Category Emotional Intelligence

Additional Thoughts.

Waiting (for what?): A friend of mine passed away about a month ago.  Her passing gave further support to beliefs and opinions planted months, and perhaps years prior.

In short: you don’t want to leave this earth without doing things that you have always wanted to do.  For my friend, the desire to leave an unfulfilling job and to retire were goals that were never realized.

Having attempted to put myself in her place, I don’t think there is anything worse than to lose the option to make your life better and more fulfilling.

Giving and receiving advice: For many years I gave considerable weighting to others’ opinions and suggestions, only to find myself disappointed when things did not work out.  Now, I solicit feedback and advice from a select few and even then I use that information in the context of a greater whole.

On a similar note, I’ll always have my opinions but I am considerably more reluctant to share any advice unless explicitly asked; in fact, many times I don’t give my opinion at all because ultimately everyone knows inherently what they need to be doing in any given situation.  I believe my opinions or suggestions are supporting an existing path that has already been decided by that individual.

Dealing with undercurrents: I’ve placed less emphasis on the desire to become a “leader” and instead placed greater emphasis on core creativity, research, development and innovation.  I don’t know if my goal has ever been to climb the corporate ladder, but amazingly I found myself attempting to do just that.  It’s like an undercurrent that you aren’t aware of until you realize you are far from shore.

I think where this goal started to fragment (for me) was the fact that increased “responsibility” was moving me farther away from what I was interested in doing.  The sheer nature of forward movement was masking who I was and what I ultimately wanted to be doing.  While I am not 100% on where I’m headed (I may never know), I do know that I was headed in the wrong direction.

Dealing with oneself: I’ve learned to be comfortable and content alone.  Frankfurt and Paris reinforced this through complete isolation from family, friends and even technology.  The freedom and flexibility I had during that period was something that allowed me to think and “experience” without any constraints.  Now I’m living my life assuming this situation has permanence.

Belongings & Money: After spending years eliminating belongings that I no longer use, and experienced the joy that “Escape 2011” brought me, the vast majority of my purchases from here on will be experiential-based (Tokyo continues to be on the immediate radar).

Physical & Mental Challenges: Successes (full or partial) in past physical challenges (flight training, triathlons, mountaineering, and foreign travel) help set the stage for future challenges of increasing size.  What could this look like?

What Next?

Now three weeks into this new journey, I’m starting to reclaim a sense of self on all levels – physical, mental, emotional and intellectual – and I am enjoying learning to be myself once again.

True to form, I’ve gone through and purged belongings that I no longer need and increased “security” around those that I still need / want.  My primary objective at this point is to refine the Immersion foundation defined earlier this year and use that as the basis for decision-making and activities in the months to come.

In the meantime, here are a few ideas that I have been thinking about:

Portfolio Consolidation: I am considering shutting down both Pixeldust and Ink microsites and consolidating the portfolios, which could very well result in the elimination of many older pieces whose quality lags behind more recent work.  While I think the current site design is sound, I also believe there is too much redundancy.  Strategy: Keep things simple, relevant and focus all attention on my best work.

Self-Promotion: I think the efforts that have gone into my core portfolio and the various microsites have resulted in a solid foundation to build from.  I’m pleased with the results, but I’m at a point where I’m less interested in promotion for promotion’s sake (career opportunities, etc.) and more interested in further expanding the portfolio.  Strategy: Get back to basics.

Research: I am at a point now where the types of books that I am reading are leaning away from self-improvement and towards other subjects: design, technical subjects and fiction.  It’s a direction that I’m becoming more comfortable with.  Strategy: Refocus research efforts on creative and technical topics, and focus more energies on fictional works.

Bionic 2.0: As mentioned earlier, one of the plateaus I’ve reached is the physical.  Now three years into a strength-building plan, I think I can move into new territories.  Strategy: Focus greater energy on core physiology and refine exercise plan.

 

The White Flag.

After much consideration, I resigned from my job of twelve years nearly two weeks ago.

There are many who would question such a decision given that I don’t have another opportunity lined up, and I’m also not 100% certain what, or where, that opportunity might be.  I just knew that this was the right thing to do and the right time to do it.

