Archive for the ‘Learning’ Category

Changing the Way We See Things

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Imagine for a minute that you and I are faced with the same scene: we’re standing on a street corner in downtown Seattle around midnight, when we hear people yelling, agitated voices, then a loud bang followed by three men running out of a back alley. What’s going on?

Okay, some kind of fight, probably a mugging, and possibly even someone getting shot, right? Do you think you and I would respond in the same manner? While you want to call the police, for example, is it possible that I would rather just run to safety? Or chase after the three men to get information to pass onto police? Or go looking for an injured person in the alleyway?

It’s very likely that we would both respond in very different ways. Why? Because we have different mental programming, different software in our minds, developed over many years from our own unique experiences.

In the seconds that go by while you and I both scan the darkest regions of our minds to figure out what to do based on our programming, it hits you: this isn’t a real mugging, but a movie being shot. Almost immediately your body relaxes, and what goes through your mind next is, “Hey, I wonder if we can see some big-name star.”

Again, your programming, and therefore how you interpret a situation is different than mine. You can’t understand why I’m still looking nervous. With enough time, you might even think I’m not very smart for not realizing what’s really going on.

Now imagine your surprise when we walk around the corner and don’t see all the typical movie cameras, crews and trailers. What we notice is another three young men staggering out of the alley, wearing UW jerseys, hats and carrying purple and gold flags. Behind them, on the ground, is a beer can flattened as if run over by a truck. In this case, though, one of the first three men had grabbed it from the UW fans and stomped on it hard enough to cause the exploding bang we heard.

My point is that every situation, and every person can be interpreted in many different ways. And we will do that based on our programming, which was developed through many years of experience and interactions with countless numbers of people.

Makes you think that before you conclude what’s happening in any situation or with any person, stop, walk around the corner, and maybe even look at it from a completely different perspective. It’s not going to change your programming, but that different perspective, that different view, and especially more information may change which program gets triggered and how you’ll respond.

By the way, do you think the first three men were friends or foes of the UW fans?

Act As If You’re Not Being Judged

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

You’re not being judged. Accept it, even if it’s not true. Pretend, if that’s what it takes. In fact, it will probably take some pretending, since we’re being judged most of our lives. But just do it – pretend you’re not being judged.

How often is your behavior impacted by what you think others think of you, or how they judge you? My bet is that most of what you do, especially within the workplace, is because of what you think is the “right” thing to do. You do what you think others want you to do or how they want you to be. Admit it, because it’s true. You don’t act true to yourself.

Is this a bad thing? Would you be better off behaving as if no one was judging you?

Imagine an entire day where you do only what you think is right, rather than what you believe others think is right. Give it a try. Act as if you are not being judged, and just do.

Some authors and management gurus will advise you to act as if you’re always being watched, as if you are constantly being evaluated. On the surface, I like the idea of that. It certainly has a chance of keeping you focused on being on your game. But it may hold you back from being who you really are. And maybe being who you are would result in you being on your game.

What’s the worst thing that could happen by simply being yourself – by acting as if no one is judging you? Could it be that you, being you, are a better performer than the you that you think you should be?

Another Year of Learning

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Every year around this time, individuals, organizations and the media make lists of “The Best…,” “The Worst…,” “The Most…,” “The Stupidest…,” and list possible New Year’s resolutions. Me? I like to list what I’ve learned over the past 12 months. For me, a day without learning is a day not lived, let alone an entire year!

If I make a list, I’m less likely to make a major learning-take (that’s what I call a mistake that results in learning something): having to learn the same thing twice. Hey, there’s so much to learn that it’s a waste of time to learn something twice; why not learn something new?

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past year:

  • The iPad is awesome. I love it.
  • I’ve learned more about trusting people. I won’t go into the details, but I’ve learned to tune up my sensitivity to whom I should and shouldn’t trust.
  • There is a limit to how much I can do (although I’ll probably always push the limits on that one – and go over the limit many more times, just for the fun of it). I’m learning more about when and where I need to rely on others to do things.
  • Helping people, in whatever they need help with, is the most rewarding thing I can ever do. Okay, I learned this in the past, but it was really hammered home again this past year.
  • I’ve learned a little more about business finance – and the more I learn, the less I seem to know.
  • One can never overestimate what it will take to get a new business up, running and financially successful.
  • There are great opportunities for people and businesses that do a great job. There are so many that do just the minimum to get by that anyone who does just a little extra stands out from the crowd.

There are things that I’ve learned in the past, but that were reinforced this year:

  • Surrounding myself with great people makes all the difference in the world. And staying away from the people who are not so great helps just about as much (and maybe more).
  • The working environment – the culture – is more important than just about anything else.
  • If I’m not having fun, I’m not performing at my best.
  • The island of Kaua’i is the one place that I can truly relax and recharge. It’s a magical place for me, a place that I can use to put me in a great state of mind, whether I’m really there or just imagining it.

Oh, there are so many more things on my list from this past year – the list is very long! But those are a few that I hope will trigger a list of your own.

What did you learn in 2010?

Happy New Year!

Practice Makes Performance

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The old saying, “practice makes perfect” is not completely accurate. In fact, only perfect practice makes perfect, because the more you practice making mistakes, the better you get at making them.

Princeton University tennis coach, Glenn Michibata said, “I tell my players they have to practice two hours a day to stay the same, and more if they want to get better.” Of course, he’s talking about elite level players. But even for a recreational player, less than two hours, three days a week and one is barely going to maintain a level of performance. He or she will likely not improve with that little practice.

I started thinking about how that applies to the workplace. How often does a manager or leader practice management or leadership skills? How often does a worker practice the skills they need? Some would reply that they’re doing that every minute of the day, and with most putting in over eight hours a day, that’s a lot of practice.

But it’s not practicing the way Michibata’s tennis players do.

Remember, practice does not make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect. How much of that eight hours is spent practicing the right skills, and how much the wrong ones?

Sticking to the tennis example, do you think that when Michibata’s players practice for two hours, they’re practicing by playing a match? They’re not. Instead, they’re using deliberate practice strategies: They hit serves, then forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads, and then practice footwork. They do drills. In fact, playing a match is a rarity. Why? Because focusing on separate skills allows a player to practice perfectly. And more efficiently.

So, in the workplace, what if managers and leaders or anyone else practiced specific skills, just like tennis players do?

For example:

  • As a leader, one needs to listen, so why not practice listening? Prior to walking into a meeting, remind yourself to focus on listening. Then listen.
  • Practice making decisions – look for opportunities to make decisions in all walks of life. When people ask, “Where do you want to eat?” make the decision.
  • As a manager, one needs to think both tactically and strategically, so why not practice that? When faced with a project, take time to think tactically for a while, and then switch and look at what’s best from a long-term strategic basis.
  • When writing a memo or email, take just a few extra minutes to consider whether you can make it more clear. Practice communicating through writing.
  • As an employee, pick one skill that if you could improve it, would make you a superstar, and focus on practicing it.

    With just a little focused, specific, deliberate practice, your performance could take you to an all-new level. And who knows what impact that would have on your professional and personal life.

    TED, Sir Ken, Creativity & God

    Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

    When was the last time you checked out TED talks? I love them – they trigger thought, they entertain, they inform, and they can make you laugh. Go to www.ted.com if you’ve never seen them, and watch and listen. By the way, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

    One of my favorite TED-talks is one from Sir Ken Robinson. It is focused on education, and how it can sometimes limit creativity. It is also very entertaining, as Robinson is a fantastic speaker – he’s also very funny. Check it out at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html.

    Robinson makes a great point when he suggests that education, where it limits creativity, is doing society a great dis-service. He believes we need to adjust our thinking about what traditional education focuses on. As Robinson points out, most education is focused on the “serious” subjects like math, language, sciences and history. Instead, he believes more emphasis should be put on creative subjects such as art and music.

    Sir Ken does a much better job of presenting his reasons for his recommendations than I do, so I strongly suggest you watch his TED-talk. But because I love one story he tells so much I can’t resist re-telling it here.

    There was a young girl in an art class, drawing away, as did everyone in the class. The teacher moved around the room, and then stopped next to the young girl and asked, “What are you drawing?”

    The young girl responded, “God.”

    “Well, no one knows what God looks like,” the teacher said.

    And the girl replied, “They will in a few minutes.”

    I love that story!

    Robinson suggests that some education sucks the creativity out of us. I think Pablo Picasso would agree with him when he said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

    Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    How does this apply to your world? Do you encourage imagination, both in yourself and others? Performance often comes as a result of imagination, creativity. Giving yourself and others an opportunity to stretch the mind is the only way to make big gains. Read The Art of Innovation, by David Kelley for creative approaches to enhancing imagination and creativity in the workplace. More and more companies, like Google, are giving employees time to work on their own projects, encouraging them to think outside the box.

    Come to think of it, thinking outside the box is a common saying… but is it something that you practice? Could you draw a picture of God?

    Research: Truth or Fiction?

    Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

    According to the latest research, at least half of average and above-average (but not below-average) people do one thing or another 90 percent of the time – with 20 percent accuracy.

    What?

    I read a lot and that means a lot of different studies and research, and I’ve come to the conclusion that one can make research data say just about anything you want – 51 percent or more of the time. According to my research.

    I’ve read research that indicated one thing, and a different research report that indicated the exact opposite. How could that be?

    I once had a job working as a chemical technician in a research lab. Of course, in scientific research there was never any leeway for data to be swayed one way or the other; it was all fact. Right? Well, except for when you knew what the result would be. Or when you hoped it would be a certain way. Eighty percent of the time that was the case. According to my research.

    I recently read of a study that showed that if school children were rewarded with cash, their grades would improve. Well, kinda. This was true if they were rewarded for completing part of the process that would lead to better grades; not if they were simply given cash for a test result (which resulted in no improvement in grades). So, do the rewards help or not? And for how long? Some researchers say that cash rewards can help – in the short-term, but in the long-term they are actually detrimental.

    In the early to mid-90s, I visited Australia a few times, and each time I was impressed with how aggressive they were with their road safety campaigns. I especially liked the billboards on the highway that said, “If you drink and drive, you’re a bloody idiot.” Subtle, huh? And all the research I read at the time suggested they were doing a much better job with highway safety than we were in North America. Apparently the aggressive, in your face, messaging was effective.

    But having just gotten back from another trip Down-Under, I’m not sure that is the case any more. Could it be that the early results were from the shock value, but people got bored with it in the long-term? There was no indication that their highways were any safer than the ones in North America, despite signs every kilometer or so telling you to slow down, don’t drink and drive, leave a proper following distance, and so on. After a few kilometers, they all blended in.

    I couldn’t help but think that there were some traffic safety experts relying on the data from the early years, when the shock value did produce a positive result, saying, “If that worked, let’s do more.” You can make data say just about anything you want it to.

    Also, have you noticed how much impact saying, “according to a study by…” is? Since I read and communicate information from research all the time, this is a common statement from me.

    In fact, in a study conducted by Marks, Spencer and Abercrombie (2005) at the Fitch Institute for Advanced Statistical Studies in Bath, England, everything I just said is totally fabricated (except for my observations in Australia – those are real). This followed a research study conducted by my mother in the mid-80s, coming to the same conclusion.

    Okay, over the past few years I’ve cited many a research study to prove or disprove a point. Does that mean that I’ve been wrong, or misleading? I don’t know. I suppose most studies that last long enough to be cited in more than one publication have a very good chance of being accurate (at least 90 percent of the time!). But I will admit that I, like most humans, tend to favor research studies that back up what I already think. Or, interestingly, the exact opposite of what I think. I love finding some piece of research that throws me for a complete loop, turning my thinking completely around.

    My point here is simply to watch what you read into studies and research. They may or may not be truly accurate – at least 75 percent of the time. That’s a performance rule. According to my research.

    Right-Brain Thinking in a Left-Brain World

    Friday, April 16th, 2010

    Much is made of the type of information each individual side, or hemisphere of our brain processes. It’s generally known that your left hemisphere is where you process factual, logical and detailed information; it’s where your language is processed. Meanwhile, your right hemisphere is your creative, intuitive and big picture processor.

    What’s not talked about often is the time orientation each hemisphere has. Your left hemisphere is mostly concerned with the past and the future, while your right seems to be focused on the present – the here and now.

    To be successful at anything, one must be able to learn from the past, look and think ahead to the future, all while performing in the moment. Many people get bogged down in the past and future, as they operate almost entirely with their left hemisphere. Others, although far fewer from my observation, allow their right brains to drive their life. When I say “allow,” I really mean that. One cannot tell the right hemisphere to do anything. In fact, the best way to allow your right hemisphere to perform is the get out of its way. To do that, you need to “turn the volume down” on your left hemisphere.

