Growth and The Conscious Parent

Dr. Shefali Tsabary has written a powerful book called “The Conscious Parent.” I’ve been reading the book on and off over the past couple of years. It reads like the expanded version of the wonderful poem by Kahlil Gibran on parenting that is our aspirational parenting philosophy.

One of the recurring themes in the book is the idea that your kids come into your life to help you grow. In doing so, they stretch you and help you become more aware of the areas where you need help becoming a better version of yourself.

I have written repeatedly about my increasing awareness of my tendency to fight fire with fire when the better approach would be to follow the fire department and use water (or, in this case, tact :-)). And, today’s note is another one of those. I received another reminder this week that impatience and tempers generally only serve to exacerbate problems.

The combination of patience and tact, on the other hand, go a long way.

I expect to keep encountering these lessons until I learn to move beyond reaction into response. It takes time to overcome our natural tendencies – I’m definitely in it for the long haul.

The powerful extension of this theme is when we extend it beyond our kids to everyone we encounter.

What if we treated every person we meet as a messenger from life to help us become the person we want to be?

The impact of “at this moment” in our self-talk

Fixed mindset self-talk: “This is who I am and this is what I am capable of.”

Growth mindset self-talk: “This is who I am and this is what I am capable of at this moment.”

(Feel free to replace “I am” with “you are”)

It often amazes me how habitually adding or removing a few words from our self-talk can have a lasting impact on how we view the world and respond to it.

Jim Loehr on Stress and intervals

Jim Loehr is a performance psychologist and author who has worked with some of the world’s top athletes. Loehr’s philosophy is that one’s success is proportional to the strength of one’s character. And, he believes that character strength can be built the same way we build strength in our muscles – a powerful idea. In Tim Ferriss’ book “Tribe of Mentors,” Loehr says the following about stress –

“Another piece of bad advice: “Protect yourself from stress and your life will be better.” Protection from stress serves only to erode my capacity [to handle it]. Stress exposure is the stimulus for all growth, and growth actually occurs during episodes of recovery. Avoiding stress, I have learned, will never provide the capacity that life demands of me. For me, balancing episodes of stress with equivalent doses of recovery is the answer. Playing tennis, working out, meditation, and journaling provide rich mental and emotional recovery. Adhering to my optimal sleep, nutritional, and exercise routines during stressful times is critical. Seeking stress in one dimension of my life surprisingly brings recovery in another. Avoiding stress simply takes me out of the game and makes me weaker. In a real sense, to grow in life, I must be a seeker of stress.”

His notes on stress and recovery resonated deeply. As stress tends to have a negative connotation, I use the word “stretch” instead and have come to observe that intervals between stretch and recovery are a wonderful combination for growth.

TLDR: Be intentional about what you are looking to learn, seek challenges and work intensely when you are working. Then, switch off completely to reflect and recharge when you are not.

“Be yourself” can be really bad advice

There’s a category of advice that sounds good in theory but is pretty bad in practice. “Follow your passion” is one example. “Be yourself” is another.

The issue with “be yourself” is that it reeks of the fixed mindset and gets in the way of self improvement. It does so by encouraging the “This is just who I am – take it or leave it” mindset.

That is not to say we can change everything about ourselves. If you are an impatient person (speaking to myself) by nature, you are not going to become the most patient. But, you don’t have to either. Our traits and temperaments are part of a spectrum and we can always put in the work to stretch ourselves to move along that spectrum and learn to be flexible with how we apply ourselves in situations.

Put differently, if who you are is getting in the way of what you’d like to get done, stop being yourself and get better.

Perhaps a better piece of advice would be to ask folks to “become yourself.” It doesn’t just add a necessary air of intrigue to what is a fascinating lifetime journey of discovering our ever expanding capacity for change, it also focuses the journey on growth.

Besides, as Carol Dweck might say, becoming is better than being anyway.

When do you study

There are typically two kinds of classes in school – theory and lab. Theory classes are only useful if we find time after class to synthesize what we learn. And, assuming we do that, we should be in a good spot to put what we learnt in practice in the laboratory. That’s not to say we don’t learn stuff in the laboratory. We do. But, it is really theory that helps us make sense of our experiences in the lab.

Of course, school is designed to be heavy on theory. So, we spend a lot more time on theory than we do in laboratory. And, that, in turn, requires us to spend significant time studying. Again, theory without study is largely useless.

Our life post-school is essentially a collection of labs – broadly, a personal life lab and a professional life lab. There is one obvious challenge – there is no one scheduling time on your calendar for theory. That doesn’t mean there isn’t enough material. On the contrary, there is more material that might help than you’d imagine. But, you have to get to it. Few do that. Then, of course, getting to the material isn’t enough. We also need to synthesize it. Fewer do that.

