Tuesday, July 03, 2020
Always give yourself time
Sufficient time is the key to making personal changes that stick.
One of the worst aspects of modern working life is the constant pressure to hurry. Not only does it create needless stress and tension, it goes a long way to making people seem dumber and more resistant to change than they are. If you want to make some personal—or organizational —changes, and make them stick, slow down and give yourself some time and space in which to work.In all the discussion on the subject of personal or organizational development, one subject that occurs far too rarely is time: the necessity of giving yourself and others sufficient time to allow change and development to take place properly. Time is an essential component in any change involving human beings. Despite all the rush in today’s world, and the constant demands for the gratification of desires now, almost any progress people make in their lives takes far, far longer than they usually allow for.
Time to learnYour first requirement should be plenty of free time to learn, to think, to reflect, and to internalize fresh ideas. Everyone has the experience of thinking they know something, only to find they’ve forgotten it after a few days. Say you’re learning another language. In the class, what the teacher says is clear and obvious. You know you have it straight this time. But 24 hours later it’s gone. Your brain isn’t a bag that you can stuff with knowledge and ideas and expect them to stay there. Most people’s brains are more like boxes full of holes that allow a great portion of whatever is put in to escape rather quickly. New learning is “liquid” and easily runs out through the holes. Only by repeating the learning experience, typically many times. can you make whatever you’re trying to learn “sticky” enough to stay put.
Time to see patternsYou also need time to reflect and see the links between items or areas of knowledge. The human brain finds it hard to hang on to disconnected pieces of information. Unlike a computer disc, it doesn’t cope well with large amounts of more or less random data. What it does best is see connections, linking information together and remembering the patterns, not the individual bits and pieces of data. Remembering a principle is far easier than recalling facts or some specific set of procedures. Do you see such links instantly? Usually not. It takes time to register them fully and understand them well enough to recall them whenever you want.
Time to thinkThinking time is also vital: time to plan, to prioritize, and to choose how best to expend your attention and energy. Doing anything in a rush increases the risks of missing key elements, making needless mistakes, and wasting effort. I’m somewhat suspicious of today’s fashion for simply getting things done. Which things? For what purpose? Are they the right things anyway? All the to-do techniques and software programs may make it easier to “recall” tasks and list them in some kind of order, but they don’t seem to me to help much with recognizing how much garbage doesn’t need to be on the to-do list at all. Lists easily become clogged with items if you don’t allocate enough time to thinking carefully about what you are doing. It’s a good idea to periodically go through any to-do list to see how many items can simply be dumped, with little effect other than saving valuable time and effort.
Time to changeOf course, change itself also takes time. You aren’t going to be successful with every change or idea for development every time. Many people, faced with change, behave like the investor who buys a stock today and sells it immediately if it doesn’t double their money overnight. Experienced investors allow enough time to grow their money steadily. They don’t get into situations where they must act on a particular day, since that may force them to buy or sell when the market is unfavorable. They don’t become ecstatic at every up-tick in the indexes, or depressed by every down day. They take the long perspective. Warren Buffett is famous for saying the best way to treat the ups and downs of the market is never to think about them at all. His kind of steady, thoughtful, long-term investment strategy works just as well for implementing change as it has for building his enormous fortune. Focusing on small, consistent improvements builds a solid foundation for long-term alterations that go deep enough to last.
Time to be creativeFinally, you need time to be creative. I’m not talking about sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. That’s a romantic idea that bears no relation to what genuinely creative people do. In all those “gaps” where they appear to be doing nothing at all, the world’s outstanding creative minds are hard at work reflecting, ruminating, “noodling” with odd ideas: tinkering with patterns and unexpected connections. What you see as the result is a mental iceberg: nearly all the activity that brought it about is hidden below the surface.
Most people don’t achieve anywhere near their creative potential because they never give themselves time to do so. They’re so conditioned to quick action that they give up on fresh thinking long before it has a chance to develop into anything. Don’t make the same mistake. Time spent day-dreaming or running over odd ideas in your head is the “soil” in which creative ideas grow.
Give yourself time. Give others time. It’s essential, if you truly want to improve your own prospects and advance a more civilized way of living and working.
Monday, July 02, 2020
Why getting away from work regularly is the best way to work better
Relax! Get away from work! You can do it.
Constant, unremitting hard work is a terrible way to solve problems, spark creative ideas, or maintain high morale. Many organizations demand these crazy work patterns only because their ideas on management are stuck at a point many decades in the past. It’s time to come up to date and recognize that rest and relaxation are as much essential management tools as motivation or planning.
Everyone has been in the situation where you just can’t recall something that you know perfectly well: a phone number, a name, a piece of information. You know that it’s on the tip of your tongue, but it simply won’t come to you. And the harder that you try to remember, the most frustrating it becomes. Do what you may, you cannot recall it. Then, hours later, when you’re thinking of something completely different, what you wanted pops into your mind as neatly as you like. It’s infuriating.
The same thing happens when you have a difficult problem to solve in the workplace. Trying, again and again, to find a solution is very often the worst possible way to go about it. Like that name or telephone number, the answer just won’t come, whatever you do.
It would be far better to let go and allow your mind to work on something totally unrelated for a while.
That’s what vacations and time spent relaxing and day-dreaming are for: to let your mind refresh itself on a regular basis and clear away the blockages caused by too much effort. The answer that you want is probably right there, only you can’t see it for looking. When you get away from the frustration and irritation—right away for long enough to allow your mental muscles to unclench—the chances are that you’ll notice the very solution that has been eluding you.
Creative people have always found that their best ideas occur to them at seemingly random moments: in bed, just before falling asleep; in the shower; walking in the park. Sitting and trying to force the mind to produce creative ideas seems to stop up the flow totally.
Antiquated management is everywhereIt’s hard to understand why so many organizations and their leaders cling to the crazy notion that you can somehow force the best out of people by working them as hard as possible for as long as possible. That might have worked (not too well, but perhaps well enough) in the days when all employees were required to do was either manual labor or repetitive clerical work. Neither require significant mental input. You can happily dig a hole and think about something completely unrelated at the same time. Writing figures into a ledger needs attention, but neither creativity nor any kind of problem-solving ability.
Nearly all of today’s work needs people who spend their time solving problems, coming up with fresh ideas, and using their minds far more than their muscles or their ability to cope with repetitive details. It should be blindingly obvious that long hours of hard labor are not going to deliver the goods. The fact that organizations and their managers miss this simple fact shows clearly how outdated much of conventional management has become—and how far it has strayed from what will work best in the current context.
Managers obsessed with control, extracting maximum hours, and demanding constant, unremitting effort are shooting themselves in both feet at once. What they get is an exhausted and demoralized workforce, whose brains are so numbed with continual toil that they are no longer able to produce creative ideas—or even recognize and recall the ideas they already have. It’s already known that those who pay peanuts get monkeys. If you bludgeon people around the head all the time, you get zombies.
Many organizations afflicted with advanced Hamburger Management get plenty of both—plus a good few zombie monkeys as well!
Monday, April 16, 2020
If you want to be more creative, give yourself more time
If you want the people in your team to be more creative, the same applies to them.
In all the discussion about creativity, one subject that rarely occurs is time: the necessity of giving yourself enough time to allow the creative process to happen. Maybe we’re too influenced by the Hollywood idea of the sudden flash of brilliant insight, so we ignore the patient period of thinking and ruminating essential for any flash of inspiration to happen. Given the rush in today’s world, and the constant demands for instant gratification, we’re in danger of becoming steadily less creative—right when we need it most.
Getting creative ideas takes far longer than people usually allow. It’s not the idea itself—that may come in an instant—it’s the preparation, plus the time needed afterwards to check it out, explain it to others, and turn it into a practical plan of action. Creativity isn’t something that you can ignore for years, then expect to be able to switch on right away. It needs practice, nurturing, fuel, time to grow, time to allow the basic ingredients to swirl around inside your head in chaotic form, until one day something clicks and the idea is there.
- The first requirement for creative thinking is fuel: knowledge, information, concepts, facts from many sources, different perspectives, shifting viewpoints. You need time to read—then read some more. Nothing gives better fuel for the “creative juices” than reading. Nothing is more effective in helping you to learn, to think, to reflect, and to internalize all the ingredients that will, one day, come together in some new and unexpected way. The general lessening of time spent reading is the direct cause of most of the obvious problems we have with limited thinking and stunted imaginations. The Internet is a great research tool. Lectures, talks, TV documentaries, and videos have their place. But nothing, nothing beats reading. If you want to be creative, read as much and as often as you can. There’s no better way to stimulate your mind. Show me a home free of books and I’ll show you people with little or no spark of creative thought in their heads.
- Next, you need time to find those unexpected links between ideas, thought patterns, or areas of knowledge that are the bedrock of innovation. The brain finds it hard to hang on to disconnected pieces of information. Unlike a computer, it doesn’t cope well with large amounts of more or less random data. What it does best is to see connections, ways of linking information together into patterns in place of independent pieces of data. Remembering a principle and applying it is far easier to do that recalling a fact. This process is always slow. It’s still slower when we are searching for connections that are new or unexpected. Do we see innovative links instantly? Usually not. It takes time to find and register them fully, then understand them well enough to grasp their potential for changing the way we do things or see our world.