    In a battle of hemispheres, it seems the left wins most often. It dominates most peoples’ thinking. True, we live in a world that rewards left-brain thinking. To get ahead in most disciplines, you need to be logical, factual, use language (verbal, mathematical) and pay attention to the details. Look at our education system: few courses are provided that teach people how to be more intuitive and to think big picture. Even creativity is rarely taught, and when it is, it’s a side effect of a course in the arts. Typically, creative and intuitive thinkers are seen as having a gift, but one that has not been trained.

    So, the left brain tends to over-power the right brain. But I believe that we all have that intuitive and creative ability – we were all born with it. The difference between those few people who are seen with the intuitive/creative gift is they have learned how to not restrict that type of thinking. They have learned how not to inhibit their intuitive and creative thinking – by slowing down their left brain thinking.

    I’m not saying that left brain thinking isn’t good. It is, when appropriate. And I’m not saying that your left hemisphere cannot help in intuitive and creative processes. In fact, the best intuitive/creative thinkers can use their left hemisphere to make more sense out of it. Intuition and creativity alone – without logical thinking – would be incomplete.

    As with any peak performance, whether it’s a physical activity or a mental task, the best comes out when you use both sides of your brain. Accessing the right hemisphere, though, often requires you to stop your left brain from getting in the way.

    Some people are too smart to perform well. Huh? Peak performers in any activity know when to “be smart,” relying on their left brain to think logically and factually while paying attention to the details; they also know when to “dumb down” their left brains and let their right brain operate. To perform at one’s peak, there comes a time when one must almost turn off the thinking brain and just trust the “doing brain” (right hemisphere) to perform in the moment.

    Peak performers strive to get “into the zone.” One definition of being in the zone is that magic moment when your left and right hemispheres work together in perfect harmony, in perfect balance. The left brain is not leading or dominating the right, or vice versa. It’s when you’re aware of the past, looking and thinking about the future, while performing in the moment.

    Power to the Right Brain!

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    More High Speed Learning

    Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

    Entering a corner with the tires at their ragged edge of grip, the surface of the tires tearing away as they slip, grip, slip, grip… sliding across the track… Wheel to wheel with the number 6 car… Both of us striving to be the fastest through this corner and begin accelerating before the other to gain an advantage…

    Number 6 driver turns into the corner and fights his car to get it to follow the line he wants – the ideal, or perfect line. Yeah, that’s the line that should result in the higher speed, all right. But you’ve entered the corner one mile per hour too fast to make it work. You’re not going to be able to make the car follow that line at that speed. You’ve got a choice… and you’ve taken the choice I hoped you’d make. You took the choice that’s going to result in you slowing down your exit speed. Rookie!

    Me, I’m on the same line and that same speed. The difference is I take the other choice. I decide that it’s best not to force the car to the perfect line. I decide that in doing that I’d actually slow the car down. So, instead I compromise. Instead, I let the car run free, run a little wide of the ideal line. But in doing so, I carry more momentum through the turn than you. Watch this, rookie!

    Driving a race car is much like playing music, dancing, painting a picture, or playing any other sport. Or like many other things in life. In the beginning you follow the rules. You copy the masters, trying to match their brush strokes. You play by the book – the playbook. You do as you were told, as you were taught. You do everything you can to do every minute, subtle technique and skill as perfect as possible. You’re a rookie!

    With experience you learn to adapt, though. You learn your own style, not the style of the masters. You learn to improvise.

    Mastering any activity is all about compromises. Listen to a musical group that is totally in the zone and you won’t recognize if and when they make a mistake. Why? Because they are very good at making them. So good that they improvise and adapt so that no one even notices.

    Driving a race car at the limit is all about compromise. The biggest difference between rookies – even experienced racers who don’t win often – and champions is that the champions are better at making mistakes. They’ve made many more mistakes. They are good at making mistakes. Meaning, they know how to minimize the effects of the mistakes. And they don’t fret them. They don’t try to force their cars to do something that will negatively impact them.

    How does this apply to you?

    Striving For Perfection

    Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

    More than once in my life I’ve been accused of being too much of a perfectionist, and of having unrealistically high standards. I’ve always followed the saying, “Perfection may be impossible to achieve, but striving for it is not.”

    Vince Lombardi said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

    I still believe that it’s best to strive for the highest standard you can, to make things the best you possibly can. Strive for perfection. But… there comes a time when you have to balance this pursuit for perfection with reality.

    Imagine that your job is to produce the company’s annual financial plan. You work on it daily, for months. You talk to co-workers, you hold meetings, you send drafts to others for input, you facilitate planning sessions, you write, you brainstorm, you collect ideas, you do research, you… You never finish it. And what good is a plan that is never completed, never communicated and never executed?