For someone who has historically placed logic above all else, admittedly many who hear this news are taken aback.  Unfortunately, after what I’ve experienced over the past five years, I’ve learned that life has other plans regardless of what you may have wanted to happen.

Thus, I’ve stopped trying to make any real long-term plans and to accept whatever comes into my life.  I don’t look years into the future; right now, I operate on a day-to-day basis (that’s 24 hours), perhaps because I don’t have any other choice.

I recently read an excerpt from a business text published by the Harvard Business Review where the author describes the attitudes of POWs during the Vietnam War.  Those who believed they would be in that situation forever fared much better than those who believed they would be released within a certain period of time; the former group’s ability to accept their current circumstances increased their resiliency.

When things aren’t “working,” I think it’s natural to envision a time when things will be working again.  Interestingly, it’s a mistake to think this way.

Since 2006, thoughts of a “better future” have centered on a relationship that no longer exists.  More recent situations have involved my career and where I live: “This will get better in a few months …” or “I’m only going to live here for a short while …”

Anger and frustration at what “should have been” becomes draining and meaningless in time, but difficult to relinquish all the same.  Unfortunately, these same feelings erode one’s resilience, and it’s a downward spiral from there.

Based upon my experience, I think one’s ability to “weather the storm” requires resilience, and surprisingly a pessimistic attitude (i.e. things may never change, but eventually everything ends).  The ability to “live life” centers around the ability to “fail quickly” (i.e. perseverance) and a strong sense of one’s self / purpose.  Everything else is supplementary, and should be considered a “bonus” because nothing in life, and no one, is guaranteed.

 

Questions.

When Incubator was in its infancy, I was hesitant to open myself to the “world” and initially restricted its access.  After a few weeks, I decided to remove this “barrier” and it, along with Territories, have remained “open” ever since.

The second tier of openness focused on the books I was reading at the time.  Many were interpersonal in nature and several were admittedly “taboo” in a professional setting, ranging in topics from marriage “counseling”  to personality disorders.  Uncertain whether to include such texts in my published reading list, I consulted two colleagues who suggested that I either remove them completely or bundle them within an “interpersonal” section.

I always found this latter recommendation intriguing; did “bundling” somehow dilute or minimize what I was learning about at the time?  It’s as if this aspect of my life could somehow be packaged neatly in a box to focus greater attention on the “important” aspects of my Internet presence.  What is, of course, ironic is that this “box” was ultimately the catalyst for my electronic presence in the first place.

The third tier of openness focused on posts (essays?) that pushed the boundaries of what an online diary could look like, but never reaching that tipping point.  Or have I?

Now half-way through the book Alone Together, I am forced to reflect on where these online posts are heading and what value they are providing me.

While the “negative” examples focus heavily on the use of Facebook, the “positive” can be perhaps summarized by the following excerpt:

“In thinking about online life, it helps to distinguish between what psychologists call acting out and working through.  In acting out, you take the conflicts you have in the physical real and express them again and again in the virtual.  There is much repetition and little growth. In working through, you use the materials of online life to confront the conflicts of the real and search for new resolutions.

As originally intended, my online experience over the past two and a half years has been about the latter.  But what else is there to work through now?

One could argue that I’ll always have something to work through, and that writing will aid in my ability to successfully navigate through these challenges.  And given my success using this approach, I completely support this claim.

Snapshot.

“Human beings act, feel, and perform in accordance with what they imagine to be true about themselves and their environment.  What you imagine to be true becomes, in fact, true.  Hold a given picture of yourself long and steadily enough in your mind’s eye and you will become that picture.  Picture yourself vividly as defeated and that alone will make victory impossible.  Picture yourself vividly as winning and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success.”

Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko

The Dream.

I woke up the other morning realizing that I have had a fairly consistent dream over the past several years.  While i can’t completely understand the associated timing, I am starting to understand the meaning of the dream.

First, let me share some brief background.

With very few exceptions, I have always considered myself to be a good student.  I love to learn and school has always been a place of pure enjoyment for me.

Ironically enough, I was never interested in my English classes.  I completed my assignments, read the books and participated in class, but frankly I was never enthusiastic about being there.

