Tuesday, June 19, 2020
Why slowing down is the best way to get there faster
It may seem counter-intuitive, but it works just about every time.
Going too fast denies you the opportunity to exercise life’s choices in a deliberate and conscious way. The result is a series of decisions made mostly by a mixture of short-cuts, snap choices, and rules of thumb. Bad decisions too, since there was no time to consider alternatives or delve into the detail. Like someone driving down an unfamiliar road, in the dark, and the rain, and without lights, the result is pretty predictable. Take your foot off the gas and try slowing down enough to think about where you’re going and what might lie ahead. You’ll likely get there faster . . . and in one piece too.Rushing denies you the power of choice. When you’re going as fast as you can, there’s no time to think about options or consider alternatives. You have to make all decisions at high speed and that means relying on what you already know or what has worked in the past. It means using rules of thumb and quick-fixes. It means ignoring the subtleties and complexities of a situation, because you simply don’t have the time to take them into account.
Rushing also simplifies—but not in a positive way. It simplifies the way that looking at something as you drive past at 70 miles an hour simplifies it. You see that it’s a person, or an animal, or a vehicle, but there isn’t time for your mind to register any of the details. All you get is a quick impression. So that’s all you can work with.
For example, say that you want to improve customer relations. If you’re in a rush, there won’t be time to check through any of the data available in any depth. The best you’ll be able to do is to grab the headlines and work with those, likely missing some of what really matters. You make a snap choice and set off in broadly the right direction, but without sifting through the options for the best path to take. As a result, you run into problems—then assume you are headed in the wrong direction. So now you go off some other way and throw yourself totally off track.
One of the worst aspects of today’s macho management is that it encourages decision makers to operate with a minimum of input. Haste forces them to work with summaries and headlines prepared by others. They rarely have the chance to explore the options for themselves. Even choices that might involve massive costs and huge potential profits or losses are taken on the basis of headline figures summarized on a single sheet of paper or a few PowerPoint slides.
Why should this matter?It matters because the power of choice is immensely powerful. In fact, it’s one of the most powerful tools that we have for changing ourselves and our world in positive (or negative) ways.
Every time you make a choice—even a simple one—you alter direction and put yourself on a new path towards encountering something you would not have met had your choice gone the other way.
Imagine trying to find your way to a set point in an unfamiliar city. Each choice—left turn, right turn, go straight ahead—sends you on a slightly different track. It might be the right one, or the wrong one, or one in between: neither right nor wrong in itself, but sending you towards your destination more or less directly. Every single choice has an effect. Individually, none is probably irreversible or bound to stop you from reaching where you want to go. But cumulatively, a series even of marginally poor choices will send you miles off course, while a series of sound choices will get you to your destination quickly and without stress.
That’s what I mean when I say that slowing down is the best way to go faster. By slowing down enough to make every choice a conscious and careful one, you avoid snap decisions that might take you miles out of your way.
The cost of speedOur modern obsession with speed not only robs us of our choices. In many cases, we’re going so fast that we don’t even notice that they were choices to make until it’s too late. The choices were there though—and they were made, perhaps by default or even unconsciously. All because you failed to slow down enough to notice all those forks in the road and concealed turnings.
That’s what Hamburger Management does to you. It substitutes speed and thoughtlessness for choice. It bases decisions on slogans (Quicker! Cheaper! More! More!) instead of careful, rational analysis. Everything is short-term because, at that speed, trying to look ahead to the longer-term means you have to take your eyes of the road immediately ahead for a moment . . . so you smash into the car right in front of you.
Why are so many people so stressed? Because they’re being forced to go along at a pace that makes them feel permanently out of control. Just a little faster and they’ll be certain to crash. It’s enough to make anyone feel tense and afraid.
Don’t join in the mad rush to do everything faster and faster. That crowd’s composed mostly of lemmings—and we all know where they end up. By slowing down, you’ll be safer, waste less time on wrong turnings and the subsequent corrections, and lower your stress levels into the bargain.
Wednesday, May 30, 2020
21st century rules for career success
Penelope Trunk’s new book tells it how it is
When I was starting out on my career path (it seems a hundred years ago now), I was given the advice that we all received at that time:
- Get a job with a “good” company that offers a pension scheme.
- Hang onto it.
- Wait patiently to retire and collect your reward.
