When it comes to getting things done, the old adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is deceptively over-simplified. OK, sure, it’s pithy and it captures why being connected to others is important, but there are a lot of assumptions built in to the expression that we have to implicitly accept to make the rule work broadly.
The thing is, it’s not really just who you know that makes the difference, is it? If you’re going to seek the help of others repeatedly to get things done, they’ve got to know you too, and like you and trust you and actually want to help you when you need them. Not so simple.
Building relationships with others that you can count on to go out of their way to help you when you need it most is hard work. It takes doing the right thing and treating people fairly and going out of your way for others and delivering what was expected of you over and over again that builds trust and gets you what you need in the long run. It’s almost never the single favor that makes the difference. Rather, it’s consistency where the people that matter most differentiate themselves.
Maybe we should change the adage to “It’s not who you know, it’s who wants to help you”
When it comes to our work, wouldn’t we all be happier and more motivated if we were given the freedom to chose what we do, how we do it, when we do it and who we work with? What does having autonomy at work mean to you and where’s the sweet spot?
Special thanks to Daniel Pink for inspiring me to doodle this in my moleskin this morning. I’m half way through his new book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and the “4 T’s” he discusses in the context of autonomy has got my brain buzzing. I thought the sketch I did was worth translating to powerpoint for a discssion this morning.
This makes me wonder if the desire to get to that red dot sweet spot is the very essence of what drives people to become entrepreneurs. What do you think?
I spent a couple of happy, quiet hours last night with my nose in Pamela Slim‘s book Escape from Cubicle Nation. She makes some powerful arguments for why passion is a necessary ingredient to a happy work life. This well worded bit of wisdom stood out:
“What many people don’t realize is that when you force yourself to do something you don’t want to do, you have to deplete the energy from your body to do it. When you make it through a week where you have forced yourself to do work you don’t enjoy, you will feel exhausted, drained, and in need of martinis, industrial-strength aspirin, and/or face-planted-in-pillow rest.”
“When you do things you love, your body generates energy naturally. You may work an equal number of hours, or more, than when doing work you don’t enjoy, but the difference is you will feel spent, not depleted.”
You can’t really say it better than that, can you?
It’s not always easy to tell who’s really leading when an entire team is just going through the motions and following procedures in a manual that they’ve all used before for similar projects. When all the variables for a project are known and the expectations and plan are clear to everyone from the very beginning, all it really takes to move things forward is keeping people motivated and on task. If everyone knows their role, and team members direct themselves to get their part done, you really only need someone to organize and report, which isn’t necessarily leading. It’s managing.
Effective leaders are the ones who take charge in a group when a task or problem is completely new, the next step isn’t obvious and there is no manual. When others hesitate and look to their peers for answers, the leaders are the ones who are busy breaking the problem down, creating structure where there is none and developing a plan that they can communicate and act on. When new problems that require novel solutions come your team’s way, take a moment and observe who everyone looks to when someone asks “what do we do now?”. Those are the people who are really leading.
There’s a reason people say “try walking a mile intheirshoes“. Achieving empathy isn’t just about putting yourself in someone else’s position, it’s also about seeing that position from someone else’s perspective. True empathy is being able to strip away your own thoughts, feelings and judgment in order to clearly see a situation through someone else eyes, with their heart, filters and experiences taken into account. Most people make the mistake of just putting themselves in another’s position and saying “what would I do if I were in this situation?”. This approach often leads to poor judgment calls, misunderstandings and bad advice. Why? Because experiencing empathy isn’t about how you think or feel at all. It’s about simulating what they are experiencing and relating to it. Even in an identical scenario, they’ll never think, feel or behave quite the same way as you would.
Of course, we’ll never get perfect at achieving empathy – our brains are (sadly) wired to put ourselves at the center of the action. The good news is that we can take steps to improve our approach to get better insights into the hearts and minds of others. It starts by first taking ourselves completely out of the equation and then asking “what is this person feeling/thinking based on their experiences, and how can I relate to that”. This is hard to do, but it’ll get you off on the right foot. Once you focus on the shoes, you’ll be in a much better position to know what it really feels like to walk the mile.
Traditional rewards aren’t always as effective as we think and business as usual needs a new system of operating that’s more closely aligned with human nature. That’s Dan Pinks argument in a nutshell, and I think his case is strong. For those of you with some time, I’d highly recommend watching the full video. For those of you with only a few minutes, I’ve highlighted some of the main takeaways below. Enjoy.
The Three Elements Of The New Operating System
In this TED talk, Dan argues that there’s a mismatch between what scientists know about motivation and how businesses today reward their workers, and that if we look closely at the data gathered from studies on what truly motivates people it’s clear that we need a new paradigm. Here are some of the best nuggets…He says:
“…too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science…if we really want high performance on those definitional (cognitive) tasks of the 21st century, the solution is not to do more of the wrong things. To entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach
….the scientists who’ve been studying motivation have given us this new approach. It’s an approach built much more around intrinsic motivation. Around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they are part of something important. And to my mind, that new operating system for our businesses revolves around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.
