Why Stability is Important

In the discussions around “digital transformation” and “innovation” and “agility” and our “VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world” – we forget that safety and security is a significant human need.

Instead, the discussion centers around how we all need to be more innovative, agile, flexible, and better able to cope with chaos.

I think we are missing the mark.

I also think that we can’t currently rely on organizations, of any sort, to provide any sort of stability.

They are too busy being “digitally transformed,” “disrupted,” “agile,” “innovative,” etc.

The only place we can establish stability is in our individual centers.

The best gift we can give is to help each other develop their individual centers.

Stability can be found within our selves and through the development of healthy relationships.

From there, we can pivot and flex to adapt to environmental demands.

We can also mindfully choose which demands we intend to address.

“Stability” has gotten a bad rap of late. And I would agree that leaning too far in that direction is not helpful.

However, we may have swung the conversation, and our actions, too far in the other direction.

We have a much better chance of being agile, innovative, and flexible if we have a solid platform to work from.


Resources:

HBR: If You Want Engaged Employees – Offer Them Stability (freemium article) – Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Organizational Development specialist. She argues that providing employees with a sense of stability will improve performance and culture.

Human Capital Institute: How Leaders Can Manage Organizational Stability to Inspire Loyalty (article) – This article includes some interesting questions around the ROI for the employee and being clear on whether loyalty is an important value for your company – or not.

Forbes: What It Means to Have a Culture of Stability – A more traditional perspective on “stability” and its benefits and hazards.

The Step Before the System

Perks are great, but they are detached from the day-to-day.

Often, perks are a way to “shield” managers and executives from the sticky task of creating a healthy, humane, and sustainable day-to-day environment.

“We have a wellness program, what’s your problem?”

What if you have me on so many disparate projects that I don’t have time for your “wellness” program?


There is a need for a deeper conversation about work, what an organization is and its role in our world, how we decide what activities to pursue, and the relationship between customer, employee, and organization.

We have wellness programs – yet the disengagement, burnout, anxiety, and depression statistics are frightening.

We have wellness programs – yet only 1/5 – 2/5 of employees use them, even with incentives and punishments.

I’m not saying that wellness programs are bad. Not at all.

They are a tool in the toolkit and evidence that the organization is at least thinking about the importance of employee health and its importance in achieving organizational goals.

I am just asking for a deeper conversation.

One where we stop talking about workplace wellness as something separate and apart from the work itself.

Much of our issue with workplace wellness is, in my opinion, an issue of prioritization and trying to do too much at once.

Much of our issue with workplace wellness is, in many people’s opinion (most notably Gallup), an issue of management and leadership (or lack thereof).

The wellness programs are helpful.

But if your employees have no time to use your wellness program resources, or, even if they ARE able to use those resources, they work in an environment that doesn’t reinforce their attempts at self-care, the wellness program becomes a shiny, expensive pink elephant.


Resources:

Harvard Business Review – What Wellness Programs Don’t Do for Workers (Article). This article got me thinking further about the workplace and why working conditions for knowledge workers seem to be deteriorating even though we have tons of research and writing about employee engagement, employee health, and the importance of both for creativity and innovation.

World Health Organization – Stress at Work (Article). When workplace stress and burnout catches the attention of the World Health Organization, you know it’s bad.

Personal Observations on Burnout (Blog Posts) – As you know, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. We can do better.

What Are You Amplifying?

What are you amplifying?

All that is “wrong” with the world?

All that is “right”?

All that you want?

All that you don’t?

Oneness or separation?

Love or hatred?

Joy or sorrow?

It’s become clear, to me at least, that it’s time to become mindful and careful about what we are amplifying.

We have been seeing it in the conversations around Facebook, “fake news” and “deep fakes.”

We see it in our Amazon experience.

We see it in the ads that are served to us as we surf the Net.

Each time you click something, buy something, watch something, pause on something – you are amplifying.

Artificial intelligence and quantum computing algorithms begin to shape your world based on what you are paying attention to.

Complicating matters, we are hard-wired to focus on the dangerous and negative. Marketers and those who wish to spread their message know this and act accordingly.