Enter Penelope Trunk with her new book: Brazen Careerist: The New Rules for Success. Her writing is sassy, irreverent, often extreme, but it just about always goes right to the point. What she says is directly relevant to today’s world, where pensions and benefits are no longer things that you can rely on, jobs disappear at the stroke of some accountant’s pen, and the only person in the organization that you can trust to have your best interests at heart is you.
In those far-off days when I was starting out, we were encouraged to believe that the right way to get ahead was to hand over control and direction of your career to the organization, keep your nose clean, work hard, and take whatever was given to you. Is that the advice I gave to my daughters when they started out in the world of work more than 30 years later? You bet it wasn’t! I didn’t have the advantage of having Penelope Trunk’s book then, but what she says in it rings true to my own experience.
What’s new and different about this book is that it doesn’t stop with how to choose a job and get past the selection process. With headings like “How to get what you want from the people you work with” and “Get what you want from your boss,” it’s there to help you find ways to succeed even after you enter those hallowed corporate portals. And if the idea of having a cubicle in some vast office complex doesn’t inspire you, you can turn to “Checklist for starting your own business” instead. For women, there’s even a section called “Sex discrimination is everywhere, so don’t try to run.” (I could point out that, as a young man, I was sexually harassed by several women in various places of work . . . but that was long before we even knew what it was. I think in those days it was known as “making the new guy blush and look an idiot.”)
Slow Leadership aims to tell the truth about the world of work. It isn’t a place where working hard always brings you a just reward—or any reward at all, save exhaustion and burnout. The best and brightest don’t naturally rise to the top. Many bosses shouldn’t be in the jobs they hold. The organization neither knows what’s best for you (only you can know that), nor is it especially interested in you, save as a source of profit that it can’t (yet) get more easily by outsourcing your job to someone it can pay half as much. Sure, there are good bosses and ethical organizations out there. There are also open-minded, non-partisan politicians and rap artists who don’t do drugs. It’s just that they can be pretty damned hard to find.
The real advice young people should be given starts with “it’s your life, so make sure that you do only what you believe is right for you” and ends more or less in the same place. In the middle, I would put a few other points like “if it feels like hard work, you’re probably in the wrong job” and “copying the boss is likely to make you into a jerk as well.” Fortunately for the world, I don’t offer young people career advice for a living.
Penelope Trunk does, so if you’re in the early stages of a typical 21st-century career—feeling lost, staring at your resumé and trying to work out how to hide the blemishes, wondering whether you made the right choice, or trying to plan the best way to get that promotion—this is the book for you. Many of the older generation—my generation—are going to hate this book. Your parents may even be shocked by some of it. But if you want advice that is 100% up-to-date and real, go for it just the same.
Monday, May 07, 2020
Playing the game of life
Sports players are not the game. You are not your work.
It’s common for writers to compare working life to sport in one way or another. The idea of winners and losers, of team effort as a key to success, of inspirational coaches and great leadership on and off the field of play, all provide good analogies for handling our working lives. But sport and working life are not quite as similar as some people claim. Knowing the key differences can save you from many bad situations.Working life certainly feels like one of the more competitive kinds of game. There are usually some more-or-less established rules of play, rewards for success, opponents to be avoided or overcome, and friends to be helped. Survival in such a competitive, often ruthless environment, depends on how well you play. . . doesn’t it?
Good team mates in sport and at work can be a great source of support. The “other side” will try to bring you down if they can. You definitely need skill and practice to be good. Coaches can help you do better. Team managers can—and will—impose penalties for slacking or failure. There are winners, losers, persecutors, and victims in the game of working life. Generally speaking, you can’t opt out of the game of work either, since you need money to be able to live, and working is where most people get it.
So far, so good. But knowing the critical ways in which working life differs from any kind of sport or game is essential to be able to succeed—or just to survive, with your sanity and self-respect intact.
Here are some critical differences from the sporting world that jump out for me:
- Work really isn’t a team sport. You may be part of a team, but most organizations handle rewards and assessments of performance individually. You can’t avoid direct, personal accountability for your actions or decisions. In a sports team, you expect all your team mates to be on your side. In teams at work, this isn’t always a safe assumption.
- Sport is a short-term activity, limited by the set length of the playing period. After the game, you get to walk away. Staying in a job or a relationship you hate, or that doesn’t work for you, has long-term consequences. Don’t risk them for short-term success or comfort. Playing the wrong sport won’t ruin your life. Working somewhere that isn’t right for who you are—which means consistent with your deepest values—will. It is a seriously bad idea.