(1.) Autonomy – the urge to direct our own lives.
(2.) Mastery – the desire to get better and better at something that matters.
(3.) Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
These are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for our businesses.”
After presenting the findings of studies performed by leading scientists and economists at the London School of Economics, Dan sites some examples of how this new work paradigm is being put into practice in leading firms:
Worker Autonomy, 20 Percent Time and Innovation
“20 Percent Time…Done, famously, at Google. Where engineers can spend 20 percent of their time working on anything they want. They have autonomy over their time, their task, their team, their technique. Okay? Radical amounts of autonomy, And at Google, as many of you know, about half of the new products in a typical year are birthed during that 20 Percent Time. Things like Gmail, Orkut, Google News.”
Results Only Work Environments (ROWE)
“…an even more radical example…something called the Results Only Work Environment. The ROWE. Created by two American consultants, in place at about a dozen companies around North America. In a ROWE people don’t have schedules. They show up when they want. They don’t have to be in the office at a certain time, or any time. They just have to get their work done. How they do it, when they do it, where they do it, is totally up to them. Meetings in these kinds of environments are optional.”
What happens? Almost across the board, productivity goes up, worker engagement goes up, worker satisfaction goes up, turnover goes down.
John Lehrer, author of How We Decideand Proust Was a Neuroscientist, wrote a piece for the Globe this week titled The Truth About Grit. The article highlights some important findings of studies done by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford University.The findings suggest that personality traits like grit, rather than standardized measurements of intelligence, are far more likely to predict real world achievement. The studies further suggest that when teaching a growth mindset (effort and persistence) is emphasized in the classroom, students perform far better than when when they are simply praised for their intelligence and abilities…
While researchers have long focused on measurements of intelligence, such as the IQ test, as the crucial marker of future success, these scientists point out that most of the variation in individual achievement – what makes one person successful, while another might struggle – has nothing to do with being smart. Instead, it largely depends on personality traits such as grit and conscientiousness. It’s not that intelligence isn’t really important – Newton was clearly a genius – but that having a high IQ is not nearly enough…
In recent decades, the American educational system has had a single-minded focus on raising student test scores on everything from the IQ to the MCAS. The problem with this approach, researchers say, is that these academic scores are often of limited real world relevance. However, the newfound importance of personality traits such as grit raises an obvious question: Can grit be learned?…
While Duckworth and others are quick to point out that there is no secret recipe for increasing grit – “We’ve only started to study this, so it’s too soon to begin planning interventions,” she cautions – there’s a growing consensus on what successful interventions might look like.
One of the most important elements is teaching kids that talent takes time to develop, and requires continuous effort. Carol S. Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, refers to this as a “growth mindset.” She compares this view with the “fixed mindset,” the belief that achievement results from abilities we are born with. “A child with the fixed mindset is much more likely to give up when they encounter a challenging obstacle, like algebra, since they assume that they’re just not up to the task,” says Dweck.
In a recent paper, Dweck and colleagues demonstrated that teaching at-risk seventh-graders about the growth mindset – this included lessons about the importance of effort – led to significantly improved grades for the rest of middle school. Interestingly, it also appears that praising children for their intelligence can make them less likely to persist in the face of challenges, a crucial element of grit.
It’s been almost a year since I read The Age Of Turbulence, but I find myself repeatedly returning to a few of Alan’s thoughts on human nature and self esteem that resonated with me. Despite being discussed in the context of human factors in economics, the following passage in my eyes stands easily on its own and speaks volumes of truth about what drives us all and why we have a strong, fundamental need for connectedness. Any time I find myself in a discussion about community, authenticity, accountability, open source or the economics and culture of “free” on the web, I come back to this. Does this speak to you?
As I’ve traveled across the globe for nearly six decades, I have found that people exhibit remarkable similarities that by no stretch of the imagination can be construed as resulting from culture, history, language, or chance. All people appear motivated by an inbred striving for self-esteem that is in large part fostered by the approval of others … People have an inbred need to interact with other people. It is essential if we are to receive their approval, which we all seek. The true hermit is a rare aberration. What contributes to self-esteem depends on the broad range of learned or consciously chosen values that people believe, correctly or mistakenly, enhance their lives. We cannot function without some set of values to guide the multitude of choices we make every day. The need for values is inbred. Their content is not. That need is driven by an innate moral sense in all of us, the basis upon which a majority have sought the guidance of the numerous religions that humans have embraced over the millennia. Part of that innate moral code is a sense of what is just and proper. We all have different views of what is just, but none can avoid the built-in necessity of making such judgments. This build-in necessity is the basis of the laws that govern every society. It is the basis on which we hold people responsible for their actions.
