Cherishing one’s silver lining

One of the most important discoveries in my life was the importance of gratitude. Not as a response to a set of favorable circumstances, but a constant, proactive approach towards reality. A choice. If happiness is wanting what you have, then the key to that happiness is gratefulness.

Lately, I had yet another discussion on organizational change and mindsets. Obviously, you cannot force another person to change his or her mindset. You can, however, look for ways to help that person feel grateful for a particular job, for being part of one special team.

Once again is all it takes

The more discouraged you get when trying to a achieve a specific result, the more friendly routine you need.

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If you want to become a runner, and you feel overwhelmed with the effort it takes, consider keeping your gear at hand’s reach — in an available place, for example close to the entrance. See whether using a readily accessible treadmill wouldn’t be better. If you find the task boring, consider decreasing your regular distance, or perhaps — keeping an audio player with an interesting audio book at your disposal.

Make regularity irresistible.

Out of quantity comes quality

We often argue that quality is what we aim for and what we expect from others. As providers or vendors we feel responsible for the quality of the services we provide and products we vend, because we think others have similar expectations towards us. And yet, the road to mastery cannot be covered within a fortnight. It takes time, trial and error, and lots of tolerance towards ourselves and those we work with.

It takes quantity to create quality.

If we aim for perfection from the start, we are likely to fail before we even started.

The Way In The Middle

“Holding a cup and overfilling it
Cannot be as good as stopping short
Pounding a blade and sharpening it
Cannot be kept for long”

and

“Therefore the sage:
Eliminates extremes
Eliminates excess…”

Source: Tao Te Ching (translation by Derek Lin) , chapter 9 and 29

It’s funny how much extremes don’t work for us. We cannot bend to any side with impunity — whether it’s an activity, a behavior or a standpoint. At some point there is a price to pay — either we “break” or “become blunt”.

For example, diving into an activity, a “passion” without consideration for all life’s crucial aspects usually brings pain. We have roles to play which require balanced attention — health, family, friends, professional life — private life. We have values which have to work in unison for us to be whole. We have to rest.

To behave in a measured way is a sign of experience and wisdom — if one doesn’t need to express himself loudly, obtrusively, aggressively or by contrast — passively, that person seems complete to us, seems consistent.

How Much Freedom Do You Need?

I believe we are all explorers deep down inside. For some, this characteristic is more dormant than for the others. Obviously, we had it while we were young — the need to test limits, to go beyond, to break rules, not — to comply to them.

As parents, we know that all too well. Most of our parenting days we hear ourselves uttering sentences like:

“Don’t do that!”
“Stop it!”
“I told you already, you mustn’t…!”

Growing up, we become more and more accustomed to the world of rules…

  • Work from 9 to 5
  • Weeks from Monday till Friday
  • Clothes you mustn’t wear

I believe people are not inherently meant to live structured lives. We sign “agreements” where we trade some of our freedom for basic needs of food, safety etc. At the same time we lose more and more of this freedom. Sometimes, we seem to get used to it.

Bounce, Don’t Break

My friend asked me once:

“A thousand lawyers* chained down on the bottom of a sea — do you know what’s the meaning of such a scene?”
“No,” I replied.
“A good start.”

*) Where I come from, lawyers are the symbol of finding problems to any potential solution. It shouldn’t sound negative — they have an important role to play.

Learned helplessness seems to be a common illness in big organizations. I call it “problem thinking” (I know that — theoretically speaking — the term applies to something different). The “problem” is in the center of the process, as if the goal was to generate as many possible issues & risks related to an idea or initiative. A perpetual “yes, but…” game.

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“Yes, but… we haven’t got mandays.”
“Yes, but… there aren’t enough resources.”
“Yes, but… this hasn’t been coded yet.”
“Yes, but… this might be illegal.”
“Yes, but… the procedure says that…”
“Yes, but… we haven’t tried it yet.”
“Yes, but… what if?”
“Yes, but…”

I see daily examples of such behavior. Worse! Occasionally, I catch myself making this mistake — I immediately “rap myself over the knuckles” when I realize it.

We are told that studies should teach us “problem solving.” But then, in order to solve any problem, you have to find one first, right? So… during those long years of lecture halls & cramming we learn to search for problems and then — possibly — we solve them. Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater — I believe teaching such a skill must be justified. But starting off with problems every single time seems to be the best prescription for induced helplessness.

Let’s take our kids for example. We often say children are the best teachers on learning. They are driven by their need to explore, to understand everything that interests them. This is how they play. They have an innate thirst for knowledge. “They” are “we.” Thing is, we lose it on the way, somehow. Perhaps problem-centered thinking makes us focus on loose ends too much, perhaps we need to be perfect (ready) from the start, perhaps fear of failure is more likely to kick in this way (failure shows we weren’t prepared enough).

“The perfect is the enemy of the good” not because we do not want to improve. It’s because we don’t need to be prepared for everything from the start. We shouldn’t be. First — plunge, shoot! Don’t “be prepared” for everything, don’t get ready for too long.

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Imperfection is in the nature of things. The whole idea. Things, actions have to be imperfect before they improve. That’s the space for us to grow and develop. That’s the exact reason why we can improve in the first place. This is also where our right to make mistakes lies. That’s were the word “must” becomes replaced by the word “can.”

Bounce, don’t break. And cut them lawyers some slack.

A Forgotten Quality

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One of the topics in my project management trainings discusses PM personality traits & skills. During such trainings participants frequently voice qualities like:

  • communication
  • leadership (team building, delegating)
  • problem solving
  • enthusiasm
  • empathy
  • self-confidence
  • composure
  • etc.

… but one particular feature isn’t mentioned at all, though I feel that in the long run, it’s probably the most important of all — …

persistence.

In our world of a myriad choices, we do not instill a sense of discipline in our children any more. And how can they reach integrity without discipline? How can we do? How can they aim for mastery, learn (with the long term in mind), if they haven’t got the discipline to support their efforts? How can they commit to great causes which do not feel sweet all the time? How can they focus and grow?

I believe that a great manager should withstand all the weaknesses one can find in a team (and build on strengths). A great PM (any manager, for that matter) is a platform to incubate ideas on — and be sure he or she will not choose the exit door whenever things get tough. Persistence is key. As a matter of fact, the belief in a leader’s persistence is necessary to build trust, to talk about leadership at all.

Further reading

What Is Wealth to You?

“According to Kiyosaki and Lechter, wealth is measured as the number of days the income from your assets will sustain you…”
Source: Wikipedia

“Wealth is the ability to fully experience life” — Henry David Thoreau

What is wealth to you? How much are you able to give up for it? Or is it exactly on the contrary, i.e. is it a by-product of a purposeful life, a life custom-designed for you, by you? In other words, is it a result of not giving up on anything you find important? On finding what’s important for you in the first place and not blindly following modern myths.

Whether I’m sitting in a dingy country pub, listening to locals complaining about “tough live” — where one has to take up any job to survive; or I’m sitting in conference rooms of modern-day corporations — packed with fear, cynicism and falseness, I can’t help thinking that there isn’t much difference. We naturally believe the other side makes ends meet better than we do.

This way of thinking changes when one can step into the shoes of the other.

Ultimately, it depends on us — our understanding of who we are and what our legacy is to be. Our true values shape our best choices. That’s where wealth is.

Dips in structured environments

Structured vs. unstructured environments

I have been recently wondering about the differences between working in structured environments (i.e. working “for someone else”, within an organization) and working on one’s own. I call the first type a “structured environment”, because at a typical workplace the employee is asked to conform to a set of rules –– openly or not. Examples?

  • Set working hours or ranges
  • Set working days or ranges
  • Fixed relations with limited exit barriers
    (you have to resolve conflicts or change your job)
  • Assumed superior-inferior relationships
  • Set of duties

One could say that the above-mentioned examples are a set of boundaries or an imposed structure. Working on one’s own does not free a person from relations nor does it not [entirely] free from working hours (for example). The difference is, however, that one has more freedom to choose without having to exit the situation altogether.

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To give you another example — I remember a person from my family (owner of a small business) saying something like: “I have the right to say ‘no’ to a client.” It struck me when I realized that “no” was very often not an option in intra-organization environments. “No” related to one’s duties, that is, “no” as an internal supplier. And as long as a person didn’t want to leave a company once and for all. Relations in structured environments are given and practically speaking — they cannot be broken. In a structured environment there’s very little freedom to say “no, I won’t do it,” “no, I will not work with that person.” This has moved to such extremities, that we base one’s value as a corporate employee on his/hers “peacefulness” or better — “ability to work/coexist with everyone.”

The Energy Cycle

1) Freedom = truth.
If 1) is true then…
2) Imposed rules = lack of freedom = manipulating / lying.

I know, I am seriously simplifying things here. But where am I heading? It’s been said that maintaining a false image, pretending someone else, manipulating or lying require significant energy levels. To put it plainly — they tire us. When forced to act in a structured environment the best we can often do is compromise. Very often, however, the bigger the organization, and the longer we work (more relations), the more “flexible” we have to become. And there is a price we pay.

I’ve observed a cycle which occurs in many (most? all?) corporate lives — a person starts his or her work in a new setting. Full of energy, open and friendly, he or she starts taking on new projects, responsibilities, building relationships. In a way, he or she starts to build open loops.

Open Loop

 Any open commitment, plan, or unfinished business that exists in your life. It is typical today for a busy person to have many hundreds or even thousands of open loops bouncing around throughout their conscious and unconscious thought processes, all vying for attention. Most of the stress people experience (conscious or otherwise) tends to come from inappropriately managed open loops (commitments) they make or accept.”

Source: http://gtdportal.pbworks.com/GTDGlossary

After some time — depending on the person — the smile is no longer there, the attitude is no longer so open. It takes another year or so… A change is desperately needed. This change can happen internally (switching departments, positions) or externally (quitting). That’s when the cycle starts all over again…

What can be done?

Consciousness is the starting point for any improvement… 🙂

“Common sense starts with seeing things as they are.”

Source: @tim_hurson

I believe that what can significantly improve an employee’s live is… change. If one cannot risk the switch from a structured to an unstructured environment, if one hasn’t got that luxury, it would be better to break the standard cycle, to promise a change (e.g. soon after the end of a project’s phase, project’s end).

I call it “cleaning a page” or “emptying the cup.” To make someone full with experience and prevent from overflowing, one has to prepare the ground for it.

In a structured environment — that’s when a leader comes in…

Are you a fan of your work?

Imagine a corporate training where all participants are taking part in a warm-up game. They are to behave in a certain way based on a statement from one of the participants.

At one moment someone says:

“All of you who are fans of your work please switch your seats.”

This is a real-life situation which occurred today. Now, the point is not about the activity itself nor the game as a whole. It’s about what happened when the statement was made. Out of 15 people only 1 person stood up to switch a seat.

Why?

Does this mean that most of us do not like what we do professionally (or in that particular group, for that matter)? Or is it that the grass on our neighbor’s field is usually greener?