    Or, you’re in a dance group. Your group has a performance in three weeks and you’ve just started to learn a new dance – one that you’re going to perform at the performance. You practice it individually, and as a group. You rehearse, and then you rehearse some more. You and your fellow dancers want to perform it perfectly. You get to the point where you’re able to perform this dance perfectly in rehearsal. Then comes the performance, in front of thousands of people, and the musicians are different than the ones you rehearsed with. And they don’t play the way you rehearsed. They don’t play “perfectly.”

    Perhaps, instead of practicing perfection, your dance group should have practiced how to handle things when they “go wrong”?

    When a group of musicians are jamming, how does anyone know if they’ve made a mistake or not? How do you know if they’re perfect or not? You don’t. In fact, their small errors lead to the magic of the jamming, the improvisation. They perfectly improvise.

    Should we strive for perfection, or should we practice improvising? Should we strive for something as close as we can get to perfection, then jump in and execute, learn from that, adapt and improvise, and make the very best of it? When you think of every superstar, no matter what the activity, from sports to music, from business to art, it’s their ability to improvise and adapt that makes them what they are.

    And you can bet that they’re not judging themselves in the moment, criticizing themselves for not being perfect. No, in the moment they’re doing just one thing: Performing, executing, doing.

    I love the line from one of Leonard Cohen songs: “Forget your perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

    Executing or performing a less-than-perfect plan or activity is usually much better than not doing it all because you’re still striving to make it perfect.

    Performance in the Workplace: 6 Performance Rules

    Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

    “I was amazed at how productive it was to take a few minutes once a week to reflect on the performance of my employees, my company, and myself.” That was the most common observation made by participants of my 6-week survey that I conducted during October and November of last year. The overall objective of the Performance in the Workplace study was to discover what factors most influenced performance (both positively and negatively), for managers, employees, and organizations.

    The full report is available for downloading at http://performance-rules.com/resources/. I hope that by providing these study results, more managers, employees, and organizations will work to enhance their performance. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m passionate about helping people, teams, groups and companies perform better, and I know that sharing the findings of this study will help me do that.

    Ultimately, there proved to be six key factors that affected performance, in order of how often they were reported and the apparent impact:

    1. Awareness – Taking a few minutes on a regular schedule to stop and think about performance – what impacts it, what’s working, and what’s not working.
    2. Feedback – Either a lack of feedback (negative) or the existence of it (positive) was evident in the performance ratings.
    3. Expectations – When participants and their employees had clear direction and knew what was expected of them, they performed better.
    4. Focus – Being focused on key issues, challenges and problems, and not getting distracted led to improved performance.
    5. Communication – When there was good communication, performance improved; when communication was restricted (for reasons ranging from being absent to having distractions get in the way), performance suffered.
    6. Organized – When participants took the time to get more organized and schedule projects, they performed better; when they didn’t, performance worsened.

    Because taking a few minutes once a week to stop and reflect on one’s performance had such a powerful impact on people, I intend to tweet a message every now and then to remind followers and friends to do exactly that. Feel free to follow me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/rossbentley) to get a reminder (I plan to tweet about all sorts of performance issues and topics). The awareness that comes from taking time to reflect leads to subtle but definite improvements in performance over time.

    One of the exciting findings of the study was that many managers and organizations are doing things right. They’re focusing on performance and the critical things, they’re providing feedback and expectations, they’re communicating, they’re organized. And because of that, they’re getting good results. That means this can be done! Unfortunately, not all were getting the desired results.

    I’ve been shouting about managers who don’t provide enough feedback and clear expectations for a long time now, and it was interesting to see these factors identified as impacting performance.

    My experience has been that many managers claim to provide clear expectations to their employees, and yet the employees will tell you their expectations aren’t clear. Same with feedback – employees are almost always asking for more feedback. Most only get it when they’ve made a mistake – they only get corrective feedback. And yet people managers should provide at least four times as much confirming feedback as they do corrective feedback.

    I encourage you to take a few minutes and reflect on your performance – at work, at home, in your hobby, sport, or whatever. Not just how you’re doing, but why. Then think about those around you, and whether you can use the six “Performance Rules” above to improve your performance, and that of the people around you.

    There you go… Six Performance Rules that can lead to better performance in the workplace.