I had some fascinating and energetic conversations both online and off this week that started as shared reactions to my post The Cookie Jar Principle. The concept of giving more than you receive in your relationships (both on an individual level as well as in the context of community) seems to really resonate with people and in some cases strikes a sore nerve. Interestingly, many of the email exchanges, phone conversations and blog discussions I participated in this week had a common thread – People were reflecting on personal experience and expressing strong feelings about cookie jar offenders who were either selfish or self absorbed. In a number of cases, one term was used as a substitute for the other so I thought I’d share my thoughts on why they are different, and why the difference is so important when dealing with someone who takes more from you than they give…
[tweetmeme]Give more than you take. It’s as simple as that. If we embrace this one powerful principal in our lives, individually we will enjoy meaningful, vibrant relationships and collectively create a culture of abundance. If we can’t, we end up with an empty jar.
We can all point to a friend or colleague who breaks the rule repeatedly. They call only when they need something and they only show up or participate when it benefits them. They forget that the act of taking from the jar implies that they will one day put back more than what they took. In many ways selfishness is failing to recognize that when you chose to benefit from the effort or contributions of another, you become part of a self-sustaining cycle of give and take, and that your actions alter the system’s balance. In the fog of self-absorption we can loose sight of the truth and reality of the circumstances of both others and ourselves. When we take more than we give, everyone that depends on the contents of the jar loses.
Remember that every one of your relationships has its own jar. We fill them with our time, energy and love. Sharing, participating, and giving before we take signal our good faith – they are small promises that when it is our turn to take, we have not forgotten our responsibility to keep filling the jar. What we do take, we should always strive to return with interest. This simple principal is as true for individual relationships as it is for groups, families and communities of any size. When we agree to be a part of the group, whether the group is 2 or 2 million, we accept an equal and shared responsibility for the jar.
According to Jonathan Haidt, there’s one key personality trait (more than any other) that predicts who becomes liberal and and who becomes conservative. In this lecture, Haidt draws on the latest from developmental and moral psychology and makes a very persuasive argument why “openness to experience” – that craving for novelty, diversity, variety, travel and new ideas – tells us a lot about our political affiliations. Whether you’re currently on the fence about where to cast your vote this year, or you’ve been certain from day one, I urge you to take the 20 minutes to watch this lecture, because it’s got some pretty sweet mind-grenade moments, and it may just change the way that you think about your own morality, and change the way you engage others with differing opinions. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:
“You can’t just go charging in saying “I’m wrong and you’re right”…because everybody thinks that they’re right. A lot of the problems that we have to solve are problems that require us to change other people. And if you want to change other people, a much better way to do it is to first understand who we are, understand our moral psychology, understand that we all think that we’re right, and then step out…even if it’s just for a moment…and try to see it as a struggle that’s playing out in which everybody does think that they’re right and everybody has some reasons (even if you disagree with them) for doing what they’re doing…and if you can do that, that’s the essential move to cultivate moral humility, and get yourself out of this self-righteousness which is the normal human condition”
If you chose to only read one book this year, I strongly urge you to consider this one. It ranks at the very top of a small collection of books that have fundamentally changed the way I think. Daniel Gilbert is not only brilliant, his writing style is irrepressibly humorous, charming and entirely accessible. Stumbling on Happiness, which won the 2007 Royal Society Prizes for Science Books, is a joy to read and will change the way you look at just about, well, everything.
Stumbling on Happiness is based on a very simple but powerful concept – that what makes human beings unique is our ability to think about the future. Gilbert draws on the latest scientific studies from psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and behavioral economics to provide answers to some of the most profound mysteries of how the human mind really works. In these pages, you’ll learn, among other things, the science of how our experiences of the here and now color our memories of the past and imagination of the future, why our innate drive to predict and control how we will feel a day or a month or a year from now today often leaves us ill-prepared when the future finally comes, and, most of all, how happiness itself is elusive. I’d be lying if I told you that the lessons in this book didn’t haunt me on a daily basis in both times of joy and stress. Gilbert argues his points expertly. Trust me, you owe it to your yourself to read this book. Gilbert himself admits this point – “No one can say how you will feel when you get to the end of this book…but if your future self is not satisfied when it arrives at the last page, it will at least understand why you mistakenly thought it would be.”
I wish more people in the business world would get how they create negative, counterproductive atmospheres when mistakes are made and blame is casually thrown around as a bi-product of scorched-egos. The following short, taken from my recent reading of What Happy People Know – How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life For the Better (pg 174), illustrates clearly why Blame is pointless, especially in a team atmosphere. On the whole, the fact that Blame is rarely, if ever, productive is an important lesson we’d all benefit from…
“Imagine that you’re in a canoe with a friend and there’s a fork in the river. Your friend convinces you to take the channel on the right. Next thing you know, you hear the roar of a waterfall. What do you do?
Do you start yelling at your friend? Of course not! It’s counterproductive. You paddle like hell for shore.
Let’s say you make it. Now do you start screaming? That’s what a lot of people would do. But why?
You’ve paid your tuition — a brush with disaster — so learn the lesson: Blame solves nothing. It’s counterproductive. Irrelevant.”
- Dan Baker, Ph. D, Director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch.