Don’t be afraid to explore the new world

Four Journeys of Exploration to Thrive in the New World of Work

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Today is as a perfect day to talk about embarking on a journey of true exploration and discovery. After all, the stuff of Happy Mondays—meaning, purpose, fulfillment and impact—aren’t commodities that can be easily acquired. Finding them requires exploration, both of our inner-selves and the world-at-large.

If we want work that challenges and fulfills us, we need to give ourselves the permission to embark on this journey. If we want a great job, or to build a great company, I would argue that there are four worlds we need to explore first.

Why do you do it every day?

Happy Monday #2: Cultivate a Higher Purpose

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Why does everyone sing in the Happy Friday chorus but only a few solo voices sing the praises of Happy Monday?

The answer is a question.

Simon Sinek says “Start With Why” and I believe him.

Sakichi Toyoda developed the technique of the “5 Whys” to get to the irreducible truth, and I believed him too.

And I believe that your answer to the question “Why?” is how we make Monday mornings as joyful as Friday afternoons.

So I ask you: Why do you go to work?

To pay bills?

Understandable, but not a good answer. It seems too wasteful, and inefficient and hapless to trade time (the only non renewable resource) for mere money. If this is why we do it, then it’s no wonder that Mondays are seen as such an imposition and a heavy burden to bear.

The parable of the bricklayers

There is another way to look at our work, as suggested by this parable cited by Angela Duckworth in Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

Imagine that you encounter three people ostensibly “laying bricks.”

You approach the first person and ask, “Excuse me, what are you doing?”

“I’m laying bricks,” the person answers.

Then you approach the second person and ask the same question.

“I’m building a church,” she responds.

Finally, you approach the third person, who responds:

“I am building the House of God.”

Same job but dramatically different job descriptions.

They have radically contrasting answers to the question “Why?” and maybe that’s because they choose to focus on totally different things.

Mind your focus

Psychologists suggest that one way to increase your sense of well-being, at work and in life, is to mind what you focus on. At work, they counsel us to temper our “self-centered” nature with an enthusiastic regard for “other-centeredness.” Yes, we all have bills to pay but that’s just a subplot, we can consciously choose to focus on a fuller version of the story.

We should stop to consider, for example, that every business, and every job within it (no matter how exalted or menial in nature) exists for a purpose and that purpose is to serve others. If you take this as a given, have you then stopped to consider all the ways that this is true?

For one thing, we are there to serve the needs of our organization and our co-workers and their families (our tribe). Then come the needs of the customers and their tribes, whom we also serve. Then comes the larger community of which our organizations are a part and so on and so forth. As we elevate to an altitude of 50,000 feet you can appreciate how everything and everyone is connected to everything and everyone else. We can start to see how our jobs have meaning beyond what we might at first survey.

Use your platform every day

In my life, I have held all kinds of jobs but I have never seen any of them as beneath me. I see that all work is in the service of others, and thus, every job no matter how “lowly” or “humble” is imbued with meaning and the highest form of nobility—for what higher calling is there in life than to serve our fellow human beings?

That’s actually all there is.

Thus, every job is a platform to serve others and if we can appreciate the many ways that this is true, then we will have a powerful Why that will put a song in our hearts on Monday mornings.

You don’t need a promotion or a glamorous new job or a fancy degree to get started.

You can start today.

  1. Use your platform to make someone smile;
  2. Be someone’s good listener;
  3. Take a deeper interest in the people around you;
  4. Help someone solve a problem or get what they need;
  5. Share information that could be useful;
  6. Surprise someone with a kind gesture;
  7. Be a light and a positive influence on everyone you encounter today.

The possibilities are endless and your job will be transformed.

We’re not laying bricks anymore—we’re building the House of God.

This is the biggest mistake you can make as an employee

And the 5 Steps You Can Take to Fix it Immediately!

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You’re gainfully employed. Things are good. But the mistake most employees make is thinking that things will stay that way.

But that’s often not the case. You may find yourself changing jobs sooner than you’d like, and then what?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, median tenure for private sector wage and salary workers over the age of 20 is 4.1 years. That means that half of these workers have less than 4 years on the job and half have more. By extension, this means that over the course of your career you will likely work for at least 11 different organizations before you “retire.”

But as technological change continues to impact employment trends, tenure at jobs is likely to keep dropping. So maybe we should stop thinking about the idea of a “job” and focus instead on the concept of a “project.” A project that lasts, on average, 3 to 4 years.

And because jobs and the workforce are being disrupted,  can we afford to be complacent and stop doing the hard work that it took to land that job in the fist place?

I think the answer to that question is NO! and that’s why I advise you to:

  • Always be building your body of quality work.
  • Always be telling your unique story.
  • Always be on the lookout for your next project.

Don’t wait till you’re out of a job to take action.

Here are 5 things you can do to ensure you are always gainfully employed, and that when one project ends, you have many new projects to choose from.

How to get better at any skill you desire

4 Things You Absolutely Need to Know to Become an Expert at Anything

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I was born with a pencil and sketch pad in my hand, drawing.

At least that’s the way it seems, because for as long as I can remember, that’s exactly what I’ve always been doing.

And by the time I was a teenager I had acquired the bad habit of drawing superheroes in class when the subject matter or teacher was too “boring” for me to pay attention. My classmates would marvel, “Man, you’re really good,  I wish I could draw like that!”

“You can!” I would invariably say. “All it takes is practice.”

Since that was a frequent exchange seemingly everywhere I went, I thought a lot about my supposed “talent.” Early on I reached the conclusion that I had no innate gift, and that my ability was merely a reflection of the countless hours I spent in my room trying to draw like the comic book masters I admired, Neil Adams and John Buscema. My first attempts were quite crude but as time went on, as I practiced faithfully, I acquired some proficiency.

If I had any innate gift, I thought, it was a deep-seeded desire and passion for drawing like the masters I admired. That passion made the “hard work” fun and I stuck with it. Eventually, I got good. Then people saw my ability and assumed I had a gift.

But the gift was the desire to draw, not the ability to draw.

We conflate those two things and, in doing so, limit our potential. It turns out you can shape your talent and there’s a methodology for doing so, correctly.

That’s the essence of Anders Ericcson’s new book Peak and the ideas contained in this remarkable work can forever change your life.

Here are 6 key takeaways from this inspiring book:

1. Forget everything you’ve heard about innate abilities or natural talent

Right from the start, Ericcson and Pool pull no punches in Peak.

In the very first chapter, we are treated to the paradigm-busting re-telling of the legend of Mozart.

Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it seems, was a tot scarcely 7 years of age when he publicly performed sublime feats of musical prowess, on violin and keyboard instruments of all types.

In 1763 the young boy was dazzling audiences in Europe with his seemingly miraculous abilities. His feats appeared all the more magical because he possessed yet another “gift”—the gift of perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is an exceedingly rare ability that allowed the young Mozart to recognize the exact note being played on any instrument; even if he was in another room; even if the emitter of the sound wasn’t a musical instrument at all! In other words, Mozart was so gifted that if he heard a bird singing, or your car made a sufficiently musical noise—he could tell you what musical notes were being reproduced.

Miraculous?

Maybe not.

Ericcson gleefully lifts the curtains and lets you peer behind Mozart’s magical performances. I won’t spoil it for you, but the point is as powerful and thunderous as a lightning strike. After decades of studying prodigies, geniuses, savants and top experts in different fields, Ericsson has yet to find a single case that cannot be attributed to purposeful, deliberate practice.

Why is this important for you to know?

Because science is telling you that you can follow a clearly defined process to get better at any skill or ability you desire. It’s not a matter of talent or natural gifts. It’s a matter of practice, of doing the work.

Think how valuable and empowering this insight is in the 21st century world of the fourth industrial revolution. Those who embrace entrepreneurship and lifelong learning will flourish. Those who don’t, will pay a heavy toll. Now, lifelong learners have a clear process to get better, faster. That’s why I think that Ericsson’s book is one of the most important books of the last couple of decades.

It takes away all the excuses we make for not pursuing the work that matters most to us.

2. Build the correct set of mental representations

Ericsson tells us that expert performers can perform at a high level because over time they have developed complex, robust, and finely detailed “mental representations” about what works.

Think of it this way: what would happen if I were put in a baseball game to face a major league pitcher hurling a ball right at me at speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour? Mind you, I have played almost no baseball in my life.

Well, the first thing that will happen is that I will likely freak out. Survival instincts will kick in and my likely reaction is to gird myself against the missile. It might take me weeks, maybe months (years?), to get totally used to the sensation of staring down those projectiles coming straight at me, without flinching.

Then, I’d have to learn how to position my body, how to swing the bat properly, how to pick up on subtle clues from the pitcher about what pitch is coming next, how to distinguish between a speed pitch and off-speed pitch and acquire the muscle memory to respond appropriately, and a million and one other little things which, together, combine to create a nearly magical result.

This very fine tuning of your thought processes, instincts and motor coordination, to create a specific result, is what Ericsson has dubbed mental representations.

That’s why “Big Papi” hits homers and I would likely swing the bat a full second (or two) after it smacks the catcher’s mitt.

But almost no one who’s reading this blog will be facing a major league pitcher anytime soon, but we all face professional and personal challenges that we could meet with gusto with the right mental representations.

Maybe you want to sell more widgets; market more effectively using social media; pass some professional certification; become a more powerful communicator; write a novel; become a world-class salsa dancer?

Want to be an exceptional performer in those fields?

Get an existing elite performer in that field to coach you. If that’s not possible, at least observe them carefully and try to reconstruct the mental representations they are working with. What do they do? What routines do they follow? What habits do they faithfully keep? How do they train? What do they read? What do they say? How do they think? Deconstruct as much as you can so you can see exactly what they’re doing. Then compare their approach to your own to see if there are any clear gaps that could improve your own game.

Then get busy working on those.

3. Engage in Deliberate Practice

In Angela Duckworth’s book, Grit, there’s a memorable exchange between her and Ericsson concerning Duckworth’s running. She tells him that she has been running for quite some time, spending many hours that could be considered “practice.” So how come she’s no where near good enough to become an olympian, she asks.

“Interesting,” says Ericsson as he proceeds to ask her some questions about the nature of her practice sessions.

The takeway is that you can run every day for a million years, if you like, and never get anywhere good enough to be an Olympian because what counts is not hours spent practicing, it’s hours spent in deliberate practice.

Here are the components of this more purposeful and effective form of practice:

  1. Motivation
    This one’s obvious. You need a healthy dose of motivation to do the work and put forth the effort to improve your performance.
  2. Design
    Practice tasks should be designed taking into account your pre-existing knowledge and skills so that the practice session challenges you to reach beyond your comfort zone, but not so far that you feel completely lost. Practice sessions must have clear goals and objectives.
  3. Feedback
    Practice must give you immediate informative feedback. This feedback should provide you with clues as to where you may be falling short and thus stimulate learning and growth.
  4. Repetition
    And of course, one must repeat the practice tasks and similar tasks until there are clear signs of proficiency.

4. It Takes Time and Patience

Lastly, because there is nothing magical about deliberate practice, becoming an expert performer is all about the “mundanity of excellence.” It’s all about trying, failing, and trying again. But this takes time. Perhaps many years.

Years ago, Malcolm Gladwell took Ericsson’s ideas and postulated the 10,000 hour rule. He asserted that to become a top expert invariably required 10,000 hours, the rough equivalent of 10 years of practice. But Gladwell, according to Ericcson and Pool, got a lot of things wrong.

For example, there is no 10,000 hour rule. In some fields, the amount of required practice may significantly exceed or fall short of that mythical mark. Furthermore, it’s not mere practice that counts, it’s deliberate practice that ensures continuous growth and learning.

The takeaway for us is that improving our performance in any endeavor will take time, and lots of it, but the ultimate number of hours required will vary widely by skill and by the level of proficiency we seek. Again, we may not all wish to become Major League Baseball players. Maybe all you want is to master your company’s accounting system or learn how to manipulate data sets and apply statistical regressions. If so, chances are you will require months, or a couple of years, in order to achieve proficiency, but nothing close to 10,000 hours.

Now that you’re free from the tyranny of the talent myth—what will you do?

Here’s the essence of what you need to know: You have enough talent to become an expert in any field you choose. Don’t be fooled by the tyrannical notion that you should give up because you’re not a natural. What matters is: your willingness to do the hard work of deliberate practice; your patience; your perseverance to stick with it for the long haul.

And if you’re the parent of small children, just imagine what this gift can do for them.

It should be comforting to you, that in a world of constant flux, a world that demands life-long learning, there is a simple stepwise process you can follow to acquire the ever-changing skills you need to stay competitive. Think of it as the Missing Manual of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Ericsson’s ideas are a God-send. And they arrived not a minute too soon.

Now that you know—where will you choose to go?

What politicians fail to share about the frightening danger ahead

The one thing you need to know about work in the 21st century

Walls or Webs

Thomas L Friedman, the New York Times columnist and famed author of The World is Flat, just wrote an insightful and thought-provoking piece that I think everyone needs to read. It elegantly explains the challenge faced by the middle-class in our country, describes how both political parties are shielding you from the harsh reality of our times, and underscores many of the ideas we’ve been exploring in this blog for the last year.

In his column titled,”Web People vs. Wall People” Friedman argues that, as the winds of technological change blow increasingly harder, candidates from both political parties are advocating the building of walls to protect us from the punishing gale.

He writes:

5 Things You Need to Understand About Grit

How To Become a More Productive and Fulfilled Person by Cultivating Passion and Perseverance

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Since the 2016 Summer Olympics are just a few weeks away, let me ask you: Do you think those supremely talented athletes, especially the ones who will bring home a medal, are there because of their talent, or their incredible passion and perseverance?

The conventional wisdom says that talent is supreme. And for a long time, that sort of made sense—that genetics matter. How could they not?

Just take a look at Michael Phelps’ physique, for example.

Reading Business Books for Fun and Profit?

7 Reasons Why You Should Make Room for Business Books on Your Nightstand Today!

A Game of Thrones 2

I know.

They’re not as much fun as the likes of Harry Potter, or even Fifty Shades of Grey but business and self-development books can help you get in ways A Game of Thrones never could.

Yes—being swept away into a fantasy world makes for a frolicking good time, but gaining access to the latest thinking about the challenges we face in our own realm can be just as rewarding, IF you give it a chance.

Book Recommendation: Humans Are Underrated

How To Stay Competitive in the New Automated World of Work

Humans Are Underrated - Best Business Book Club

When you get to the end of Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know that Brilliant Machines Never Will, you realize just how great a public service Geoff Colvin has rendered to us. Tremendously well-researched and crisply written, the book is a friendly, far-sighted and reassuring primer on how your work may be transformed by “infotech” and what you can start doing about it.

If you want to understand how the job market is about to change, what skills will be in high demand, and how you can stay competitive—this is a tome you can’t afford to ignore.

The World of Work and How We Earn a Living is About to Change

5 Things You Should be Doing to Compete in the 4th Industrial Revolution

The Fourth Industrial Revolution - Best Business Book Club

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about robots and computers, and how they’re taking over jobs at a crazy rate, but I’m not trying to make the point that the future of work is a tale of Man vs. Machine. Instead, I think it may be a story of great scarcity and hardship, amidst remarkable abundance and opportunity. More importantly, I’m arguing that how that story unfolds is up to us. We have a choice in the matter.

I think that in the future, abundance will live where it always has, at the very top, but it will also be found in the frontier and border towns of innovation, where gifted and creative risk-takers feel at home.

The great middle—once a lush and welcoming paradise of opportunity for those who played by the rules—will become a no-man’s land, a vast desert of broken dreams and broken promises.

More and more, we see that the rules change so quickly that there might as well be no rules. In such an environment, excessive waiting, trying to fit in, or dancing to someone else’s drumbeat, is a mistake. Not taking (calculated) risks is no longer safe—that’s actually the riskiest bet in town!

Those who choose to stay in the middle, because that’s what they’ve always done, or because that’s what they’ve always been told to do, will be caught in a vicious race to the bottom.

I don’t want that to happen to you.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is about to change everything you think you know about work and how to earn a living. And the revolution has already begun, though lots of people still don’t see it.

But we do, and it’s time to start thinking and doing things differently.

Here are the 5 critical things we should be doing to get ready and stay competitive: