Pushing Rocks Uphill

Pushing Rocks Uphill

“The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance. The wise grows it under his feet.” ~ James Oppenheim

Pushing Rocks Uphill

The Greek mythological figure of Sisyphus is familiar to most of us even if we don’t remember his name. He’s the poor guy that was doomed by the gods to eternal pointless labor. Each morning, Sisyphus would wake up at the base of a mountain and was tasked with rolling a ginormous rock to the summit. Each day, Sisyphus would perform this duty. Exhausted, Sisyphus would fall asleep at the mountaintop. The next morning, he awakened to a boulder at the bottom of the mountain just to do it all over again.

The plight of Sisyphus has been used in countless texts as a cautionary reference to a pointless work task. There’s a different way to look at Sisyphus, however. Albert Camus, the 1957 Nobel laureate for literature, postulated in his 1940 essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” that we are looking at Sisyphus from the wrong side up. Camus wrote:

If the descent [Sisyphus waking up at the
bottom of the mountain] is sometimes performed
in sorrow, it can also take place in
joy. The struggle itself toward the heights is
enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy

 Is it possible for Sisyphus to be happy in his labors without the appearance of success?

I would argue that Sisyphus was successful and experienced a daily reward. Every day he was successful in pushing the rock into the highlands. The reward for his labors was reaching a mountaintop with a view that few, if any, had ever seen. When we change our point of view, we can appreciate the summits we’ve reached no matter how repetitive or doleful the labor might seem. If we don’t push a few rocks uphill, there is no chance of seeing anything but the bottom of the mountain.

Consider this …

1. Where do you feel like you’re “pushing a rock uphill”? What’s the specific circumstance?

2. How might you look at that experience differently? What are the positives in that process and what are the negatives?

3. Taking that new perspective, focus on making the critical changes to the process while being careful not to remove the positive parts of the process.

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Top Performer’s Field Guide)

 

 

Achieve and Celebrate, Repeat

“When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.” ~ Creighton Abrams

Achieve and Celebrate, Repeat

The ad tagline “I’m going to Disneyland!” has tainted Americans’ view of success. Seeing sports stars winning the big game and exclaiming they’re headed for a well deserved vacation has planted a destructive seed, that seed being the idea that we only are successful when we reach the pinnacle of our craft . This mentality disregards the thousands of successes that had to be chained together that allowed the athlete to win the big game. The hours of practice, making the varsity team in high school, bring drafted, and any other milestones along the way were successes, but we latch on to the big win as being that person’s only success.

If we only celebrate or recognize completion of end goals, we’re doing ourselves and our team members a disservice. In not recognizing the milestones that culminate in the completion of a larger goal, our team members may become discouraged. Our team members might not recognize their contributions to the bigger picture, and their performance can drop of, believing their work doesn’t matter. This is a situation that no leader wants, as that mindset is infectious to other team members.

As you set the standards for any given project, create rewards for plateaus that both motivate and celebrate the individual victories. The spirit of competitiveness can also be invoked by giving higher rewards or praise to individuals who come in with quality work under time and under budgets. It’s up to you as a leader to craft celebratory victory laps for project plateaus. In doing so, the scope of projects will feel smaller, and your team will be more motivated with shorter goals in sight. Remember, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.

Consider this …

1. What “elephants” do you have in your business right now that need to be broken down into bite-sized projects?

2. Where and how can you use this “Project Plateau” euphemism to create short successes?

3. What process can you establish so that you, your leaders, and your teammates adopt the habit of creating and celebrating short-term milestones that are tied to longer-term success?

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Innovator’s Field Guide)

The Winner Effect

“We hold the keys to victory within us, but usually cannot find them.”~ John Coates

the winner effect

There’s a tingle that starts at the base of my neck and runs up the length of my head when I win at something. I thought the tingle was unique to me, but there is a reason success feels good. Neuroscientists call it “the winner effect.” When humans win a contest, our bodies release testosterone which gives us a lift in confidence and a slight euphoria. Losing a competition releases cortisol which has the opposite effect of testosterone and results in sadness and an aversion to risk. The release of these hormones happens, on varying levels, when winning or losing at everything from Candy Land to the Olympics.

Here’s the kicker to the winner effect. Long-term exposure to either testosterone or cortisol changes our brain chemistry. Have you ever known anyone that always seems to win? Or, someone who always seems to get the short end of the stick? It turns out that winning and losing streaks aren’t just platitudes. Our bodies are built to keep those streaks alive. Imagine this as our bodies giving us positive or negative reinforcement to winning or losing. Research has shown that over the long haul, winners have a greater chance to win and losers are more likely to lose given the trend of those chemicals in one’s bloodstream.

If you’re at the cortisol end of the spectrum, all is not lost. Remember that winning at anything will help reverse cortisol exposure. Competition isn’t just measured in terms of you beating someone else. Completing a hike or winning a video game gives one the same hormonal release as winning the World Series. When you’re down, complete an activity you know will give you a win. Chain that small achievement with a larger one. Before long, your body’s positive reinforcement of sequenced wins will set you on the road to desiring the next success and science says you’ll have it.

Consider this …

1. Do you routinely experience wins or are you often on the short end of the sick?

2. What patterns exist in your most recent wins? Your most recent losses?

3. How can you create a “progressive” string of wins in order to take control of your brain chemistry?

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in Top Performer’s Field Guide)

When Comfort Kills

“A higher rate of urgency does not imply ever-present panic, anxiety, or fear. It means a state in which complacency is virtually absent.” ~ John Kotter

when comfort kills

Military analogies, anecdotes, and terminology prodigiously worm their way into business texts. Rarely do these loosely based parallels address the greatest lesson to be learned from armed conflict—vision. Historical examples abound of generals fighting the last battle in a current conflict. None better exemplify this than the World War One’s British General Douglas Haig’s statement:

I believe that the value of the horse and the opportunity for the horse in the future are likely to be as great as ever. Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse.

Commissioned as a cavalry officer, Haig served in the Sudan and Boer War, where cavalry units often turned the tide of a skirmish. Haig’s comfort zone was with cavalry, and there he stayed. During the 1916 Somme Offensive, Haig called for a full-frontal assault. His plan was to have infantry punch a hole in German lines and then send cavalry through the middle to envelop the enemy’s franks. The four-month offensive cost the British 420,000 lives and Haig’s forces captured only six miles of German-held ground.

Holding on to outmoded techniques and failing to envision any tool’s potential is a trap we, like Haig, can easily fall into. The coziness of the familiar is a lullaby that sucks us into the belief that relevance can be co-opted easily by old methods. If you’re satisfied with what was, there’s no need to look for inspiration. You’re already where you want to be. If you’re not at that place, ask yourself with every change how General Haig would view that innovation and do the exact opposite.

 

Consider this …

1. Give deep consideration for a moment or two about the degree of complacency that exists in your life and work right now.

2. In what areas of your work, business, or organization is complacency obvious?

3. Identify three specific areas where complacency is a problem and develop a plan to shake things up a bit.

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Innovator’s Field Guide)

Activity Versus Accomplishment

“To accomplish great things, we must dream as well as act.” ~ Anatole France

Activity Versus Accomplishment

The mixed-use building was to be the crowning achievement of Smith Properties. This project represented the first time the form had developed property from the ground up. After securing a prime plot in an up-and-coming neighborhood, Smith Properties demolished the old convenience store that clung to the dirt. The architectural firm the Smith executives picked specialized in trendy mixed-use properties, and their initial renderings for the building were stunning. A modern style fused with art deco would attract high-end residents and businesses. The only thing left to do was secure a few more investors, and within a few months, they would be planning groundbreaking ceremonies.

The partners at Smith decided on a black-tie event to unveil the project to potential investors. The finely crafted guestlist would only be surpassed by the catering and an architectural model of the building. The big night came, and it was time to unveil the model. The mockup had been resting under a satin sheet, and the Smith partners had yet to see it. They wanted a genuine reaction for the media when the model was unveiled. The partnership at Smith properties got a reaction, just not what they had hoped for. The architectural model was a perfect representation of the concept drawings—made of LEGO bricks. 

We could hope there’s no architectural firm that would make a presentation model out of LEGO bricks, but the story illustrates how effort does not always equal achievement. I’m sure someone “worked really hard” at putting the LEGO model together, but their effort was not focused on the desired result. As a leader, we must be vigilant in where our team places their effort. Had the Smith partners merely taken a peek under that satin sheet, it would have saved their entire project.

Consider this …

1. Over the next couple of weeks, keep track of where you are spending your time. Be willing to be honest with yourself about the activities that consume most of your day.

2. Once you do that, compare your activities to the desired accomplishments you are working on. How much time are you spending actually advancing the cause of your goals?

3. What changes do you need to make in your activities in order to focus more effort on achieving your desired accomplishments?

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in Top Performer’s Field Guide)

Perception is Reality

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”~ Warren Bennis

perception is reality

Without getting into Zen concepts like, “what is the sound of one hand clapping” a person’s worldview is their truth. Regardless if that conclusion is factually accurate or not, conclusions sometimes cannot be shaken. You’ve likely come across this concept in the form of “perception is reality” as it relates to marketing or branding. What if we applied the same techniques to ourselves? Could we believe ourselves into a new reality? Using a technique called guided mental imagery, thoughts can lead to positive change.

Mental imaging is like getting lost in a good novel. With no more than words on a page, you’re standing beside the heroine who just saved the world from a nuclear-powered zombie invasion from Neptune. By guiding yourself through that same level of imagery, you can see yourself achieving obtainable goals. Using the classic review question, Where do you see yourself in five years? build a mental palace of achievements necessary to get there. See yourself nailing projects and shaking hands with those congratulating you for promotions. Use the mental war room to anticipate and eliminate barriers to achieving your end goal. Periodically, affirm the milestones you achieve with success-oriented language that extols how happy or fulfilled you are at the different waypoints. 

Guided mental imagery also stimulates the same neural pathways as actually performing an action. If your goal is the perfect golf swing, imagining the motion stimulates the same areas of the brain that performing the action does. In other words, your body doesn’t know the difference between ACTUALLY performing an action and the guided mental imagery of that same action. When you practice your golf swing, your brain has a bit of prewiring and achieving a consistent swing will be easier. In fact, Tiger Woods was once quoted as saying that he performs every golf shot at least twice—once or more in his mind and once on the course. If you can see it and believe it, most anything is possible.

Consider this …

1. Search on the topic of guided mental imagery and take a few moments to read a little more about it.

2. Now, identify something that you want to improve in your personal or work life over the course of the next few weeks and create a crystal clear picture of how this particular situation looks in its ideal state.

3. Develop the habit of focusing on this mental picture multiple times throughout the day, using some of the techniques you read about in question number one above. Track your results.

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in Top Performer’s Field Guide)

Simple Is Powerful and Effective

““No problem can be solved until it is reduced to some simple form. The changing of a vague difficulty into a specific, concrete form is a very essential element of thinking.” ~ J.P. Morgan

SIMPLE IS POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE

One task that binds every business leader together is problem solving. We are the Ann Landerses of our respective fields, expected to be the silver bullet to slay difficulties. The sheer number of problems we solve in a day takes a mental toll, even if simple answers are sufficient. One method to reduce the mental fatigue is to ask that every problem that is dropped in your lap is explained to you as if you were a five-year-old. Those who have been around small children for more than ten minutes have been forced to explain complex ideas in simple terms. We also encapsulate our explanations to the wee ones as succinctly as possible, because the attention span of a five-year-old is on par with that of a busy executive.

This simplification process can initially feel silly and perhaps even maddening, but a funny thing happens when you break any problem or idea down into its elemental or fundamental components. The momentous bogeyman of a problem becomes smaller and more manageable. The moving parts of the problem can then be triaged to focus on groups of smaller solutions that will form the basis of the plan.

Those that have come to you for a solution are forced to reexamine the problem in a different context as well. The act of simplifying the problem and presenting it to you in that form will often guide the team member into formulating their own solution. At that point, if no additional guidance is needed, your mental energy is spared. Your team member has been taught a skill that will eventually lead to fewer problems being laid at your feet. In that case, everyone wins!

Consider this …

1. What problems are “sitting on your desk” currently that need to be addressed?

2. How can you simplify those problems down to their fundamental elements so that they can be more easily understood and solved?

3. Bring your team together and engage them in the process of problem simplification and solution design.

4. Create a regular forum (weekly, monthly, etc.) to bring your team together to simplify and solve the problems at hand.

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in Top Performer’s Field Guide)

Gut Check

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”~ Frank Capra

Gut Check

Intuitive thought is given a bad rap in a data-driven world. We can’t take our peers through a spreadsheet quantifying “that gut feeling” we have about a particular decision point. To say you’re relying on intuition feels like an excuse for the unprepared, but your history with gut instinct tells a different story. How many times after taking a test did you look at the results and think, “I knew I should have gone with C”? Your first instinct was to pick one answer, but you over analyzed the choices inevitably picking the wrong one. “I should have gone with my gut,” is the near-audible response when you see the red marks on the test.

According to a 2007 study conducted by the University College London, there’s something to gut instinct. Participants in the study were asked to identify a rotated symbol in a field of 650 identical symbols. Those that quickly decided which symbols were rotated were more accurate than those who examined the screen closely. The only explanation researchers could postulate was that snap decisions were a result of participants’ subconscious pointing to the rotated symbol. 

Our brains, after all, perform more functions than we’re aware of. Millions of autonomic functions are handled without our conscious knowledge every day. Is it so difficult to believe that the lifetime of stored memories and experiences congeal into a gut instinct without the painstaking conscious decision-making process?

We often exercise the “trust but verify” motto within our business practices, so hold your intuition accountable. Track those times you go against your gut feeling and monitor the outcomes. If the trend leans toward your intuitive decisions being correct, perhaps you should listen to your gut more often

Consider this …

1. How trustworthy is your own gut instinct?

2. In what types of circumstances are you prone to get strong vibes or gut instincts?

3. How can you favor your gut instincts while also holding yourself accountable for quality decision-making?

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in Top Performer’s Field Guide)

To Decide or Not to Decide?

““The way to develop decisiveness is to start right where you are, with the very next question you face.” ~ Napoleon Hill

To Decide or Not to Decide?

There’s a little red blinking light that goes of in the corner of our eye when we are asked to decide. The longer we pause in coming up with a solution or making a decision, that blinking light flashes faster and faster. They’re waiting… They need to know… now!

Here’s a news flash: every decision does not have to be made on the spot. Just like saying “no,” there is a power in taking the time to decide when an answer is not immediately necessary. Many “of -the-cuff ” decisions can be terrible ideas that spawn from the perceived pressure exerted on you by the person seeking an answer. Should you delay making a decision, set a timetable that your response will be given and stick to it.

What you have actually done by delaying a decision is practiced time management. You have delineated how critical the problem is by setting your own timetable. You have the luxury of contemplating, researching, or asking advice in setting your decision timetable. All of this, of course, is based on your accurately triaging the problem at hand. Deciding if you should purchase printer toner from another supplier is vastly different from being faced with a Hindenburg-sized disaster.

If you are delaying because you have trouble making decisions, that’s another issue. In those instances, delaying can be a crutch. If you have a pattern of latent decisiveness, it must be addressed. You cannot always rely on the luxury of time. However, taking time to reflect and research options is not necessarily being indecisive. You are indecisive if you do not follow up with that decision or waffle on a decision you’ve already made. Henry Kissinger once said, “Competing pressures tempt one to believe that an issue deferred is a problem avoided; more often, it is a crisis invited.” Poignant words for those who often delay their decisions.

Consider this …

1. Briefly describe your pattern of decision-making. Are you normally decisive? Indecisive?

2. Reflect on a decision you made too quickly—one that ended up being the wrong decision.

3. Now reflect on a decision you delayed—one that ended up being a crisis because of your indecisiveness.

4. Now reflect on an impending decision. Take the steps to ensure this one is the right one!

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in The Innovator’s Field Guide)

Really, a Section on Meeting Notes?

“When your heart speaks, take good notes.”~ Judith Campbell

Really, a Section on Meeting Notes?

Taking meeting notes is probably as Business 101 as it gets. Yes, I take notes during meetings … let’s skip this chapter. Not so fast grasshopper. Yeah, you take notes, but are you taking the right notes? Yes, I note deadlines, contact information, blah, blah, blah. Did you note that your client’s son has a piano recital next Thursday? Was there a sticky note about the administrative assistant’s favorite pastry? If those aren’t part of your note-taking skills, you might want to read on.

It’s no secret that small personal connections with clients can make the difference between just pounding the pavement and bringing home the deal. Calling your client Friday morning to see how little Johnny’s piano recital went or bringing a piece of baklava the next time you’re in the office could go a long way toward sealing the deal … toward securing someone’s business. If price, service, and quality are equal, who are you most likely to place an order with? The person who sent you a handpicked and signed birthday card, or the person who only calls to see if you’ve run out of widgets?

Making client, or even team member, connections on this level gives an added value to the relationship experience. As you probably deal with hundreds of people a week, keep a short list of personal follow-up items as part of your meeting prep. This is not meant to be a creepy, stalkerish list of inappropriate information. With the sheer number of contacts you likely have, a reminder mechanism of this value-added proposition is necessary. Over time, as you build strong, trust-based relationships with your prospects, clients, and colleagues, the need for these types of memory joggers will wane. Until it does, these notes could mean the difference between “so-so” and being stellar!

Consider this …

1. Name your top three clients and your top two internal stakeholders.

2. Now, write down three important facts or “nuances” you know about each one of them … things that are important to THEM.

3. Now, list your top ten external clients and your top ten internal stakeholders. Make it your mission to learn what’s important to them.

For more, check out The Top Performer’s Field Guide, The Innovator’s Field Guide, or visit www.JeffStandridge.com.

(Originally published in Top Performer’s Field Guide)

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