to do with understanding and everything to do with looking good and putting a positive spin on following the herd. Instead of slowing down and thinking deeply about strategy and organizational purpose, executives abdicate their responsibility, making decisions on the basis of figures they often scarcely understand.

This isn’t science. It’s superstition. They might as well be like the Romans and decide by looking for patterns on the livers of sacrificed chickens. The level of “science” is about the same.

Back to Charles Green’s piece:

Selling is not at root, despite what web-searches will tell you, about process. It is about people and relationships and trust. We are in most cases far, far past the point of significant value-add by linking systems. And in getting there, we have run roughshod over the value-add by human connections.

Management too — and leadership — is about human interactions: one person showing others the way forward and helping them contribute to making a vision of action into reality. Measurement can only come after the event. Relying on it is running forward while facing backwards.

Is it any wonder so many business, apparently lead by intelligent, highly trained people, have been guilty of making so many utterly foolish choices of late, like the banks with all the sub-prime loan mess?

Executives are paid to use their brains, not their spreadsheets!

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(This guest posting is by Karen Senteio. You can find out more about her and her work at www.vimandverve.net.)

Demanding fairness from the universe is a debilitating waste of effort

 
Do you spend time lamenting how unfair life is and how you got the short end of the stick? Are you sometimes stuck in this unproductive conversation for days, weeks, months and even years? Are you so bothered by unfairness that you complain to others about the short end of the stick and what is has done to you? If you do, you are starting a swirling cyclone of angst that can suck others into your vortex. Unfortunately, others have their own vortex, so combined; it creates the mother of all vortexes. The sucking sound is deafening and the illusion is created that we are all stuck in this very bad place.

Although I can understand how people can come to this, I am here to tell you that it is a spirit crusher and a total waste of your precious time. There is no universal or spiritual law that supports fairness. Life is bumpy, interesting, ugly, challenging, exciting . . . and fabulous. There is no room for fairness. Fairness would mean that everything would be the same with no deviations or differences. What would be the fun in that? If you want to truly live, move pass up the pursuit of fairness and opt instead for the pursuit of fabulous.

Building a fabulous life

Fabulous means that you take a bumpy and imperfect ride, but it will definitely be scenic. Every experience is data you need to make new choices — some big, some small — that will take you down different paths, roads and canyons. You will meet folks along the way who are sometimes contributors and supporters, sometimes detractors and extractors. Some may add to your life in fantastic ways; some are emotional drains; and some try to take you down by attempting to erase your hopes and your dreams. It can be raggedy at times, but you can always ask yourself what you have learned, file it and keep moving. If you do, you will be stronger each time.

If you are not quite there yet, lament over unfairness, but make it very short lived and then leave it behind you. Do not rob yourself of a life lesson that could make you stronger and more resilient.

Maybe you are about to reach a greater and more magnificent opportunity that will require more fortitude than you currently possess. Maybe the imperfect ride will open your eyes, shake you up and hand you the last piece you needed to move on.

“Fed up” should be motivating, not prematurely aging

I remember a point in my life where I truly understood how toxic the pursuit of fairness could be when I witnessed it in its purest form — almost liquid with the potential to stick to my spirit.

Complaining about the unfairness of life became a lunchtime pastime for a group of colleagues I lunched with every day. We were sharing one story after another about how miserable we were. We were overlooked, our fantastic skills were not utilized and we were doing more work than anyone else was. It was not fair.

This went on and on until I realized this was not something we just did this one time; it had become a daily lunchtime pastime. Here was a very talented group of people who worked hard and all this looking for fairness got in the way of pursuing or creating new opportunities. Our energy was focused on something that would never serve us.

When I looked at the faces that went along with the “life is so unfair” conversation, they were furrowed and stressed. It wasn’t pretty. We were prematurely aging ourselves and still going nowhere.

No one seemed to realize that there was enough data to make the choice to leave their miserable jobs behind. We were so engrossed in the unfairness of it all, that we were in some sort of paralysis, WE had stopped talking about opportunities, growth, passion and dreams. We were in the vortex.

That day, I saw the insidious “fairness” monster for what it was and had enough. I slowly got up from the table and declared that I was done spending my lunchtime in the toxic fairness vortex. I declared that I would not be in the same position three months from then. I was going to leave the vortex and move on in pursuit of fabulous.

I had a new position within two months.

Seek “fabulous” every day

The pursuit of fabulous is a far better way to spend your time. Switching your mindset from what you are not doing to what you are accomplishing. This produces a different mindset. It changes the talk from “not” to “will.” It changes your outlook from staring at the barriers and impediments to searching for opportunities and challenges.

This change in attitude will then attract others who are forward thinking like you and want to see you succeed. You will be sitting with supporters, innovators, the movers, and the shakers. You will repel the detractors, doubters and “negaholics.”

You are done with the vortex. You are done with looking for fairness and can handle the bumpy ride that life brings. You are ready to live completely and enjoy the choppy tide, understanding that there are curves, missteps, winning and losing.

Most of all, you take it all in, the good with the bad . . . and simply carry on. When you fall, you brush yourself off and get up again — bruised maybe, but that’s okay. You are alive and ready to live a life that is luscious, jazzed and open wide.

Fabulous is far better than fair.

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