And, yet, a much larger percentage of professionals say they love learning. Sure, they might love learning in a way a first time tennis player shows up at the court with a friend and runs around attempting to hit the ball, professing to be learning tennis. It is very far from the real thing.

Many things have changed since school. But, one thing remains constant – if you aren’t taking the time to study, the chances are high that you aren’t learning.

Where does growth come from?

I received a YouTube video link via an email forwarded across multiple mailing lists praising its insight. It was Clay Christensen’s talk at Google titled “Where does growth come from?” I’ve read and seen many of Clay’s talks now and feel a certain familiarity with the material. However, I am a fan. In fact, I think it is a normal week on ALearningaDay when at least one post is directly or indirectly inspired by one of Stephen Covey, Clay Christensen, or Seth Godin. :-)

I thought I’d boil it down to the usual 3 things I took away. But, before doing that, let’s lay the groundwork. First, we must understand that companies invest in 4 kinds of innovations to drive growth –
1. Potential products: We don’t yet know what they are.
2. Sustaining innovations: These make the potential products better.
3. Disruptive innovations: These grow markets.
4. Efficiency innovations: These enable us to do existing things faster or better.

Getting terminology right is helpful in learning how to use them. I found this helpful as I found myself grasping this better despite having seen this a few times.

1. Disruptive innovations originate at the low end and are often business model innovations. For example, Uber disrupted the taxi industry with a business model built on variable costs. The iPhone disrupted the personal computer. And, so on. An interesting point he made was that disruptors often win with customers who were non consumers. Uber converted car owners into Uber users. And, his belief is that Android and Huawei are disrupting the iPhone on the low end. They are, in turn, bringing in non computer and non iPhone users into the smartphone market. Japan’s growth in the 1970s came from a series of disruptive innovations. They enabled non consumers to own cars, listen to music and consume electronics. However, they followed it up by focusing on increasing profits and efficiency/sustaining innovations. And, these only help with growth in the short run.

I thought of Amazon and Jeff Bezos as he insisted on the importance of the low end. Amazon Web Services or AWS struck me as a great example of this – a combination of low end and a fundamentally different business model of charging by usage has resulted in their stunning growth. So, the question that crossed my mind was – how do you ever disrupt an Amazon? Thanks to Jeff Bezos, they are so relentlessly focused on the low end that it is highly unlikely a competitor will ever catch them unawares.

2. The customer is the wrong unit of measurement. Forget the customer. Instead, focus on the job the customer hires you to do. This is such a simple and transformative idea. Yet, I haven’t completely internalized this and, thus, can’t say I have learned this yet. I need to keep working on applying this regularly and make it second nature.

3. Be careful what you measure. A Clay talk wouldn’t be complete without this message. The metrics we use can have many an unintended consequence – both at work and our lives. The metrics that are commonplace – stock prices, valuations, promotions and salaries – all tend to be short term. The most valuable things are the hardest to measure. So, take the time to understand how you will measure your business and your life.

A close friend watched this talk and pointed to Clay’s humility as one of the things that impacted him. Whenever someone asked a question, Clay always said – “Thank you for your question.” And, his presentation reeked of humility and thoughtfulness.

It doesn’t at all surprise me that Clay gets that right. After all, the small things are the big things. And, there are few who “get” that idea the way he does.

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHdS_4GsKmg%5B/embedyt%5D

2 way growth

Disenfranchised parents, leaders, and teachers are often those who walked into the experience expecting 1-way growth. 1-way growth is when your world view revolves around the idea that you have plenty of wisdom to pass on. And, your kids/subordinates are will now be delighted to benefit from your experience. Sure, they may teach you a few tricks. But, how many new tricks can you teach an old dog? Beside, will the old dog really have time to learn given how much old dog wisdom there is to pass down?

As you might imagine, this affliction hits families a lot harder than in the workplace. As parents, it is tempting to think raising a child, who starts off entirely dependent on you, is all about passing on your wisdom. It is hard to imagine that a little human being can have an agenda or path of his/her own.

Khalil Gibran in, “On Children,” puts it beautifully –

They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

It all comes back to the idea that love is the willingness to extend oneself for your own and another’s growth.

Demonstrating true love as a parent, teacher or leader is primarily about caring enough to learn and grow through the experience. True teaching doesn’t occur when we set out to teach. True teaching occurs when the recipient is willing to learn and be influenced.

And, it is only when you are willing to be influenced do you have a shot at influencing others.

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