Category Archives: Self Improvement
I blog about engaging people – employees, customers, people generally. One major tool for achieving that is feedback, in the broadest sense of the word. I also have a bit of a sideline as a stand-up comedian. I have a show in the comedy festival coming up in May. As part of that, the festival folk run a series of shows beforehand as mini preview workshops. It’s a weird and surreal experience as a performer. Performing stand-up isn’t that normal generally but this is really putting ourselves out there.
The format has an MC who’s more of a facilitator. The ticket is free and the show is advertised as what it is – not a normal show. The crowd on my night was a whole lot of people who seemed to really know their comedy as consumers or fans or officionados. They were a good test crowd generally. They laughed if they thought it was funny and they didn’t if they didn’t. Which is what you want as a performer trying out stuff en masse for the first time. Each performer did 15 minutes then sat on a chair on stage for 10 minutes while the MC facilitated out questions to the audience. I’ve been doing comedy for 10+ years and I regret not having an experience like this sooner – undiluted, instant, specific reactions. Plus a fair few new ideas to build the content.
I thought it might be a good blog topic as I walked away, abuzz to get writing and re-writing the comedy but with a parallel thought as to how much this would be a useful idea to anyone in any kind of job. Plumbers, salespeople, neuro-surgeons (they don’t like being called ‘brain surgeons.’ You know what they say about brain surgery? It’s not neuro-surgery!)
The very next day I was running a training workshop (or as I like to call them, a ‘learning workshop. It was on communication for a team of sales reps for a wine brand. I told them the comedy lab story and they took it on board and put it in play for their own workshop.
It really worked.
Maybe ask yourself, how can you set up an environment at your workplace for newbies or not-so-newbies to bolster their ‘performance’ and hone their ‘material’ in a safe but constructively challenging way?
I haven’t had a chance to more than scan this article yet but it’s on a subject close to my heart (and mind. And stomach.) It poses some modern parallels between adult workplace distractions and ill-disciplines and the classic self-discipline assessments and amusing video footage of the various Marshmallow experiments over the years, started out by Walter Mischel at Stanford back in the 60s.
I like the thinking behind the article so once I’ve ‘digested’ it a bit better, I’ll re-post some thoughts.
Marshmallows – 50% sugar; 50% gelatin, 100% evil.
I’m writing a new book – this time about adding ten years to our lives. Part of that is having to pay for the extra years. Not that working is just about earning but wine doesn’t pay for itself. (Note to self: invent self-paying wine.) Engaged employees – engaged people – live longer, better lives.
So, for income, a sense of purpose and simply something to do, we’d like to keep working. You and me anyway – on our terms. I’ve been reading some interesting research on how those of us trucking on into our seventies and onwards in the workforce can’t rely on being perceived as hire-able in the traditional sense. Even now, over half the ‘workers’ above 65 are self employed. There are lots of reasons for that. Some reasonable reasons and some not so much.
Being self employed is tough and challenging and has no guarantees. You either dig that scene or you don’t. I do. I never thought I would.
To better tool ourselves up for a future with options, we need to bulk up the quantity and quality of our social and professional connections. That’s good for health, longevity and business. We could also prep for our potential launch into self employment by having a Brain-Based Boss who allowed, even encouraged, Intrapreneurship. ENtrepreneurs are those idealised risk-taking arse-kicking people who take new ideas and energy and try and implement and monetise them. The minority who survive are lauded as wealth and job creators for others. This is true although it is a gruesome attrition. So, INtrapreneurs would, in theory, take that same attitude and apply it in a job inside an existing company.
It’s a thing. There’s even a conference about it.
The poster child for Intrapreneurs is the inventor of post-it notes who was working for 3M at the time and they took the idea. Although, that guy, whose name I cannot remember, was just trying to keep his place in his choir’s hymnbooks. He was using company time and resources to do it. 3M might be cool and programme such time and efforts into their people’s jobs, not just allowing it after the fact but encouraging it hoping for that 1-in-a-1000 hit.
Employee engagement is helped significantly where there is an alignment between an employee’s personal goals and the goals of the organisation. (Not just saying that they do.)
There’s a chapter in my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ about the influence the perception of endowed progress has on our behaviour. Simply, we feel more inclined to pur in effort towards a goal when we think we’ve already made a committed start. There are neat studies showing how a loyalty card with two stamps already given from day 1 get better results than cards starting from scratch.
