Most of us like it when things go our way. That’s just human nature. But always doing just what we want whenever we want isn’t always good for us. As Dr. M. Scott Peck pointed out on page 53 of his mega-bestseller, The Road Less Traveled, “It is natural to defecate in our pants and never brush our teeth. Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural until it becomes second nature.”
Experience has taught me that if I really want to maximize opportunities and outcomes, I need to ignore my immediate desire to take charge and instead think about how I might use compromise in order to optimize. This means learning to go against my nature and letting go of my natural human desire to have everything go my way.
This life lesson has served me well through the years—both personally and professionally. I can’t possibly count the times that an event, an evening, an outcome, a relationship or an experience wasn’t in some way improved because I chose to not assert my will on something.
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There’s an old Gershwin song called “It Ain’t Necessarily So.” This phrase is more true in our lives than we might want to believe. Whether we find ourselves defending something we believe to be true or we’re fighting for it—what we’re really emotionally attached to is our version of the truth. Our version is the one we identify with. Those who market to us, both in business and politics, understand this natural human tendency and exploit it to their advantage.
A case in point: on the surface, nothing is wrong with this picture. This crate was “Made in the USA,” and proudly announces as much on the side. It’s obviously designed to appeal to the patriotic American.
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As one who studies cultures as a professional, I pay particular attention not only to what people say, but how and why they say things.
When I begin working with a new client, I listen to how the people in the organization refer to themselves and to others. For example, if they use the pronoun ‘we’, even if they are talking about someone who works in an unrelated department, it is a possible indicator that their company culture is fairly strong. If, however, employees refer to other employees and other departments as ‘they’, it could indicate that there is a lack of unity in the organization. Of course these are merely potential indicators.
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When organizations need to improve efficiencies and productivity, they often rely on new policies or updated procedures to meet their goals. Unfortunately, policies and procedures alone are not enough to create the desired outcome. It is only when the people who are supposed to follow those policies and procedures learn how to do so with a common approach that efficiency and productivity soar.
I was recently flown to Hawaii to do some work for the Navy. One of my charges during my visit was to serve Admiral Dixon Smith and Captain James Kitchens in their efforts to create Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Those who know their history will be aware that while Pearl Harbor is a Navy base, Hickam is an Air Force base. As part of a major restructuring and downsizing of our military bases, it has been determined that these two bases will soon be run as one under Navy command.
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Why Worry? Success Strategy #14: At least 90% of everything you’ve ever worried about never even happened.
We waste so much energy worrying about things that we not only cannot control, but will never even happen. Think about it…even if they do happen, will worrying about it prevent it from happening or make things any better?
When we let our ‘fear fantasies’ win out against ‘raw realities’ we usually come out the loser. When we worry about what might happen, we put fear in the driver seat. Remember that concern is valuable, worry is debilitating. Concern pulls our focus from the fear fantasy of future doom and instead puts it on what we can or should do in the current moment. Concern is a natural and important context for channeling our energy so we can appropriately confront and address the best course of action to deal with or mitigate our fears.
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You may be tuning in to the Winter Olympics in the evenings, which of course are taking place in Canada this year. Living in Grosse Ile, my proximity to Canada gives me occasion to visit our lovely neighbors to the north from time to time.
On one such visit, I saw a sign as I came out of a car wash that said, “If you are not satisfied…we will rewash your vehicle. No questions asked.”
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How many times have you been in a place where they had a yellow plastic cone in an area of high foot-traffic with the words, “Caution, wet floor…Cuidado, piso mojado,” and the floor was perfectly dry? It happens often enough that we walk right through the “wet area” without thinking about it.
More often than not, the only hazard is the one the cone creates as you try to maneuver around it. How many times have you taken an exit ramp at a speed above the caution speed and lived to tell the tale? In fact, how many times do you even consider that you’re doing it?
Our disregard for warning signs is part of our make-up. Most times, it doesn’t create much of a problem. However, sometimes it creates big problems. I’m not suggesting we heed every sign. I am suggesting we raise our awareness about when we’re ignoring them because while all shouldn’t be believed, some shouldn’t be ignored.
Send us your pictures of signs!
How we define our circumstances can help us either solve problems or exacerbate them.
In January of 2002, Robert McNamara, who was the Secretary of Defense for John F. Kennedy, said that the decision to enter Vietnam was based on an incorrect appraisal.
Think about it. It’s estimated that over one million people lost their lives in the Vietnam Wa—all because of an “incorrect appraisal.”
I’m not making a statement about politics or peace here. That’s not what I do. I’m simply using this example to illustrate that we as human beings assess problems and potential problems, threats and potential threats, numerous times nearly every day of our lives. We then base decisions and actions on those assessments. As a result one of two things can happen: problems get solved and threats are averted; OR we create even bigger problems—problems that can cost millions of lives, millions of dollars, or millions of jobs. Or they just make us miserable.
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Why are we so dismissive of the signs around us?
Contrary to what we’d like to believe, most of us don’t behave congruently to what is shown to us. In fact we often disregard or even completely ignore what we see. For example, the picture above shows boxes containing stained glass, clearly something that shouldn’t be stacked, hence the “Do Not Stack” warning printed prominently on the box.
Why do we do this? Part of the reason is advertising. As buyers, we have been conditioned to disregard the claim of the product or service being promoted. Consider the Big Mac, a sandwich served millions of times a day around the world, and promoted through advertising just as often.
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For those of you that know me or have read or listened to my work, you know that the core of my work is about focusing in on how individuals and organizations define themselves in relations to others. I focus on self-definitions, and the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves—again, both individually and organizationally.
It has always been difficult for me to explain to those who aren’t familiar with my work how what I do is different from how most consultants work. While my processes are fairly consistent, each client is unique and therefore must be approached differently.
I have finally culled the essential and critical aspects of the process I bring to my clients in the simplest manner yet. I’m excited to share this with everyone who is interested, as I believe it is the reason my consulting work has succeeded so consistently with so many different clients regardless of their respective challenges.
We have decided to devote an entire page on the website to explain the intricate and inextricable human sequence that drives all individual and organizational behavior. It is the key to changing outcomes because it focuses first on meaning and definition, literally changing hearts and minds, before it provides solutions and recommends changes.
This is the key: Self-definition drives perception. Perception helps create what something means. We then behave to what we’ve defined, the way we define it.
My work starts in the beginning of this sequence, which I believe distinguishes it from what most consultants provide. Once definitions and meaning shift, people naturally behave according to the new understanding. Trying to change people’s behavior without changing the way they understand things will only bring a modicum of success, or more likely continuing frustration.
To learn more, feel free to check out the page on the Caruso Leadership website: http://www.carusoleadership.com/about/
I am opening up comments for this blog post, as I hope to constantly improve the message. I wish all of you a very happy 2010 – make it an undeniable year!