Not surprisingly, my dream involves my time spent in this class – or, more accurately, my time not spent in this class.  For some reason or another, I either chose not to attend class or I simply decided that the assignments could be left until the end of the semester.

As the dream progresses, the semester eventually comes to a close, and you can imagine my emotional state as I quickly realize that I haven’t done anything and I am left wondering how I am ultimately going to succeed in a class in which I really haven’t participated.  The realization of potential failure turns the “dream” into a nightmare.

Fortunately, the dream always seems to end with me successfully completing the class although it also omits the details regarding how.

As with anything in life, this dream is subject to interpretation.  My interpretation of this dream is that I may be associating success with the existence of a plan. This dream seems to tell me that I can still be successful without one.

Right now, I really have no other choice but to believe.

“You are here”

What if I left my job, packed my belongings, electronically disconnected, boarded a plane, explored the places I have always wanted to see … and then started again?

I recently received a copy of Timothy Butler’s book “Getting Unstuck – How Dead Ends Become New Paths.”  While I have only started reading it, the first chapter highlighted a few interesting passages that are worth repeating here.

Remaining Stuck: “… we are afraid of the dark.  We want to move in the sunshine, walk along familiar streets, and have experiences that are sure to give us pleasure.  We want to feel that most of life can be planned that we have a reasonable chance of avoiding pain.  The idea of staying with things just as they are, without a plan, of suspending our model of how things work, puts us at a frontier of unknowing, which is to say at a place that is “dark” to our previous conception of things, to our plan for ourselves and our notion of how everything works.  We avoid this dim frontier, and so we stay stuck.”

False Reasoning: “Sometimes we can’t help seeing impasse as failure, rather as a necessary crisis in the service of larger creative movement.  There is a danger of internalizing the experience of impasse as evidence of personal deficiency, as a statement about our self-worth. This can be painful.  We may need the help of a friend, coach, or counselor to reflect the reality of the situation back to us and remind us that this is a tough time and not a statement about who we are in the core of our being.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Momentum.

In an earlier post, I made the claim that most people are lazy.  And of course, that’s not intended to be presented in a negative way; I simply believe that no one wants to work harder at something than they have to.

In thinking more about this concept, I realized that there is an important example that further exemplifies this point, but is far more relevant than examples presented earlier.

Several months ago, I finished reading Tim Brown’s Change by Design – an interesting book on design thinking inspired primarily by Brown’s experience at IDEO where he is CEO and President.

There is an excerpt from the text where he describes his “barometer” for supporting new projects spearheaded by IDEO staff:

“… when I receive a cautiously worded memo asking for permission to do something, I find myself becoming equally cautious.  But when I am ambushed in the parking lot by a group of hyperactive people falling all over one another to tell me about the unbelievably cool project they are working on, their energy inflects me and my antennae go way, way up.  Some of these projects will go wrong.  Energy will be wasted (whatever that means) and money will be lost (we know exactly what that means).”

Browns’ comments immediately resonated with me.

In the past, I found myself taking the former route for initiatives that seemed significant enough to warrant some sort of “approval” (whatever that really means).  Not surprisingly, many of these ideas were put to rest before they even began.  Why does this happen?

Remember, most people (not all) don’t want to think – *especially* for ideas that are foreign or new.  As innocent as it may seem, the very act of asking for approval means that you aren’t sure whether your idea is a good one – and if you aren’t sure, your colleagues / manager / etc. is likely to be even less certain of your idea and the “difficulty meter” starts to rise.  Negative momentum is a likely outcome.

If you have an idea for something that you believe in, don’t ask for permission to do it.  99.9% of the time, no one is going to stop you. If you have energy and enthusiasm, you’ll already have momentum on your side.  And it’s much more difficult to stop something while it’s moving than keep it stationary.

The Easy Button.

The first thing that I think most people think of when they see or hear this phrase is the office supply chain – Staples.  Shira Goodman, Staples’ executive VP for marketing, launched this advertising campaign (and underlying business strategy) in 2006 and the company has reaped the rewards ever since.

Ms. Goodman believed that “Customers wanted an easier shopping experience” and fortunately she was right.

One of the things I’ve learned over the past several years is that a critical factor in one’s success (at least in the workplace) is how easy you make other people’s lives.  For someone who naturally places logic before reason, it’s amazing at just how simple things are when you utilize this principle.

Let me share a few personal examples of past behavior and how I do things today.

Email: It is very easy for me to compile detailed messages to colleagues describing a particular issue / topic, and pointing out exactly what I need from them or how I may need their help.  Logic has always told me it’s more efficient to document one’s thoughts to:

  1. avoid interrupting that individual via phone (i.e. “context switching” reduces efficiency on both sides)
  2. take the necessary time to think about what you are asking for before submitting a formal request
  3. create a record for future reference (i.e. what did I ask for again?).

Fortunately for me, this approach has strengthened my writing and thinking capabilities over time, but guess what?  The recipients of these narratives don’t have time to read what I’ve sent them!  Are they lazy?  Perhaps; in 99% of cases they simply have other things they need to do and reading isn’t high on their priority list.  It’s an unfortunate truth.  I’ve seen countless circumstances where a carefully constructed email (that is actually read and responded to) could have eliminated many hours lost in verbal “crosstalk.”

So, what is my approach now?  There are still times where email narratives are still constructed, but they are few and far between.  Instead, my emails are typically 2-3 sentences in length – any longer, and it’s best to have a phone call or meeting.

Documentation: Similar story here.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that documentation should be immediately classified as non-essential.  Rather, documentation can be written in such a way where it is less verbose and to the point.  Have you ever seen documentation that is full of unnecessary content?  Title page?  Documentation credits?  Heavy formatting?  Seriously. Get rid of the fluff and you’ve reduced the document length by 50%.  Go even further.  Start with a blank page void of formatting / templates; if you can boldface and underline you don’t need the overhead.  Create a mission statement for the document – what are you trying to convey?  Make it your goal to keep the document to as few pages as you possibly can.  Throw content in the appendix where ever possible.

As I alluded to in an earlier post, this reduction strategy is psychologically very powerful.  By reducing the length of the content, it gives the readers a boost of confidence that says “Yes, they can read this!” (to completion of course)

Colleague Interaction: In the past, when I started to work with other project managers or colleagues that were clearly leading a particular initiative, I made it clear that I was there to help them in any way I could.  While I always have a sense of what needs to be done, I like to give the benefit of the doubt and let them set the initial direction (i.e. you don’t need two leaders).  I quickly learned that this approach backfires.  Why?  Because by not immediately suggesting ways to offer assistance you are asking them to do it for you.  Remember, people are lazy; they don’t want to take on more responsibility than they have to.  ”Don’t make me think!” is the underlying message.

So what do I do today?  The first statement I make when meeting new colleagues is that I want to make their lives easy.  I immediately follow-up by suggesting some of the ways to that end.  How can anyone argue with that?

In the book Living with Complexity, the author challenges the notion that people want things (products / services) to be simple.  But when you look at the facts behind product and service design, you’ll find this really isn’t true.  For example, would you like a DVD player that only plays DVDs?  What about when presented with an alternative that also connects to the Internet, streams movies and tells you the latest news headlines?  If you want simple, the first option is your obvious selection but most end up buying the latter.  People want options – even if they don’t end up using 99% of them.  Marketing almost always wins.

A similar situation exists here. When it comes to working with people, reason trumps logic.  People can (and do) say that they think logically and they want very clear interaction paths between others, but they really don’t.  If they did, my lengthy narratives would all be read, and they would respond naturally (and willingly!) to simple gestures of assistance without an explanation of how.

Interpersonal connections and behavior are messy.  People are irrational and basing your working relationship on a foundation of logic is a poor choice in the long-run.  You can try to fight it but you won’t win.

For those who take logic off the shelf when it’s absolutely necessary, you are well ahead of my realization and I admire you.  As for me, I’ve since thrown in the towel and I am starting to see the benefits of stepping out of the ring.

Key Principles

  1. Accept that everyone (including you) is lazy.
  2. Find the path of least resistance and utilize it.
  3. Make it your mission to serve others.
  4. Reap the rewards through stronger partnerships.