- You will also need time to prioritize these budding ideas and choose which ones are worth more attention and energy. Doing this in a rush risks making mistakes, missing good ideas, and wasting effort on those that soon run into the sand. Creative thoughts don’t come in neat packages. They arrive mixed with other thoughts or notions that aren’t what you are looking for. You need time to sort them out.
- Checking your growing ideas, researching, and creating sensible plans for implementation also take time. You aren’t going to be successful with every creative thought or idea every time. Many will fizzle out, or prove to be more difficult—and provide fewer benefits—than appeared at first. You need to “noodle” around, trying them out, adapting, extending, combining, and dropping poor ideas in favor of better ones. Until you start to explore how a creative thought might work in practice, you can’t see clearly which are going to be worth taking further.
- Most of all, you need time to daydream. I’m not talking about sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike. That’s a romantic idea that bears no relation to what genuinely creative people do. In all those “gaps” where they appear to be doing nothing at all, the world’s outstanding creative minds are hard at work below the surface: reflecting, ruminating, “noodling” with odd ideas, daydreaming possibilities, and tinkering with patterns and unexpected connections. What you see is the tiniest tip of a mental iceberg: nearly all the activity that brought it about is hidden below the surface. Time spent day-dreaming, or running over intriguing ideas in your head, is the “soil” in which creative ideas grow.
Most people don’t achieve anywhere near their full creative potential just because they never give themselves time to do so. They’re so conditioned to quick action that they give up on fresh thinking long before it has any chance to develop. Don’t make the same mistake.
One of the worst aspects of modern life is the constant hurry. Not only does it create stress and tension, it goes a long way to making us all seem dumber and less creative than we are. If you want to get your brain going, slow down . . . and give it some time and space to work.
Tuesday, February 13, 2020
Start Practicing “Conscious Incompetence”
If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly first. In the real world, doing something new almost always means doing it poorly the first few times. Improvising never produces a polished result, but it's nearly always the first step towards creating something new and worthwhile. To do something new, you have to make a conscious decision to let yourself try things that you know you can't do. That's practicing "Conscious Incompetence."
Sir Winston Churchill wrote:
Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.The way to get out from the herd and let adversity itself turn you into the next big success is to practice “Conscious Incompetence.”
Why do you need it? To make time and space for learning. What is it like when you do something you haven’t done before? You do a pretty poor job of it. You do it badly. There’s no other way to learn. If you’re only willing to do things well, you can’t improvise or do anything new. To develop your potential you must start to cultivate a new skill: the skill of “Conscious Incompetence.”
In the world of work, there is so much pressure for doing things correctly from the start that most people live in a constant state of anxiety. If you aren’t allowed a period of grace to learn by doing things badly, you’d better stick just to what you know you can do already. If you’re to “hit the ground running” in a business that has “no room for passengers,” you must either do everything competently from the start or risk being pushed aside. The result of such needless torment is that people draw back from new areas. They’ve survived to the point of doing something—anything—capably, so they don’t want to risk themselves by stepping outside this hard-won comfort zone.
“So what exactly is it?”“Conscious Incompetence” is doing something that you know you can’t yet do, let alone do well, for the purpose of learning how to do it better. It’s allowing yourself to make a mess and get things wrong, because you’ll never know how to do better until you get past that point. And it’s the basis of all learning. If you can’t allow yourself to make mistakes and probably look silly doing it; if you can’t allow yourself to attempt what you know you won’t be able to do at first; if you can’t allow yourself to take the risk of screwing up; then you also can’t allow yourself to learn or develop. And if your boss or your organization demand near perfection from the first moment, they’re fools. The only result will be employees who never try anything new at all.
“Conscious Incompetence” should be required behavior in every organization. This is true for individuals, teams, and the whole corporation too. The world makes unavoidable and unexpected demands on us. Such demands force us along new paths, if we want to avoid the fate of the dinosaurs. Improvising and learning by doing are perfectly natural human activities. So are making a mess, failing the first few times, and getting in a muddle with new ideas, but only making them deliberate will allow us to use them effectively, whenever and wherever and however we want—without feeling so embarrassed or silly that we resolve not to risk either again.
“How do I start?”By seeing what might work and trying it, even if you’re certain that you’ll do it badly at first. This requires four steps:
Step 1: Ask yourself, “Do I think this might be a useful idea or skill?”
If the answer is “yes,” consider how you can try it out. It’s very easy to be misled by appearances or the opinions of others. Those who advised major corporations to indulge in creative accounting were simply giving opinions. Were their opinions correct? Events have proven they were not. What appears to be new and useful maybe a delusion or a miracle. You won’t know until you try.
This sounds simple, but it’s amazing how often managers turn down most fresh options without even trying them, purely because they aren’t things they know they can already do well. If what you try doesn’t work, drop it. But at least you now know that it isn’t really an option, and—far more important—you know why.
Don’t accept conventional wisdom. Don’t make easy assumptions (to assume, it is said, is usually to make an ass out of U and me). Distinguish causes from their effects. Explore, poke, probe and question. Don’t worry what others think. What passes for thinking most of the time within organizations is merely the rearrangement of old habits and preset opinions. As the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who was neither troubled by modesty nor inhibited in his comments on others, once wrote:
Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.Merely by trying things others ignore or turn down without question, you’ll build an enviable reputation as an outstanding creative thinker.
Step 2: Ask yourself, “What tells me that the conventional answer to this is true?”
You need to be clear about what is going on. If someone tells you, “we have a retention problem,” take the time to ask whether that is true; and if you think it may be, take the next step and explore what you can see, hear or experience that actually tells you that’s the problem that exists.
Confusion is the enemy of effective judgment. Perhaps a problem does exist, but if you’re confused about its nature and extent, there is little chance that you can take correct decisions on what to do about it.
The fear that is generated in harsh times makes us hurry to premature action. If we believe we need to do something immediately, we have little option except to reach for the conventional solution. Yet most of our requirement for immediate action comes from anxiety, not reality. Few things that occur in organizations demand instant responses. Even half an hour of focused thought can prevent disaster and a major loss of face.
Make a list of the “proofs” that demonstrate the problem. You will need this for the next step.
Step 3: Ask “why not?” repeatedly until exhausted all the options you can discover.
“Why?” and “Why not?” are the most useful questions in the universe. Perhaps that’s why toddlers use it so often. They haven’t yet had it knocked out of them by hostile authority figures. They also need to learn a whole lot in a hurry and know, instinctively, that asking “why?” and “why not?” all the time is the best way to do it. Most parents find their child’s persistence in asking “why not?” soon becomes maddening. Most bosses feel exactly the same way about their subordinates. Both groups are wrong. Asking “why not?” can be uncomfortable, but it is nearly always productive.
Step 4: Give yourself (and those who work for you) permission to improvise and try new approaches, even if you all get it wrong first time.
Suppose that Brad is afraid of anything that might suggest incompetence or threaten failure. Many high performers are. They’re typically extremely superstitious about risking even the possibility of failure, because they have never experienced it in their past.
Brad is faced with an important decision. He wants to shine—and he really, really doesn’t want to make a mistake, or take any risks that he can avoid. The best way to meet both these objectives looks to be to use his knowledge and memory to see how this kind of decision has been made before, then replicate it.
Brad looks for this information in the past. He remembers what he has done that turned out well; recalls what he learned at business school and corporate training events; searches out industry best practice. He finds many things that he already knows, and uses this knowledge to make a decision that has the best chances of being correct in terms of past knowledge. That’s why he will probably never develop more than a fraction of his potential.
Susan comes up against the same decision, but decides it’s a great chance for stealthily practicing “Conscious Incompetence.” (It’s usually best done in secret. The conventional parts of the world tend to misunderstand.)
Now she adds the magic ingredient that is going to transform her career. She takes time to review all the other options she can think up that don’t match industry best practice, and aren’t in line with how things have been done before. She knows that she isn’t likely to be good at them, but checks them out just the same. By doing this, she has started learning something new, not just learning more about what she already knows.
When Susan starts to implement her idea, she makes many mistakes — she knew she had little previous competence to help her — but each one teaches her more. She persists in the face of failure. By the end of the project, Susan has accessed more of her potential, the company has gained a new approach, and senior management has recognized a talent in the making. Brad is still polishing his existing knowledge and wonders why his career isn’t progressing.
“Conscious Incompetence” (and the deliberate testing, improvisation, and experiential learning that it produces) should be required behavior in every organization. It is the only way for organizations, and the people in them, to access untapped ideas and unused potential and put them to practical use.
“Now I get it!”In today’s harsh, macho, grab-and-go business environment, the real risks come from repeating the past and believing that you already know all the answers. Sure, experimenting takes time. Sure, there will be many mistakes and stumbles along the way. Sure, people will have to persist in new activities to become good at doing them. So what? That’s how things work. The only new things you can do instantly, without time to practice or develop a skill, are so inconsequential that they’re hardly worth doing at all.
And, sure, you’ll look silly many times. But not half as silly as you’ll look when it becomes clear that the idea that you rejected without fully considering or trying turns into a killer advantage for a competitor.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.