- The sports field, court, or whatever else it is called, is a clearly bounded, well understood situation. Everyone knows what’s there, what counts and what doesn’t, and where you can play to best effect. The working environment is messy, uncertain, ill-defined, and constantly changing. Yet your survival depends still on how well you understand it and take appropriate action. Sometimes, it’s more like a battlefield than a baseball diamond or a tennis court. Don’t assume others will play by the rules—or that there even are any.
- Winners in sport almost always win because of better preparation. It may not seem like that to the losers, because winners sometimes seem to carry off winning performances with ease, but winning is rarely an accident. The best players will lose sometimes. The worst lose all the time. In the business world, it’s tempting to assume that the same is true. It isn’t. Chance plays a far greater role. Don’t get puffed up and assume one or two successes mean that you’re brilliant. Luck is sometimes on your side. Too many people ignore the part it plays. Stay humble and you’ll avoid falling from that pedestal you put yourself on.
- Winners in sport and work learn from past mistakes. They never stop learning and practicing. Do you imagine that Tiger Woods believes he can walk onto a golf course and win without hours and hours of focused practice beforehand? But at least he knows what the game is. To win in the workplace means understanding the politics well enough to know what is really wanted from you. Bosses often don’t—or won’t—tell you.
So what can you do?
- Stay wake and alert. Don’t be lead astray by simplistic recipes for success.
- Learn, practice, re-learn, re-practice . . . then do some more of both. Never stop learning and practicing. Nothing will ruin you faster.
- Don’t be naive, but don’t lose heart either. Sure there are some bad things out there, but there are many good ones too.
- Most of all, stay calm and detached from the emotional turmoil around you. Neither sport nor working life are as serious as their devotees believe.
Wednesday, May 02, 2020
Whose life is it anyway?
Giving in to dogma will cripple your identity
Thanks to Ririan Project, via Leon Ho at Lifehack.org, for pointing me to this quote from Steve Jobs of Apple:
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.There are many subtle ways that we are trapped into following someone else’s opinion of how our life should be lived. It’s not just the obvious pressures, like the norms of society, the demands of employers, or even the laws where we live. It’s the softer and more insidious urgings like these:
- Wanting to be liked. Most people want to be liked by those they come into contact with. To be willing to be disliked, even by a few, is a price rather few people are willing to pay for staying true to their ideals. But it’s worth asking yourself whether it’s really true that being liked always demands quite so much conformity. Some people will dislike you whatever you do, and being seen as a doormat isn’t much of a way to show others your true value. It’s probably correct that too much conformity is as much a cause of dislike as too much rebellion.
- Wanting to fit in. There is so much pressure to fit in, to be a good team player, to accept the will of the majority (or, more often, the tiny minority in power). Just recognize what is causing you to yield to this pressure. It’s fear. The fear of being excluded, laughed at, challenged, or even attacked. People who work really hard to fit in are extremely fearful and anxious. It seems as if being part of the team, never rocking any boats, should produce a quiet life. In reality, it causes constant anxiety about avoiding what others might interpret as either being too independent or getting above yourself.
- Wanting to avoid blame. There are many people who are so afraid of being blamed for anything that they automatically follow every possible rule and always try to avoid doing anything that causes them to stand out. For them, “I was only following orders” is the best excuse possible, should any criticism be in the offing. Does it work? Not really. Instead of being blamed for whatever mistake was made, they usually end up being blamed for blindly doing what they were told: not a person who tried and got it wrong, but a person without any initiative—not even enough to recognize that what they were told to do was likely a mistake.
- Wanting to appear respectable. In our society, those who question the norms are usually demonized as agitators, lefties, and people with dubious morals—or no morals at all. Creative people are alternately idolized (if they are successful) or laughed at as freaks and losers. Never mind the fact that just about everything the rest of us enjoy in life, from security to iPods, is due to the efforts of just such creative types. Only fear makes respectability look attractive. The more typical marks of respectability are far less pleasant: bigotry, small-mindedness, hypocrisy, and cant.
- Wanting to please. This is the most insidious trap of all. It feels good to please people. It gives you a glow. Small children want to please their parents. Lovers want to please one another. What could be wrong in that? Only that the cost of pleasing others all the time is going to be the crippling or loss of your own identity. And that, over the years, hidden resentment from doing this can build up to the point where it destroys the very relationships you have tried so hard to preserve.