Seinfeld tells a story of how he got good at comedy writing. Who’d have thought? He got good at comedy writing by writing a lot of comedy. I recall reading Jules Verne’s biography. Verne said, “Writers write.” Except he would have said it in French. Good call though Jules. Tres bien.
Read Seinfeld’s story here. It’s a simple yet powerful idea that obviously brought him great results. The 2 principle traits of successful people are grit and self discipline. Seinfeld’s idea can help you improve both. If, as a side effect, it makes you funnier, well, that’s a side effect we can all laugh about.
This HBR Blog post poses a challenging and provocative question for those of us who seem to always be championing that workplaces should attract engaged employees and provide them an environment and culture that nurtures employee engagement. I’m one of those champions who sees a bedrock foundation of such a culture as having to include providing meaning for the people from their work – a purpose to get out of bed and zip in to work beyond the mere collecting of a paycheck. (Not ‘instead of’ but ‘as well as’, although there are many for whom it is ‘instead of’ and good on them but that is neither practical nor desirable for everyone.)
My scan of their post makes me think that they’re saying, “fageddaboutit.” Its too hard to find a fulfilling job. You have to make rent. Suck it up and suffer a crappy third of your day every day and whore yourself out for a buck. Even if you do luck your way into a fulfilling job, it won’t last. Get your jollies in your spare time. Be realistic.
They make many good and fair points. We do have to make rent. So do the people you lead. If everyone really was solely out to get fulfilled by their work above earning a wage, wouldn’t a lot more of us be working on water purification projects in Sub-Saharan Africa? But I can’t just let it slide. My view on getting meaning or fulfillment from your work (and the guts of what I try and advise my kids) is, Be realistic and aspirational.
Starting out, a lot of people flip a lot of burgers, push a lot of trolleys and pump a lot of gas. Substitute whatever jobs you personally perceive as being unfulfilling. I work with a lot of senior and highly qualified professionals who get an immense amount of achievement and satisfaction from their work on top of a kickass paycheque. But I work with a lot more front-line and first-time supervisors who don’t have that kickass paycheque and who don’t YET get an immense amount of achievement and satisfaction from their work – but they might.
I’m not extrapolating from the 100 or so employees I’ve worked with in the past year who stack vegetables that everyone can be fulfilled by such a routine and repetitious set of tasks. But some people can and do. I’ve met and worked with them. Most don’t. They punch a clock, make a buck and move on. Maybe their lettuce-stacking enables them to buy the turntable that launches their MC / DJ career? The moving on in the search for the possibility of eventual fulfillment is as much a driver of employee engagement as actually ever arriving at some magical and transitory arrival point called ‘fulfillment.’
This article by Douglas T. Kenrick realistically stresses that we can’t be trusted. He rattles off some well-known studies showing how ill-disciplined people can be when faced with temptation. Given that other studies, such as Mischel’s marshmallows, have shown that having self discipline is one of the major contributors to a person’s success, a lack of it must be cause for concern.
I want to dislike the article because the guts of it is that we cannot trust ourselves so rather than try to change ourselves to be more reliable, we need to affect our environment. We need to avoid or prevent the temptations being around us as much as possible in the first place. Kenrick writes mainly about food but it is as true of alcohol, smoking, loser friends and time-wasting as well. So, we shouldn’t stock our larders and fridges with sodas, cookies, candy and chips. If we suddenly feel like them and we have to walk to our car to drive to a store, we’re less likely to do so. And if these things aren’t in our faces, we’re less likely to think that we want to. Good luck with that. Avoiding things is always a problem because, ultimately, you can run but you can’t hide. You will be confronted with your enemy-items soon enough via TV, billboards, a friend’s house, your workplace. What happens then? You go even more overboard.
That stuff just gets you fat and unhealthy which isn’t great but what really sucks the success out of your life is the brain-equivalents of soda and candy – time wasters like most TV, most computer games and social networking sites. And , of course, at work we have MEETINGS. (They’re ‘candy’ for someone involved.) I’m not trying to get my nag on here. If you’re happy vegetating, please do so on your own time and dime but, please, don’t whinge about your lack of success.
People who end up happy, healthy, wealthy enough, etc are those who can defer gratification. It’s a skill not a natural attribute. You can develop it if you choose to do so and you choose to do so every day as you put in the work, in the same way as a proper weight-training programme can build muscle.
