Work Hacks Wednesday: Role Model The Behaviour You’d Like to Receive

If you would like nice behaviour, be nice.

If you would like empathy, be empathetic.

Reciprocity is amongst the strongest human traits.

And even the strength of reciprocity does not guarantee that we get back all the good vibes that we give. But like everything else in life, it’s all about maximizing our chances..

An observation: Many tend to do this until they reach a position of power.

‘Anyone can survive adversity. To test a man, give them power.’

Research has revealed that we are all culpable of falling short of our own standards. The best way to avoid this is to frequently remind ourselves of our own culpability and fallibility.

Let this morning’s note be a reminder for all of us. Have a great day!

Wasting Time

It makes a lot of sense to waste time because we want to. Downtime is important. It’s great to chill out every once in a while and do nothing – just because we can.

It makes no sense to waste time because we are stuck (and frustrated..) or have nothing else to do. Stuck in a queue or in-between meeting? Pop on an audio book, catch up on the news or blogs you read. There are no excuses.

Wasting time when we don’t want to because we don’t know what to do in this day and age is criminal. It could be argued that all we need is a list.

In the final reckoning, how we spent our time is all that will remain of us. There’s a lot of good to be done. And much less time than required to do it in.

Let’s get a move on, then and start making those lists…now. There’s not a moment to be wasted.

The Age of Mental Toil

Until recently (in age of the earth terms), our survival as human beings depended a lot on our physical strength. The ability to physically toil on a field for harvest or to fight in gruelling circumstances was often directly proportional to our wealth and success.

In the last 50 odd years, this has changed. We are now in the age of mental toil. There have been many a news article and blog post detailing ideas to beat stress. The popularity of “Stress clinics”  and “stress doctors” is on the up.

Can you imagine telling a farmer in the 5th century that he would need to go to a “muscle doctor” to improve his strength? He’d probably laugh and tell you that what he really needed to do is spend hours lifting irons and working even harder on the field so he gets used to it.

Many of the solutions to mental toil suggested are in similar vein – short term balm on wounds. If we really need to be capable of dealing with it, we need to work our mental muscles a heck of a lot more and make them stronger. We need to expand our perspectives by reading more, traveling more, meeting people that share interesting ideas. We also need to learn to get organized enough so we spend our time focusing on what matters and curb decision fatigue. Unlike our farmer ancestors, we have thousands of options on what to do with our time. They paralyze us.

All of this is hard mental work and requires a mind that’s open enough to experience the world and hold conflicting ideas together.

It’s far easier to complain about stress, of course. It’s always hard to open our minds before opening our mouths..

On Entity Theory Anxiety

This week’s book learning is from ‘9 Things Successful People Do Differently’ by Heidi Halvorson.

Last week, we looked at two types of explanations for performance and excellence – entity theory i.e. abilities are fixed and incremental theory i.e. abilities are fluid. To test the effect of this beliefs on anxiety levels, researchers tested a group of college students on difficult reasoning problems. At the end, everyone was told they were in the 61st percentile. This was followed by a lesson on problem solving, and a 2nd set of problems.

This time, some students were told nothing changed in their performance while some were told they were in the 91st percentile. And it was observed that entity theorists in the 91st percentile had a significant spike in their anxiety levels!

In the 3rd and final set of problems, it was found that the entity theorists who were told they didn’t improve much did much better.

Researchers came away with a very interesting insight – when we don’t expect to improve, improvement actually comes with a significant spike in anxiety which, in turn, kills performance.


Do you believe your musical ability is fixed?

Image source

Okay. It’s clear that it’s best for our own blood pressure to approach new tasks with an incremental i.e. “I will get better if I practice view”.

Does this now mean we can be the best in the world at whatever we want?

The answer based on this research seems to be Yes, with a huge caveat. You should be willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice, with most of it being deliberate practice. And you should also have started at an ideal age.

That said, it seems clear that we all have the ability to be really good at anything we attempt as long as we believe it is possible and put in the hours of deliberate practice..

Here’s to incremental theory + deliberate practice this week!

Staying With Problems

We all wrestle with problems of varying shapes and sizes every day of our lives. We all have our ways of approaching these problems.

It is not uncommon to face problems that seem unsolvable at first. That’s just life. These problems stretch our thinking, enable us to question our assumptions and ask meaningful questions. I would argue that the more “stretch” problems you have, the better it is. Stretch”, not panic is the way to go.

Two elements are vital to problem solving – imagination and persistence. Imagination is a direct result of two things – what we’ve been exposed to in the real world and how much we allow ourselves to dream (this might involve resisting or disregarding conventional institutions that exist to prevent any kind of dreaming). So, if you read, travel and experience life while also making sure you give yourself the leeway to dream, you will likely have a fertile imagination.

The mistake we make is to assume that imagination is a function of intelligence and that problem solving begins and ends with intelligence, and thus, imagination. Intelligence helps. But, it’s not everything. Besides, intelligence in art is not always the same as intelligence in math.

The piece that always tends to be ignored is persistence. Einstein once quipped “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

It’s a thought that inspires me to no end. And it serves as a nice reminder to cut the excuses, the whining and the moaning, and to do just that – stay with problems longer.

We could do much worse than learn a thing or two from the great man..

How You Make People Feel

Seth Godin had a fantastic post yesterday about the only purpose of customer service. He states a point that companies often forget – customer service is all about the “feeling” customers walk away with. If you screw up on that regard, your customer service is a failure.

I was thinking about feelings the other day in context to people. There are times when you meet some impressive people who seem to do all the right things but leave you feeling something is amiss. They behave well, they follow up, (all those things that would be part of the human behaviour rule book) and yet, you’re not sure if you’d like to go down and share a coffee with them.

I tend to be reminded of that quote. At the end of the day, people hardly ever remember what you said or did, but they definitely remember how you made them feel.

What I find interesting is that how we make others feel about themselves is generally a reflection of how we feel about ourselves.

Un-sequenced and Messy

Like most man made creations, education attempts to makes us believe in the sequential. You are sitting one day on your desk, thinking about a cool concept and voila! a great idea strikes, you think about it, make a lean business plan, make a product, secure funding if required and you’re on your way to being successful.

Or that you meet your spouse-to-be, fall in love at first sight at the “right time”, go on a few dates, ask him/her out, live in and then go on to live happily ever after.

Many more examples exist, like study hard, get a great job and live happily ever after.

Sequential and straight forward. Follow the process and you’ll get there. Perhaps it’s the influence of the industrial age and this love for a defined process that led to this.

The reality, as anybody who has started up a business, fallen in love or gotten a great job will tell you, is anything but this. Maybe you get lucky with one of these and actually end up having a simple sequential process but the norm is un-sequenced and really messy.

So, as much as you might love your agendas and schedules, it’s worthwhile remembering that getting to the essence of a conversation in a meeting between people often goes beyond the time allocated. That’s okay. Things aren’t perfect. Your better half doesn’t generally fall in love with you on schedule. Neither does your kid want to pee when you make that pee stop on the highway. It’s messy. It’s chaotic.

And it makes me marvel at the fact that as imperfect as the parts may be, we still have moments when life, the collection of these parts, is perfect.

Isn’t that a wonder?