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‘Workplace Exaptation’


Here’s an excerpt from my latest book ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year: Your ‘Change Evolution to get ‘Change Fit”. There are four stages in a person or team’s progress in evolving their change readiness: ‘Change Sloth’, ‘Change Strain’, ‘Change Workouts’, and ‘Change Fit’. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. Sign up for a monthly email summarising posts like these.


One example of a practice that may indicate you’ve entered the ‘Change Workouts’ stage is ‘Workplace Exaptation’. Exaptation is an evolutionary term for adaptations that evolved for one reason but later turned out to be useful for other things. Bird feathers originally were for warmth and attracting mates. It was only subsequently that they assisted in flight. There are plenty of Exaptation examples in business and workplaces too – what I call, ‘Workplace Exaptation’. Viagara, for example, was originally developed as a heart medication.

Another significant benefit of taking a more proactive stance on change, trying new things, or doing 2 dangerous things a year, is that you test many small ideas. Even if those ideas don’t initially work out or seem to amount to much, you still have those ideas. Keep them. Store them clearly and logically so they’re retraceable for future reference.

Both my kids worked their way through high school and much of university at the same local supermarket. That store had an idea. The idea even had a name – ‘Fresh Eyes’. Originally, and very successfully, the idea was that the weekly audit walk by managers required in their departments assessing things against a prescribed checklist should be rotated so that the audit walk was still conducted each week, in turn, but a different manager did it of a different department. It lessened the danger of over-familiarity and assumptions so they wouldn’t see the wood for the trees.

The idea worked (and works) great so they could quite reasonably have left it at that and patted themselves on the back. But they didn’t. They asked themselves – if this is such a great idea, where else might it be applied. ‘Workplace Exaptation’ in action.

They took that original idea of responsibility rotation and ‘Fresh Eyes’ and used it with job interviews. My son was employed in the seafood section. He was originally interviewed by someone from HR, not because they were from HR but because it was their turn. Next, it was someone from Produce, a less-experienced supervisor. They had fresh eyes and a different perspective on my son, plus it gave the interviewer some experience. Win-win! Lastly, he was interviewed by the manager of the seafood department. It’s a robust process structuring-in diverse perspectives, yet retaining consistency with a prescribed checklist. Successful ‘Workplace Exaptation’ in action.

If you’re curious as to the extent to which your personality’s natural predisposition towards risk is contributing to being a handbrake or an accelerator on your progress, you can take my online assessment and find out. It’s at .


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This was an excerpt from my latest book ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year: Your ‘Change Evolution to get ‘Change Fit”.  Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindlechange evolution complete slide


My latest podcast, this one on the subject of grit. Supposedly grit / determination / perseverance / resilience is one of the greater characteristics of successful people. Obviously, there’s a time to walk away and not flog a dead horse but I talk about some of the research substantiating that idea. Certainly people who constantly give up are more likely to not be successful. Wasn’t it Homer Simpson who said, “Trying is the first step to failing.”







Stand-Up Workstations

Sitting can be as bad as smoking. They should print warnings on couches and office chairs. Even if the chair is perfectly primed by a professional Ergonomist and made safe from any posture or health and safety issue, the very act of being sedentary and sitting for long periods is not what humans are suited for. In fact, it’s the opposite.

Between 1945 and 1995, the average adult daily calorie expenditure fell 800 calories. So the amount of moving we do each day has reduced by 800 calories, thanks to cars and machines and washing machines and so forth. 800 calories is the equivalent of a ten mile walk! In 1960, 50% of jobs required at least moderate physical activity. Today it is only 20%. Two thirds of desk workers eat lunch sitting at their desk.

Move it or lose it!


Persistence + Resilience = Persilience

Persistence + Resilience = Persilience

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.

What Factors Drive Success In People Part 2

My most popular post to date has been on what factors drive success in people. If you found that interesting, you’ll probably also get a lot from Angela Lee Duckworth’s work on grit and perseverance.



What Role Does Optimism Play In Building Your Team?

Why is the metaphorical ‘half full / half empty glass’ never a wine glass? Not businesslike? That hasn’t been my experience with businesspeople...

Why is the metaphorical ‘half full / half empty glass’ never a wine glass? Not businesslike? That hasn’t been my experience with businesspeople...

Are you leading someone who is always radiating ‘doom and gloom’ and bringing down your team? Do you suspect that your team would be more productive and your workplace more a workplace of choice if the gloomy guts could just change their ways? You’re not wrong (except for the odd occasion when you are. More about this soon..)

Resilience and perseverance are two critical characteristics of successful people. One of the factors leading to our own levels of resilience and perseverance is the nature and extent of our optimism.  The way we think about success and failure determines, in the long run, who among us becomes successful or fails. The nature of that thinking is nothing but a learned habit. Our genes, childhood, teachers, parents, experiences etc, good and bad, have shaped our thinking. The people you’re trying to lead, when about to begin a job, project, relationship or major task, will view their prospects through a mental lens that has been polished and scratched. You could help them choose to get rid of that lens if it’s not helping them and replace it with one that will – one that they choose themselves.

Pessimists, when they actually experience a genuinely negative event, tend to believe the bad effects will be for a long time, that it doesn’t just apply to a specific area of their life but will cut across everything and that the event is their fault. Optimists tend to believe genuinely negative events are temporary, isolated and, whether or not they are to blame or partly to blame, there is a challenge from which to learn. Studies have shown that naturally pessimistic people are generally less successful, less healthy and, by definition, less happy.

If you’re leading a team, how many of those people do you have? How many do you need? Zero? Really?

