Monday, September 30, 2013

When being the Best isn't always the Best thing to be!

We are often told that, if we want to be successful, we should do what successful people do.  It would seem to make sense then to sit down with the expert, the person who is a 'pro' at what you want to do, and find out how they did it.  If you can dissect their actions, then you will be in a position to replicate their process and achieve similar results.  

This, however, is often proven to be better in theory than in actuality.  It seems that those who are great at what they do may not truly understand how they did everything to get them there.  This is as true in business as it is in sports.  In the film clip below, Malcolm Gladwell discusses why a Professional Tennis Player may not be the best person to ask in determining 'how' to become a great tennis player.

As it turns out, the sports Pros may not be positioned well to teach you what they do because they do it instinctively.  It isn't a rational decision they make, it's a reaction or response to stimuli.  What Gladwell doesn't mention in this clip though is that there are people who are positioned to help you improve your game.  Those people are the coaches.  These are the people that have broken the moves down, who have studied what it takes to succeed; which is why they are there coaching the pros.

When you are looking for direction on how to become the best, your time may be better served in learning from those that helped the Best in Class get there, than in questioning those who have made it.  Look to those who have guided the success of others, and not just themselves, for they understand what is necessary and are better positioned to help you find ways that will work for you.  Most pros know what it took for them to get there but are not well-positioned to offer you alternative routes.  

We see this happen in business where, for example, you have a sales rep out in the field who is just killing it.  They are by-far out-selling all others and so, naturally, they get promoted.  The assumption is that they will now teach those reporting to them 'how to do it'.  The organization is hoping to now not just have one person in the field selling like crazy but a whole team of 'em.  But... it just doesn't happen.  Turns out... that sales rep turned manager doesn't know how to describe what they do to create rapport.  They can't truly explain how the 'magic' works.  Sure, they make up stuff to share and to get others working on replicating, but it turns out like that recipe you got from your grandma where it seems to be missing that one ingredient!  Getting there and explaining 'how' to get there are not the same skill.  Sometimes it it better to leave that amazing, exceptional person alone, doing what makes them amazing and exceptional and promote the person who understands the steps to helping others be amazing and exceptional.  

Being the Best is an admirable goal.  But, if you are looking to help grow and develop others, you don't need to be the Best at what you coach in, you just need to be the best coach.  Two different skills.  Make sure that you get what you need from those better positioned to give it to you.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Love the Work you Do

How we feel about virtually anything in our lives is a matter of perspective.  And our perspective is a matter of choice.  Therefore... I choose how I feel.

  • Road Rage?  I chose it.
  • Excitement?  I chose it.
  • Frustration?  I chose it.
  • Happiness?  I chose it.

So now... think about your job.  How do you feel about the work that you do?  If you find that you are frustrated and dreaming about doing something else, if the work that others do sounds infinitely more interesting, more exciting, consider that you are creating your own sense of frustration.  You are choosing to feel this way.

Seth Godin asks... "What if surfing was your job?  Where would you go for vacation?"

A professional surfer has days where they find themselves having to drag their board out into the surf.  It may be cold or overcast, their muscles may be hurting from the day before, they may just not feel like getting wet. But they get out there, because that's their job.  Everything looks glamorous from the outside but every job has elements to it that the doer dislikes.  EVERY job.

However, regardless of the role or task, there is someone out there that enjoys that aspect.  The very piece of your job that has you screaming out in frustration, the task that you find laborious, is something that would truly delight and inspire someone else.  Why not you?  Up until now you have chosen to be frustrated by it, to dread it, to avoid it, to procrastinate until there was no way out.
Your drudgery is another person's delight.  It's only a job if you treat it that way."   Seth Godin
What if, instead, you chose to be delighted by the drudgery?  What if you chose to be so grateful for the work you do that the drudgery associated with it didn't detract from your enjoyment?   What if you determined to Love the work you do?

Our perspective is a matter of choice. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.  What we don't consider is that it's greener because they fertilize.  Start choosing to fertilize on your side of the fence rather than gazing wistfully at the other side and see how that shifts your perspective.

Monday, September 16, 2013

You Don't Have to Come First, Just Finish

We are programmed from an early age to believe that Winning and Losing are our only two options. Indeed, they seem to be the only alternatives that are recognised within any competition.  You either won or.. you lost.  However, this mentality serves to keep many from even getting out onto the field of competition.  If they already believe that they have little chance in 'winning', then what is the point in competing?  This thinking prevents them from participating, learning and growing.  In fact, they could lose far more by not entering and completing a competition than by entering and failing to come first.

There is much to be said about those who enter a competition regardless of not being a first-place contender.  They know this and enter anyway.  In doing so, they are already leap years ahead of those that determine not to enter, not to try, simply because they could not place first.  Those that strive simply to finish, to test themselves in an activity they are not exceptionally skilled or gifted in, are perhaps telling you more about themselves than those that ultimately place.

Recruiters need to start to recognise the value in considering candidates that 'finish', not just simply those that walked away with the trophies and awards.  Think about what it takes to succeed in your organization.  Although I often get the immediate response from clients that they are looking for 'winners', it quickly becomes apparent that the phrase 'winners' simply isn't applied to those that have 'won' a race or competition in the past.  In fact, most organizations would look at defining a 'winner' as someone who demonstrates tenacity, someone who finishes what they start, regardless of the cost.  It is often this stick-to-it-iveness that helps to define those who ultimately achieve the most in life and... those that don't.

Few competitions truly recognise the value in finishing versus only recognising those arriving first, but there are some.  Marathons, for example, provide all who finish the race with a medal.  They honour and recognise the achievement of someone completing 26.2 miles.  Run, walk or crawl they did what those on the sidelines and those back home sitting on the couch did not.  The achievement says a lot about them.  The Iditerod, perhaps one of the most gruelling races of all, is one of the few that recognises the last place finisher with a special trophy, The Red Lantern.  They know that the musher who finishes last showed the grit and determination to complete the race, to cross that finish line without giving up.  It wasn't easy, giving up would surely have been easier, but their commitment and tenacity took them across the line.  Recognition of those qualities is sorely lacking in business, which explains why those qualities are missing from many businesses.  You get what you recognise and reward.

Start with your recruitment processes.  The going in your business is likely not always an easy one.  You want people that will hang with you through the tough times.  Look for those that have done something difficult, something that challenged them and yet... they didn't give up.  That is an ability worth hiring.  It is a skill worth recognising and it is certainly a behaviour deserving of promotion.

Don't mistake winning with winners.  Winning simply means you came first in a race.  Winners are those that continue to drive and push, to make things happen.  They are the people that cross the finish line long after others have quit.  They don't have to come first, but they do have to finish.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Conformity and the Herd

Earlier this week I posted a video on my Titan Training facebook page (go like us to stay in the loop and to check out the video!) that got me thinking.  It was an old candid camera video that was based on some conformity experiments that Solomon Asch had run.  In the video, someone enters an elevator and, as we all do, faces the front.  However, all additional people entering the elevator (all confederates in the experiment) face the back.  It's not long before the poor innocent person conforms and faces the back also.  The confederates then shift position in unison, facing sideways and, you guessed it, the person also shifts to stand sideways.  

Much of Asch's work demonstrated how quickly and readily we conform to the majority of action and of opinion.  In one famous experiment he showed participants the diagram above, asking them to select which of the three lines was the same length as the single line.  Although seemingly a straightforward and relatively obvious choice, many people deliberately gave the 'wrong' answer simply because they believed that the majority of other people had chosen what they viewed to be an 'incorrect' choice.  

This result has been replicated over and over, using different experiments, different target groups of participants and different environments.  You could say that those that conformed were fully aware of their choice, that they went along with the choice of the majority though they 'knew' better, but what if in choosing outwardly to go along with group-think they inwardly and unconsciously began to revise their own perceptions?  Studies have shown that once we make a choice and make it public, we are more prone to then make decisions and take actions that are in support of that view.  

Certainly social conformity serves some helpful and useful functions, but it can be much more insidious than we may be consciously aware, skewing our views of right and wrong, of what is and is not.  In my work with organizations, I get the opportunity to see this in action.  Most organizations have their own culture.  Typically, new employees struggle to 'fit in' to this culture, feeling on the outside of everything until they finally begin to understand how things get done within this new company, and they follow those processes.  Generally, we think of these as simply being basic process rules, outlining how work gets done.  However, it is far more insidious than we often realize.

Just as couples who have been together for a long time begin to 'look' alike simply because they adapt their non-verbal communication patterns to 'match' those of their partner (they often speak in the same rhythm, use similar phrasing, make similar gestures, etc.) so too does it happen within organizations.  In an effort to fit in, new employees will unconsciously adopt mannerisms and speech patterns that they discern in the group.  For example, in one client organization, a majority of their employees all uptalk.  They certainly don't consciously hire for this speech inflection (where the speaker's inflection continuously goes up, sounding as though they are continuously asking questions), but I'm willing to bet that they do.  For those employees that are hired who are not uptalkers... it is likely only a matter of time until they unconsciously begin to adopt it.  In their efforts to fit in and be liked they adopt that habit as their own so that they too can now sound like one of the group.