You don’t start by throwing around Olympic powerlifting levels of weights. You start small and warm up first to prevent injury and demoralisation. The same goes for building your willpower muscles. One simple but effective technique to is self correcting every time you say, “Yeah” with a, “Yes.” It’s not that your classier speech will impress people. You’re training your mind to notice what it is you’re about to do. That’s a critical first step in stopping yourself doing it. Give it a go. See how it impacts your thinking and, more importantly, your behaviour. Once you get your ‘yeahs’ sorted out, then you can work your way up to potato chips and, down the line, big life stuff like your spending, saving and studying habits.
I am so hungry right now. Yeah.
This audio summary report from Peggy McKee on recent research is deadly serious but it’s also both amusing and scary. In hiring, do you judge books by their covers, or heel length, or facial hair? Assuming this research is accurate, there seems to be, in the U.S. at least, a hardcore fifth of employers with some dyed-in-the-wool, old school mental models that may be filtering out talent from their subjective hiring process. Why reject a guy just because his skirt is out of date? That stuff is fixable if they’re good enough. Are they so spoiled for choice?
Given I’m blogging at 6AM, I wouldn’t want to be judged on what I’m wearing right now!!
This article by Ian Leslie discusses how performance in critical moments can be enhanced by removing your ‘thinking self’ from the equation. It reminds me very much of the writing of W. Timothy Gallway and his ‘The Inner Game Of Work’ book, especially its reliance on examples from tennis. The voice of ‘Self 1’ in your head saying judgemental and outcome-focused things like, “Hit it to his left,” and “Ouch, you didn’t hit it far enough to his left.”
The trick, apparently, is in knowing what to ignore. Our brain’s inner chatter can drown out the really important steps in the process to success. Successful people focus on the process. They might be motivated by the potential outcomes but they focus on the process. The sentence that best summarises the crucial distinction is, “Unthinking is not the same as ignorance; you can’t unthink if you haven’t already thought.” Leslie and Gallway argue that with the practice and experience and, for want of a better term, ‘pre-thinking’, top performers succeed because they trust their instincts when moments arrive in their performance when there just isn’t time to stop and think. Well, not at the very pedestrian pace that our conscious minds are capable of anyway.
Atul Gawande’s book ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ tackles the same subject but from a different angle. Rather than saying that in critical moments we should rely on our subconscious instincts, he favours a simple checklist. We cannot be trusted. I need to point out that he isn’t talking about tennis games or run-of-the-mill job tasks. He is writing about life-and-death work scenarios – airline pilots and hospitals. The evidence is there that educated, experienced and confident (ie egotistical) experts need to have a simple but formal checking step in their process. It is their very education, experience and confidence that makes that necessary.
To my mind, if the question is, “Are instincts useful at work?” the answer lies in my stock answer, “It depends.”
It depends on the experience of the person and the seriousness of the consequences. Is hitting a tennis ball comparable to making a sale? If you hit a tennis ball thousands of times, you’ll get used to instantly assessing the physical steps needed, regardless of how the ball is coming towards you. It might not be exactly comparable but the same lesson applies – deliberate practice and feedback over time will make you more effective at making decisions in the sales process that will improve your chances of success. It might get talked about as, “Oh Lauren’s just got an amazing instinct for sales,” but, more likely, Lauren’s put in a ton of time and effort through practice and feedback that makes it look instinctive. Just like Djokovic gets accused by Federer of being “lucky,” maybe the harder he works, the luckier he gets. Maybe, if Lauren is such a great salesperson, she could sell Djokovic a decent haircut?…
This blog post by Lynda Bourne makes several clear and simple points about a critical success factor for projects and people. She combines the concepts of persistence and resilience. (I have got to start doing that and making up words!)
Angela Lee Duckworth writes and speaks about ‘Grit.’ She’s inspired a chapter in my own next book on the subject of ‘Grit’ – a combination of behaviours that amount to not giving up and overcoming obstacles and set-backs. Tenacious, dogged, perseverance. Grit, it seems, is the number one attribute that leads to success at whatever it is you’re wanting to be successful at, be it Olympic gold medals, corporate success or mastering violin concertos. More importantly, this thing called Grit isn’t something you’re born with or without, like height. It’s something you can choose to learn. If you want. If you really really want. Here’s a link to Angela’s TED talk on Grit and how to go about learning it.
Intelligence is handy but the research shows that Grit is what sets the winners from the mere participants.