Studies designed to generate states of learned helplessness amongst the participants (be they dogs or humans) show that about one in ten are inherently prone to giving up almost instantly. Six out of ten will eventually learn to be helpless given the relentless conditions of the study. BUT three out of ten are naturally inclined to never giving up. How many of those people do you have on your team? How many do you need?

I’m not suggesting you should fire or screen out of recruitment processes all those who are natural pessimists. BUT maybe you should try and consciously plan to have the right sort of people in the right sort of roles at the right times? I could be wrong but project planners, financial controllers and neurosurgeons should probably have at least a streak of pessimism in there for safety’s sake. Studies show that pessimists accurately judge how much control they have, whereas optimists overestimate how much control they have. They distort reality in their favour. And I’m glad for the health and happiness of the irrepressibly external optimists but there are, in business, many times when the wisest move is to simply give up. Having someone on board who simply cannot give up might be risky.

So, let’s think about helping average people improve their lives and your team’s productivity by raising their optimism levels. It’s a win-win!

There are various assessments you can undergo if you wish to discover the nature and extent of your own levels of optimism and pessimism. (I was quite surprised at my own. I did very well except for my interpretation of positive events; I didn’t take enough credit for those apparently.) But like so many others of the supposed styles we have such as communication, personality, learning, conflict and so forth, these are natural defaults and preferences. Most are not carved in stone. I choose to believe that we can choose. Some we’re stuck with but not optimism – that, we can choose to adapt and improve and be as optimistic or pessimistic as we think we need to be given the circumstances that we’re in. For all the advantages of being generally optimistic, some situations are better off with a pessimist around. Anytime the cost of failure is high, that’s when you want someone around who considers the possibility that s##t may hit the fan.

An event is just an event. Whether or not it’s adverse is in the eye of the beholder. These events may or may not have actually happened. The sales call that fails. The proposal that gets rejected. The suggestion that gets ignored. The earthquake. The adultery.

How can you take control and train yourself, and eventually model to others, how to sensibly explain the meaning of events and learn how to be more optimistic and reap some of those benefits? Martin Seligman’s ABCDE model is both simple and effective. I’m always a big fan of simple and effective.

A – Adversity
B – Beliefs
C – Consequences
D – Disputation
E – Energization

Write things down for a week. Draw up a rough grid with five headings: ABCDE. A is the Adversity (real or perceived, present or potential.) What beliefs are driving your feelings about the adversity? What are (or might be) the consequences if you belief that? Disputation is arguing with yourself. (It doesn’t have to be out loud although that might be entertaining for others.) In this argument, look for real evidence, consider alternatives, implications and the usefulness to you. Once you have an alternative, then energize it by taking an action, any action however small. Over time, this becomes a habit and those small actions add up.

Supposedly the average person thinks over 12,000 thoughts a day and 70% of those are negative. Some might be useful like, “If you change lanes now you might hit another car,” but some might be holding you back, “If you quit your job you might not get another one.” If you can become a leader who can instil in others, at least the ability to recognise and catch their own negative thoughts followed by some internal dialogue about alternative thoughts, then you’re a long way to standing out from the crowd and being a successful leader of positive and proactive change in your workplace.

What Factors Drive Success In People?


This longitudinal study has been tracking the progress of hundreds of children through the New Zealand educational system. Its latest findings (summarised nicely in this Radio NZ news item only this morning) reveal how the kids have achieved (or not) at NCEA – New Zealand’s high school qualifications. Broadly speaking, they break down the participants into their strata of success and look at the associated characteristics within each band. What are the common traits of those who succeed versus those who do not succeed (or, at least, haven’t succeeded yet)?

The answer is hard work! Don’t you hate it when your parents are right? I paraphrase but the soft / people skills are more correlated to success than inherent braininess: Perseverance, curiousity, resilience. That’s good news, as those are behaviourial choices we can make and encourage our kids to make. It’s not like “tall.” That’d be a tough one. Though, if you manage to convert your short kid to tall, it may well prove their resilience!

I don’t write about education. I write about improving results through engaging your people – employees, customers, whoever your people are. What do educational success factors have to do with that? If they ever even existed, long gone now are the days when we went to school & learnt then left to work and stopped learning. That kind of industrial revolution, people-as-cogs-in-the-machine thinking is archaic. Lifelong learning is the way of the future, it is the way of the now. Whatever machine you’re operating today, whatever software you’re an expert in today will be obsolete soon enough. Obsolescence is accelerating. The last company in the world (in India) that manufactured manual typewriters just got out of the typewriter manufacturing business. Whatever abilities you have today, the number one ability needed in future is the ability to learn.

So, the success factors driving success at high school academically are going to be needed after high school – in the workplace and in everyone’s life outside work. Perseverance, curiousity, resilience can be taught and learnt and they can be recruited and supported in the workplace. I’ve heard for years the mantra from HR folk and managers in the hiring frame of mind, “Hire attitude, train skill.” I mostly agree. This latest research certainly reinforces that philosophy. I bet it becomes even more important outside of school. Schools provide a lot of support and structure. The big bad world does not. People with perseverance, curiousity, resilience that they either naturally possess or have chosen to develop are far more likely to be these ‘motivated, self starters’ all these employees are always looking to hire. They’re more likely to be the innovative entrepreneurs that our economies actually desperately need.

So, the next time you’re hiring or looking to spend some training budget, give some researched-backed thought on the best way to invest that time, energy and money. Improved results and success are built with the building blocks of perseverance, curiousity, resilience. And maybe email the link to that news item about high school success to your kids. Or tweet it. Or send it by whatever means they’re using today because they stopped using the previous latest best app because you started using it…

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