Although many of these elements, when taken individually, may sound innocent enough, the greater the number and the greater the prevalence, the more dependent upon the group the individual becomes.  
  • leaving the organization becomes difficult because they can't seem to find anywhere else that they 'fit' in
  • the more you have unconsciously compromised your beliefs and habits to conform to those of others, the more justifications you have developed for doing so.  It proves difficult to break away from these since it requires us to admit that at some point we were 'wrong' in our choice
  • often the organization struggles with the need for independent thinking (for growth, to remain competitive) when systemically they don't reward for it.  Those who are able to remain independent of the group often continue to feel as though they don't fit in and leave to find somewhere that they do
The need and desire of many to be liked by others, to fit in, to feel that they belong can be a strong motivator, leading people to make choices and take actions that they may never have previously considered but that become automatic for them within the framework of the norms of their new group.  Hitler's regime was built upon the premise and strength of conformity.  Our existing military forces do the same (though obviously with different intents!)  Religions rely on the power of conformity as do virtually any formal group. Some are more benign, some more cancerous in their impact.

What is important is to realize the extent to which our desire to belong and be liked can, and does, influence our thinking and actions.  We need to be clear about what we truly believe is right and fair and just and learn to weigh our choices against these beliefs.  The greater our level of clarity, the better able we are to fight against the unconscious pushes we receive to act in ways that do not support these beliefs.  It is only through this clarity that we can hope to avoid compromising those areas that matter, to take a stand against those that would have us simply follow the herd.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Net Result of Networking

It's hard not to attend any kind of business conference or function without a speaker or break out session
talking about networking. They may talk about the power of the smile and the handshake, the need to have your cards printed and ready to hand out, they want you to prepare your 'blurb' or 'elevator pitch' so that you can concisely say who you are, what you do... and then move on, do it again. At many networking events I have attended it has seemed that more and more people were there simply to pass out their cards, rather than truly connecting. And... if your goal when you head out is to get your card into as many hands as you can by the end of the evening, then I suppose they are doing a good job.

What many networking gurus don't tell you, and what all too many people don't consider when networking, is that we all leave behind something (other than our card) in every interaction we engage in. This is the advantage of going to 'live' events, of getting a bigger message out about who we are than our website or card can convey, because our prospective audience gets to experience... 'us'. Every interaction with someone is a moment in which we are creating an impression of who we are, what we stand for, what we believe in, what we are committed to, what we would be like to work with... and more. These are the elements that truly go into defining our Brand Experience. What can people come to expect of and from us.

Over the course of an evening networking, you may not remember everything someone shared with you that night, but you will recall how they made you feel and think about them. If that memory is positive, you hang onto the card. If not, then the card is filed in the waste basket to the side of your desk. Add the following suggestions to your networking repertoire to keep your card from being relegated to the trash, ensuring that you become a card worth holding on to.

  • Shift your mindset.  Everyone in that room thinks that 'it' is about them.  They are focused on getting their card out, getting a connection that will help them in business.  Instead, shift your mindset so that you too are thinking it's about them.  When you are meeting someone new ask about what they do.  Show interest - don't just look like you're waiting your turn to talk!  Pay attention.  The more you genuinely care about what they do the more they will come to care about you.  Additionally, the more you know about the business they are in, the better you will come to understand how you might serve them in future.
  • Quality over Quantity.  The success of your evening should not be measured by the size of the stack of cards you collected but by the quality of the connection.  Flip through those cards.  If you cannot speak to each, clearly articulating what they do, what their services are and offering some ideas on how you thought you might help them... you weren't asking, you weren't listening and you weren't following the first point!
  • Focus on Service.  Your focus when meeting others should be on: how can you serve them. Think beyond your business.  Maybe it's a book recommendation, or a referral you can give them, or a connection you can make for them.  Networking is not the same as selling.  Form the connections now that might lead to a future opportunity.  Bear in mind, it may not be with them but with someone they refer to you.  First you need to be someone they would be happy to send someone they know and care about to.  
In every interaction we leave something of ourselves behind - ensure that you leave behind the kind of impression that invites others to want to connect with you again.  That's the true net benefit of networking.