The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Do you Love to Learn?

Love, honesty, hope and humour are four important predictors of how happy you are. They all fall into the collection of personality traits called PERMA: Positive emotions, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment.

There are two even more reliable PERMA predictors of how happy you are. The first is gratitude, which is pretty obvious when you think about it. When you’re thankful for the good things in your life – your family, your friends, the food you eat, the view outside your window – you’re healthier, happier and better prepared to face the world and whatever it throws at you.

The second may surprise you. It’s love of learning. People who enjoy picking up new skills or knowledge feel fulfilled wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. Whether it’s strolling through a park, sitting in a classroom or getting on with whatever job is at hand, everything presents an opportunity to learn.

Learning keeps you sharp and confident. It keeps your memory working. It helps you lead a more rounded life. Learning gives your brain something it craves – novelty. Learning is necessary because without it, humans would have been extinct long ago.

And that old myth ‘You can’t teach an old dog mew tricks’? That’s just what it is – a myth. However old you are, you can do yourself a real favour by engaging with the world around you and seeing what it has to teach you.

The link between achievement and self-esteem

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The jury is in but divided, but more about that later.

However, the jury is in on which comes first, self-esteem or achievement. Some scientists noticed that providing lots and lots of empty praise — giving every kid in the race, including the last one, a trophy — leads to inflated but baseless self-esteem. It can even have the opposite effect to what the providers of lots and lots of meaningless praise intend. The researchers found that kids with unrealistically high self-esteem might be more willing to enter dangerous territory, like cheating, experimenting with drugs and stealing.

It’s also been shown that telling kids they’re smart, whether they are or not, makes even the genuinely smart kids less willing to apply effort, preventing them for reaching their full potential. These genuinely smart kids end up thinking that putting in effort to learn means they aren’t smart and they become more concerned with protecting their reputation as smart, in looking smart then being smart.

So, to have the sort of high self-esteem that’s worth something, you need to achieve worthwhile goals first. To do that, you need three things:

  1. You need to put in effort and understand that trying hard does make a difference.
  2. You need willpower to keep putting in the effort. We’ve talked about the importance of willpower before and the good news that it’s just like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets.
  3. And you need something called self-compassion, which is different from self-esteem. While self-esteem often involves the need to be special and above average, when you have self-compassion you don’t compare yourself to others and you can cope realistically with mistakes and failure without them crushing your self-esteem—after all, everyone makes mistakes and falls short sometimes.People with self-compassion tend to look after themselves by exercising more and eating more healthily for instance. They have learning goals rather than performance goals and learn for it’s own sake, not for grades or to impress people.

These three qualities — effort, willpower and self-compassion — are what help you achieve and your achievements build genuine self-esteem. Once you’ve earned your self-esteem, you are likely to be happier, more optimistic and more motivated than people with low self-esteem, and less likely to be anxious, depressed and negative. You’re not going to be an obnoxious person with an over-sized ego based on nothing, either.

The bottom line is, earn your self-esteem through your achievements, not from just be ing handed a trophy for merely running in the race.

And as for the which came first, the chicken or the egg, well, that’s still a conundrum. Some scientists say the chicken did because two non-chickens mated and, via a genetic mutation, produced the first chicken. So the chicken came first. But other scientists say the egg came first because two non-chickens mated and via that same genetic mutation, produced the first chicken. But their logic is that since it was a chicken inside the egg, the egg came first.

Changes in the business environment and how they affect you

I was asked the other day how trends in the business environment are affecting managers. Where to start …

Business complexity is increasing exponentially, so understanding the big picture and using systems thinking are becoming more important. Risks are increasing, too, so you need to know how to build a sound risk culture to protect your organisation and its assets. And the pace of change is quickening.

Each of these three factors mean that you won’t–you can’t–always know the answer. Many problems you face and will face are new and many are unpredictable. You probably can’t do what you’ve always done, or even what you did before in a similar situation that worked, because so much will have changed in the meantime.

This means you need to be good at problem solving and coming up with unique and unexpected solutions to problems and situations, ways to meet customer demands, and ways to respond to a changing marketplace. This has three implications:

  1. You need to know how to ask the right questions, questions that help you explore and analyse situations.
  2. You need to know how to apply the scientific method and use data so you can get a good grip on situations.
  3. Learning to think in scenarios is probably a good idea.

New and disruptive business models, share price volatility and diminishing corporate profits may all put your organisation at risk. Therefore, you want to protect your career and see yourself as ‘Me Inc’:

  1. Develop solid, wide and deep networks.
  2. Build a professional image (on social media, with your professional bodies and networks, in your organisation, with suppliers and customers, etc.).
  3. Keep your skill base up-to-date.
  4. Broaden your experience base.

Organisations are likely to increasingly move to capabilities-based competition: creating value and competitive advantage through capabilities in processes rather than through capable functions. We’re likely to see more strategic alliances, too: collaborating with non-competitor organisations to combine strengths to produce a better product or service. And the supply chain is becoming more important.

These three factors mean:

  1. Big picture and systems thinking is important. Get in the habit of considering the upstream and downstream implications of every your action and decision.
  2. You’re likely to find yourself working in cross-functional teams, so hone your people and team-working skills.

Cheap wages are moving from China to Cambodia, Eastern Europe and South America. This means you can benefit from polishing your cultural intelligence, learning about other cultures and learning to work, virtually and actually, with people from other cultures.

Employees and the way they work are changing. Baby Boomers are moving out, Generations X and Y are taking over and Generation Z is entering the workforce, making it age-diverse as well as culturally-diverse and life-style diverse. People’s motivations for working, what they want from work and how they work are vastly more diverse than was the case even 10 or 15 years ago.

The changing workforce means we’re seeing more team-working, more flexible working and more virtual working. Jobs themselves are changing: we’re seeing more cross-functional team work, as mentioned above, more projects and more fixed-term contracts. We’re seeing roles, more than jobs–roles are looser and more open, not as prescribed and rigid as jobs.

This means the way you lead and manage people is changing. Here’s what I think is really important:

  • skilful leadership
  • skilful communication
  • engaging with team members in terms of motivating and coaching
  • flexibility in your management and leadership style
  • clear, logical thinking informed by an understanding of the big picture issues of the environment you’re operating in externally and internally.

Since industry isn’t spending a lot of time and money on learning and development, you’re probably left to your own devices to keep upgrading your skills and knowledge. All while being, no doubt, mind-bogglingly busy in your day-to-day role. A big ask.

This means applying the learning cycle is a good idea, lest you get caught up on the treadmill and fail to improve yourself, your performance or your work procedures.

How to not lose your job to a computer

Digital disruption seems to be the buzz-word at the moment. Technological leaps are enabling entrepreneurs and innovators to develop new and unexpected business models (think, for example, Airbnb and Uber). The number of jobs at risk of being automated is astounding (up to 5 million by 2030 in Australia alone, according to Australia’s Future Workforce report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia), while other jobs will soon need job holders who know how to work effectively (interface?) with computers.

Artificial intelligence. Automation. Advanced robotics. Digital technology and the Internet of Things. Redefined business models and jobs. Pretty mind-boggling yet, as the Prime Minister would no doubt say, very exciting.

Research by McKinsey & Company indicates that existing technologies can automate 45% of the work done in the UASA and a further 13% can potentially be automated. Australia’s Future Workforce report estimates that nearly 40% of today’s jobs in Australia are at risk of being automated and turned over to computers; worst hit is predicted to be jobs in regional and rural Australia, where more than 60% of jobs are set to be swallowed by computers.

And it isn’t only the routine jobs and tasks technology is set to swallow up. By adapting current technology, computers can take on many of the more predictable tasks of highly-paid knowledge workers such as executives, financial planners, ‘techies’ and doctors.

Mental processes such as remembering and making decisions, can be transferred to computers, microchips and networks. Richard Samson, writing in The Futurist, calls this automation ‘off-peopling’. Electronic intelligence, he says, already does a lot of the mental work that accountants, administrators, bank tellers, corporate planners, farmers, middle managers, product designers, salespeople, secretaries and soldiers used to do.

But there is still work that we can do and enjoy, provided we hone and use our non-programmable ‘hyper-human’ skills like caring, communicating, creating and taking responsibility. And provided we learn to innovate and create – products, processes, business models – it matters not what, as long as it’s viable, we can put those skills to work in jobs that electronic systems can’t perform now or any time soon.

Since computers don’t get bored and let their attention wander, they’re generally better than us in defined, predictable, repetitive and structured work. But we’re better than computers at hyper-human tasks that involve emotions, imagination, sensory perception and social skills and decisions that need intuition as well as logic and fact. These are prized abilities in some workplaces of today and probably most workplaces of the near future.

Many of these jobs are waiting to be created. You can do that by transforming and upgrading your current job so that it really benefits from your human skills. A good place to start is by letting go of last-century thinking about a job as functional activity, since these are the ones automation is taking over.

Use your skills to build relationships with colleagues, customers and suppliers. Stay alert to what’s going on around you so you can notice problems and fix them, find opportunities and work out ways to make the most of them, and prevent mishaps and mistakes.

Honour your commitments. Innovate new and improved ways of working by making tasks and processes easier, cheaper, faster or safer to do, or result in greater reliability or improved quality. Small adjustments here, little tweaks there, all add up to making you an invaluable employee.

Learn to work collaboratively in virtual teams, especially virtual project teams. Or build your skills so you’re indespensible to a process-based team (rather than a functional team).

You can also learn to work in tandem with computers (called ‘augmented intelligence’). Instead of being replaced by a computer, you’re supported by a computer in your analytic, creative and decision-making efforts. The computer supplies the raw data, options and conclusions and you do what the computer can’t – use good judgement to make the final decision. To do that, you need the thinking and judging skills to filter a deluge of information.

Okay, now that you’ve waded your way through the backlog of post-Christmas administration, what is the most important step you can take in the next five days to protect your job and your career from digital disruption and advanced robotics?

(This is longer than usual but hey, it’s important – it’s your future.)

Mindsets and success

Your beliefs become your thoughts;
your thoughts become your words;
your words become your actions;
your actions become your habits;
your habits become your values;
your values become your destiny.
                                                                                                                 Mahatma Gandhi

We now have a large body of research that demonstrates the truth of Gandhi’s words. Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, in her new book Mindset: The new Psychology of Successdescribes some of her own research that shows how our beliefs about ourselves fuel our behaviour and predict our success. Her research on this topic with both children and adults covers 20 years. She’s found one mindset in particular that is critically important. Which best describes your beliefs about yourself:

  • My personality, character, intelligence and other important traits are fixed–I’ve got what I was born with and that’s it.or
  • I can keep learning and growing and changing and improving.

Dweck calls the first a fixed mindset and the second a growth mindset. When you have a fixed mindset, you end up not challenging yourself but putting your efforts into ensuring your beliefs about yourself are proven correct. The growth mindset takes effort too, but your efforts go into learning and improving, instead of protecting yourself and your beliefs. When you have a growth mindset, success or failure at a specific task isn’t what matters. What matters is challenging yourself and learning and improving all the time.

And these mindsets begin at a very early age. Throughout your life, they guide your behaviour and how you view success and failure, both at work and in your personal life. Ultimately, they determine how satisfied you can feel with yourself.

In one experiment, for example, Dweck and her team gave four-year olds an easy puzzle to complete. Then they let the children choose another easy puzzle or a harder puzzle. Some children chose another easy puzzle (guaranteed ‘success’) while others chose the harder puzzle (guaranteed ‘challenge’ and ‘learning’). The latter is the growth mindset: ‘Why do another easy puzzle? I’ll try a harder one and see whether I can do it.’

In another experiment, teenagers were given a nonverbal IQ test; most did quite well. Half were praised for their performance: ‘Wow, you got X many right; that’s a really good score. You must be smart at this.’ The other half were praised for their effort: ‘Wow, you got X many right; that’s a really good score, You must have worked really hard.’

Praise for performance pushed the teenagers into a fixed mindset while praise for effort pushed the others into a growth mindset. Sure enough, when offered a new task to do, the fixed mindset teenagers rejected the challenging one–they had been told they were smart and they didn’t want to spoil it. In contract, 90% of the teenagers who were praised for their effort chose the challenging new task they could learn from.

Next came a series of more difficult IQ tests; most didn’t do so well. Suddenly, the fixed mindset teenagers thought they’d failed and weren’t so smart after all. But those who had been praised for their effort saw the fact that they hadn’t done so well as a signal to put in more effort, not a sign of failure or stupidity.

As the tests progressively became more difficult, the performance of the growth mindset teenagers improved significantly and they continued to enjoy themselves and the challenge. The performance of the fixed mindset teenagers grew worse and worse, and so did their enjoyment of the experience.

When the researchers asked the teenagers to write letters to their friends telling them about their day and their scores, 40% of the fixed mindset teenagers lied about their scores, increasing them so they’d look more successful than they were. When you have a fixed mindset, failure is shameful. When you have a growth mindset, failure is not trying and not learning–as long as you’re trying and learning, you’re succeeding.

In an experiment with adults, Dweck found that those with a fixed mindset only heard feedback about whether they got their task right or wrong and tuned out any information aimed at helping them learn and improve. The adults with the growth mindset, on the other hand, weren’t as focussed on whether they got their task right or wrong but they really sat up and took notice of information that could help them learn and improve so that they could do better next time.

Fixed mindsets are binary: right or wrong, good or bad, success or failure. They’re lose-win. Growth mindsets are open-ended: am I learning? How can I keep learning and improving. That’s win-win.

So which is your mindset? To change a fixed mindset into a growth mindset, change your thinking. That changes your actions and your actions become your destiny.

After learning, grab a coffee and take a nap

You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.

Dr Seuss

Busy hands might be happy hands but the busier your mind, the less you can learn.

Sleeping after learning helps you remember what you’ve learned by encouraging your brain cells to make connections, which makes what you’ve learned ‘stick’. It isn’t just because moving straight onto something else after learning doesn’t give you a chance to consolidate what you’ve learned; it’s also because your brain physically grows connections between brain cells, forming new neural circuits, and that’s really what learning anything–a physical or a mental skill–is all about. Even as little as six minutes of sleep after learning can prevent your learning memories from breaking down and help you retain those new brain circuits (although a night’s sleep is better).

If you can’t bring yourself to study before bed or take a nano-nap in the office, try a short, 10-minute break. Just pausing after reading something you need to remember can make the material ‘stick’ by a substantial margin.

And where does the coffee come in, I hear you wonder–especially when most people think caffeine keeps them awake. Well, contrary to popular belief, there is apparently no correlation between coffee and insomnia. Coffee, more more precisely, the caffeine in coffee, helps put information you’ve learned into your long-term memory. A strong cup of instant coffee will do the trick when you don’t have the time or the inclination to brew up.

Or, put the two together. When you’re tired, grab a coffee and take a short (5 to 15 minute) nap. And, while we’re talking about coffee, although it doesn’t help you think, coffee is good for when you need to plod through boring, routine work. (Of course, too much coffee isn’t good for anyone and too much is an individual dose, dependent on your genes and how much coffee you’re used to.)