We’re easily manipulated, even when we are doing our best to be mindful.

Think about a time that was traumatic and dramatic.

Now try to remember a time where all was well in your world and everything was peaceful.

How quickly did you remember the trauma and the drama?

How hard was it to remember a peaceful time?

Think about the news? How much of it is trauma and drama?

How much of it is positive?

So much is competing for our attention and doing so in ways that are noisy and negative. Our brains like that.

We are going to keep being fed the noisy and negative – because that is what we are amplifying.

What do you want to do to break the cycle? Change what gets amplified?

What we pay attention to is going to shape our world.

What world do you want to live in?


Resources:

I find that when a topic begins to cross my path repeatedly, it’s time to pay attention. Quantum computing, recently, has been that topic.

What makes Quantum Computing so interesting, and scary, is that it potentially takes information and either amplifies or cancels it. We are seeing this work in current AI algorithms using binary (classical) programming and current technologies.

Introduction to Quantum Computing (Lynda.com – non-affiliate link, 60 minutes) This is the Lynda.com tutorial that got me thinking about Amplification. Mid-way through, one of the experts mentioned waves, troughs, and how they amplify and cancel each other. She mentioned that this concept is being leveraged in Quantum Computing and AI applications.

The Grand Challenge and Promise of Quantum Computing (GoTo 2019, 45 minutes) A clear explanation of what quantum computing is and potential applications.

Tristan Harris – How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds (Medium article) Tristan Harris was a technology ethicist at Google. He describes the “behind the scenes” of how technologies are being leveraged to take over our attention.

What ‘Decision Criteria’ Looks Like in Action

I’m going to share some of my decision criteria when faced with choices.

Remember the 4 questions from last week:

  • What area of your life are you focusing on right now?
  • What are your goals – long and short-term?
  • Which relationships are important to you?
  • What values do you wish to demonstrate?

Here are my current answers to these questions:

  • What area of your life are you focusing on right now?
    • I am currently focusing on career and my business.
    • If something comes up in regards to my health (mental or physical) or my family, I will change my focus.
  • What are your goals – long and short-term?
    • My short-term goal is to embed with a team. I enjoy working solo, but I learn when I work in a collective. The evaluation process has two questions:
      • Will I enjoy spending time with these people?
      • Do I align with what they are trying to accomplish?
      • What do I think I will learn from this engagement?
    • My long-term goal is to develop expertise in change management – both personal and organizational
      • I have some already from my years as an educator and project manager, but I feel that the paradigm is shifting and some of the old-school theories provide only partial answers
      • I have theories from my time away from the collective and research. It’s time to put the theories into practice.
    • The decision-making process will bias the long-term. I am working to establish a solid foundation for this next phase of my working life.
    • The big vision is to establish something that can follow me anywhere, provide value no matter what my age, health, and energy levels, and is independent of the vicissitudes of the economy and the workplace.
  • Which relationships are important to you?
    • Family and partner first. Who do I want to show up at my funeral and say nice things about me?
    • A big question with each opportunity – How will this help me practice developing positive, healthy relationships? It’s a test in how strong I can make bonds.
    • Another question – What am I attracting? What am I seeing in these people? We spend most of our waking hours in the workplace. Life is too short to spend your days with assholes.
  • What values do you wish to demonstrate?
    • Am I learning something through this engagement? Is it something I actually WANT to learn? (Learning)
    • What work am I supporting? Do I agree with their vision of the future? (Integrity)
    • Can I bring my whole self into this engagement? (Integrity)
    • Am I clear on how this choice will impact my relationship with those who are most important to me? (Family)

There are a few other questions I am also asking as I size up my choices:

  • What is the opportunity cost if I take this opportunity?
    • What gets deprioritized?
    • What will I NOT be able to say “Yes” to?
  • What are the “success criteria” for this opportunity?
    • What do I want to get out of this experience?
    • What are their expectations of me? Are they realistic?
      • I am retiring from playing the “rescuer.” This goes for both individuals and organizations.
  • Am I clear on “scope of work?” Is this something that plays to my strengths?
    • I’m a researcher and educator at heart. Seeing what is lying around and using that to prototype solutions to a problem is my happy place.
    • Clients inform me I am great at seeing patterns and identifying actionable steps.
    • I need help with sales, marketing, and extrovert skills and I am best when surrounded by people with these talents.
  • Am I clear on my “outs?”
    • I’m nearing 50. Life is too short to continually bang my head against the wall.
    • There are environments where it’s not worth wasting my (or their) time in trying to engage. I’m (slowly) learning how to identify these environments early – ideally before I say “yes.” It’s a work-in-progress.

These questions sound very career-driven and group-focused, but they also apply to other areas.

I’ve used variations on these questions for workout programs, nutrition initiatives, hobbies, and other personal endeavors.

  • Do I like the environment I am in as I engage in this activity?
  • Do I like the people in this culture and the guidance I am receiving?
  • Am I getting the results I am expecting from this experience? Both short and long-term?
  • Is the time I am spending on this activity enjoyable?
  • Am I clear on when I should stop because it isn’t working for me?

Your questions, values, period-of-life, and circumstances are likely different.

It may be worthwhile to sit down and determine what are the important questions you have to ask yourself when you make a decision.

Developing Decision Criteria

When faced with a new idea – what decision criteria are you using?

Have you defined it?

Or are you just saying “yes” to whatever is in front of you?

Not that saying “yes” to whatever is in front of you is a bad thing. At certain times of life, it’s a great way to discover new interests, have new experiences, and learn a lot very quickly (including a lot about things you never want to do again).

However, many of us default to “yes” because we can’t think of a better option, we want to please someone else/get them out of our hair, or we haven’t figured out any decision criteria to say yes/no against.

Your decision criteria should be based on what is important to you.

  • What area of your life are you focusing on right now?
  • What are your goals – long and short-term?
  • Which relationships are important to you?
  • What values do you wish to demonstrate?

For example, one of my decision criteria centers around “How does this impact my relationship with my family?”

Do I have a previous family obligation that the opportunity impacts? That’s a hard “no” in my book.

Is it unclear what the impact will be? That’s an “I’ll get back to you by [date/time] with a decision (and/or alternative).”

Your decision criteria will likely be different.

It will likely change as you move through life.

You may find previously set decision criteria no longer apply (ie. your kids leaving the house, so you no longer need to worry about driving them around).

You may find that your defined decision criteria doesn’t work for you and you need to iterate again. That’s OK too. There’s a lot of noise telling us about all the things we “should” do.

Start with something simple. A clear yes/no answer for you.

Being clear on your decision criteria pays big dividends in making room for the people and experiences you value.


I’m doing a quick poll on my Facebook Business Page.

What specific topics should I cover in Dealing with Ideas that Distract? The course will be 3-weeks and the videos will be 1 hour long with an hour of live Q&A.

Comment by number. Choose your top 3.
1) How to intake a new idea
2) Saying “no”
3) Periodization – what should I focus on during this period?
4) Important vs. Urgent – Telling the difference
5) When should the new idea take priority and how to pivot
6) Scheduling and Backlogs – Making room for new ideas

You can respond here or on Facebook. I personally moderate the comments on this blog so it may take a few hours for your comment to appear on this page.

Thank you for your feedback.

Move to the New or Stick with the Old?

When you have hit a sticky part of your project and a new opportunity or idea presents itself, what is your default?

Do you quickly move to the new and get started – abandoning the thing that you were trying to do?

OR

Do you keep plugging away at what you are doing, even if the new thing is a better way to get there?

Many of my clients are in the first group. My more ambitious clients try to do both the new AND the old, then wonder why they finish neither of them and have a pile of unfinished projects in front of them.

I, and a few of my other clients, land in the second group – doggedly executing that original plan, even if the new idea is a better way to get there, then wondering why we’re burnt out and regretful.

In more mindful moments, you can make that choice conscious.

In this age of busy, and with the increased pressure to “do it all,” it’s even more important that you get clear on the opportunity cost of saying “yes.”

It’s important to pause long enough to see whether the option in front of you provides a better way to get you where you want to go than what you are currently doing.


I’m in the process of developing a new course on Dealing with Distracting Ideas and I need your feedback.

  • What questions do you have about setting priorities and maintaining focus?
  • What outcomes do you expect from this course?
  • What topics would you love for the course to cover?

Please add your comments below. The comments are personally moderated and will appear after I read them.

Thank you for your help.

Dealing with the Siren Song of Distraction

It was amazing.

The deeper I got into the book writing process, the more I wanted to distract myself.

I had to keep reminding myself that we were past the point of “just one more source” and keep writing.

I had a couple of epic ideas that just wouldn’t die, despite my attempts to keep them in the backlog or just say “no.” They kept demanding “research” and “ideation” and “action.”

These distractions come at a cost.

The cost is the energy and time it takes to get the thing I started done.

The cost is the risk that I will NEVER manifest the thing I want to manifest.

There are two parts to opportunity cost.

The first part is the cost to take advantage of the opportunity presented.

The second, and most overlooked, part is the cost of the opportunities we cannot take because we are working on THIS opportunity.

Remember: we live in a time and in a culture where opportunities are abundant (despite pressure to believe otherwise) and personal time, energy, and resilience are scarce.

So what do you DO with this siren song?

First, recognize that the siren song isn’t going to stop.

I’ve personally found that the more important the project I am working on is, the louder that song becomes.

Second, ask whether the siren song is just another, sneakier, form of resistance or whether you need to ask deeper questions about your current project.

The appeal of the siren song is a test of why you are doing your current project.

Is the siren song attractive because you have hit a rough patch? Or is the new idea truly a better option?

Third, how urgent is the siren song? Are you truly staring at a “once-in-a-lifetime” “first-mover” “never-gonna-happen-again-unless-you-act-right-now” opportunity?


I’m in the process of putting together a course on this topic and would love your feedback.

  • What questions do you have about setting priorities and maintaining focus?
  • What outcomes do you expect from this course?
  • What topics would you love for the course to cover?

Add your comments. The comments are personally moderated, so I will see them before they post. Thank you for your help.

Busyness – Not Just You

When we’re busy and have that high-octane, panicked feeling that time is scarce …our attention and ability to focus narrows. Behavioral researchers call this phenomenon “tunneling.” And, like being in a tunnel, we’re only able to concentrate on the most immediate, and often low value, tasks right in front of us. (Research has found we actually lose about 13 IQ points in this state.) We run around putting out fires all day, racing to meetings, plowing through emails, and getting to 5 or 6 PM with the sick realization that we haven’t even started our most important work of the day.

Brigid Schulte’s brilliant summary of the impact of busyness from her article Preventing Busyness from Becoming Burnout, Harvard Business Review.

Not mentioned in Schulte’s article is how addicting this level of focus is. I suspect, for many, tunneling is the only form of meditation practice they have.

There’s also an adrenaline rush that comes from being busy. For those of us who work on projects, remember the rush of “crunch time?”

Add the fact that our culture rewards the perception of busyness and is it any wonder most of us are running around ineffective, frustrated, and burned out.

We can look at the trend of busyness through the lens of Ken Wilber’s “All Quadrants” framework:

  • I – Your interpretation + what you get out of “being busy”
  • We – The social “busyness” expectation
  • It – Reacting to others’ behaviors (such as the late night/weekend email from your boss)
  • Its – The systems that keep us “busy” – from weekly status meetings to instant messengers and notifications,

There are some system-level interventions we can use to slow down the treadmill – IM blockers, blocking slack time on our calendars, task visibility – but there is something deeper at work here.

What ARE you getting out of seeming “busy” all the time?

Is there a feeling of “belonging?”

Is it a convenient excuse?

Are you fearing loss of reputation?

If you are not “busy,” do you fear you won’t have value?

Or that you will be seen as “less than?” Or “not in demand?”

If you are not busy, will it force you to look at your life and face some hard truths that you really don’t want to see?

Does busyness allow you to avoid taking responsibility for your life and blame something else for your unhappiness?

Unless you are clear on what you get out of being busy, it’s going to be difficult to step off the hamster wheel.