If you want to live in a better world—and who wouldn’t, seeing the mess this one is in—there’s no alternative but to play your part in changing things. You cannot leave it to others. That’s neither honest nor practical. As another quote from Steve Jobs puts it;
We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?
Monday, April 09, 2020
Workplace “black holes”
Some workplaces are like black holes, sucking in all the energy around and giving nothing back.
Have you ever walked into a place of work—an office, a laboratory, a school, a retail store—and felt your spirits start to flag the moment you passed the door? Felt a kind of weight settle on you: a sense of dullness, gloom, coldness? Experienced trying to deal with people who seem disinterested, uninvolved, too distracted, or too sluggish to do more than the absolute minimum? If so, you’ve just encountered a workplace “black hole.” A phenomenon that becoming more common than it ought to be.In space, a black hole pulls in all energy, but never lets any back out. However much energy is nearby, it will be pulled into the vortex and then disappear as if it had never existed. A black hole is insatiable. It keeps pulling in more and more energy, absorbing it—then drawing in yet more. In black-hole workplaces, effort, however successful or exceptional, is absorbed as if it had never existed and “rewarded” by demands for still greater effort. Good results are automatically seen as the basis for requiring further and better ones. Achieve your target and it will be instantly increased. Exceed your target, and the bar will be raised still higher Like the real black holes in space, nothing can fill up a black-hole workplace—or even slow down the constant demands for more and more.
All that energy, effort, and hard work goes in, but nothing comes out again. Black holes absorb, they never emit. Black-hole workplaces take all you have to offer—and more—and give little or nothing back. They see payments and benefits as evils to be minimized, training or development as unnecessary costs, and staff numbers as a figure that should always be on the way down. Working there is a grim, draining experience: all work and no play or respite. That’s why staff appear so sluggish and disinterested. They’re too beaten down and exhausted to behave in any other way. In most cases, their every move is watched and their every activity measured against constantly rising targets for individual or team output.
Instead of being respected as a person, you are talked down to, looked down on, distrusted, and treated as a “human resource.”At the root of the workplace black hole phenomenon is a deep disrespect for people. Employees are expected to focus totally on getting their work, with no time for themselves or “slacking off.” Targets are raised and raised until they become impossible—then raised again. Failure to achieve whatever is demanded is punished. Success is not appreciated, since it is seen as no more than doing what you are paid for. Instead of being respected as a person, you are talked down to, looked down on, distrusted, and treated as a “human resource.” Something to be used and exploited: a cost to be minimized or, if possible, removed altogether by mechanization or outsourcing.
Of course, such organizations disrespect their customers just as much as their employees. The customer is there to be fleeced, manipulated, misinformed, and given as little as possible for his or her money. Price gouging, cartels, and profiteering are all the result of this fundamental disrespect of others.
Fortunately, our universe has stars as well as black holes, and the same is true of the business and organizational world. An organization that is a star energizes everyone who comes into contact with it. Instead of absorbing energy, stars create it. They don’t just respect and honor everyone involved, they give back far more that they take. For the people who work there, it’s a marvelous place that allows them to be themselves, express their creativity, build a career that they can be proud of, and—above everything else—have fun. That fundamental trust and respect of employees and customers shines through like light from the brightest star. If you need help, it’s given with pleasure and care. Employees clearly show that it’s a pleasure to work there, and that communicates itself to customers too. Black holes de-energize their whole environment. Stars pour out energy that lights up a wide area around.
is your workplace a star or a black hole? Is it founded on respect and trust—or disrespect, suspicion, and exploitation? The only sensible way to deal with a black hole is to get as far away from it as possible, before it sucks you dry. Whatever lurks, unseen, at the center of its vortex will go on drawing in energy, work, profits, effort—endlessly. An economy based on multiple black holes will suck energy and money from everywhere else and return nothing. A country based on black-hole organizations will try to suck the rest of the world dry.
We’re constantly exhorted to reach for the stars. In the organizational world, that makes excellent sense. There are stars out there. If you can find one to work in, you’ll find that every working day brings you more energy and fun. Why accept anything less?
Just stay away from the black holes.
Monday, March 12, 2020
Are you enjoying the ride?
What jobs and roller-coasters have in common.
Like certain children on a ride at a theme park, many people aren’t enjoying the ride that their work or career is giving them. They only stay on the ride because they think that they must, due to peer pressure, fear of disapproval, or a hidden belief that there’s something wrong with them for not enjoying what everyone else says is so great. But is it true that all the others are enjoying the ride? Might they too choose to fake it for similar reasons?Have you ever watched the faces of children on a carousel of other fairground ride? Some show pure delight. Others display fear, boredom, or a self-conscious concern with how they appear to parents or friends watching them. For every child who is enjoying the ride, one or more is there only because they have to be, and would get off at once if only they felt it was possible. (As an aside, much the same seems to be true of adults on the far scarier rides at today’s theme parks).
The experiences of these children are almost identical to the experiences of many people in today’s workplaces. some truly enjoy the ride—even the scary parts. Others are doing what they do because they think that they must, not because they get any pleasure from it.
How often have you seen a frightened child being urged onto some ride by amused parents. “Come along,” they say. “Don’t be afraid. you’ll love it.” And, in many cases, the child finally does what the parents want. Do they love their ride? Some do, perhaps, but I suspect more only say that they do afterwards, wanting to please their parents and avoid appearing to be uncomfortable with what their parents so clearly approve.
We comply and smile, and pretend to be enjoying ourselves, rather than face the supposed consequences of defying authority.In the same way, many of us are urged into careers by authority figures—teachers, parents, ministers, even writers—and assured it will all be pleasure and gain once we overcome our strange reluctance at the start. And so we comply and smile, and pretend to be enjoying ourselves, rather than face the supposed consequences of defying authority.
Of course, peer pressure is equally important. Many of those inwardly frightened or bored children on the carousel are there because all their friends have indicated it’s the right, the exciting, the cool thing to do. These friends show off their “bravery” at facing the worst, most frightening theme park rides and enjoying them.
In work too, peer pressure keeps many people in jobs they dislike, or even hate.Does this sound familiar? Have you heard people boasting, not just that they can handle the crippling work pressures and ever-extending hours in the office, but that they actually enjoy the whole process? Can you bear to be left out? Can you bear to be marked down as a wimp and a pantywaist? In work too, peer pressure keeps many people in jobs they dislike, or even hate. Their friends all have expensive cars, huge homes, and crushing working weeks. “See how successful we are,” they say. “We’re rich and important. 80-hour weeks? Child’s play to people as tough as we are.” So you join in, afraid of what might be whispered behind your back at the golf club otherwise, or the pitying looks exchanged at the PTA meeting.
And the bored children? They aren’t afraid or excited. They can handle the ride, scary or not, but it has no real interest to them. In part, they are there for the same reason as the rest—pressure of some kind. But there is also, perhaps, an element of self-doubt. “Everyone says the ride is wonderful and exciting. Since I don’t find it to be either, may be there’s something wrong with me?” So they keep riding, attempting to hide their supposed “problem” and pretending to enjoy it like everyone else.
By any rational criteria, the conclusion is obvious: they should try something else. Yet they don’t.All too many people don’t enjoy their working lives. By any rational criteria, the conclusion is obvious: they should try something else. Yet they don’t. Many even pretend to enjoy their jobs, further fixing themselves into a stressful and meaningless round of drudgery and frustration.
Why is this? Like the children at the theme park, they have maybe given in to authority figures. Or they have accepted the notion that there’s something wrong with them: “This is a good job with a high salary. I ought to love it”. Or they are obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses and cannot contemplate the potential financial consequences of changing to a career they might really enjoy.
We all have only one ride around the sun. It’s our choice whether we select a ride we enjoy (even it isn’t the most financially advantageous), or one that scares or bores us (however much we earn). Having free will in broadly free, industrialized societies, means being able to choose wealth or social respectability over happiness—or the other way around.
If you truly love the ride you’re on, regardless of all the pressures, horrendous working hours, and terrifying ups and downs of the business roller coaster, what you have chosen is clearly right for you. You should ignore anyone who tries to tell you that it’s too risky or too demanding.
You are spending your one life doing something that you dislike—and often suffering as a result. It makes no sense.But, if you have all the fears, pressures, and frustrations—or you are bored to distraction much of the time—without the corresponding enjoyment of what you are doing, why are you still on that ride? Whatever the pressures, you are spending your one life doing something that you dislike—and often suffering as a result. It makes no sense.
Come the end of your individual ride around the sun, will it have been worth it?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.