The Power of Others

My brother, my partner, a friend and I sat around the table furrowing our brows at our respective cards. My partner and I were on the verge of winning a highly competitive game of Spades. Highly competitive because my brother and my partner are highly competitive people. The friend and I served as participants in their competition. I hadn’t played Spades in decades, the friend had never played at all.

In the version of Spades we played, you communicate to your partner and the table how many hands you think you can win at the beginning of each round. If you are focused on the others at the table, you can gain a significant amount of information:

  • How strong is their hand? Do they have a lot of high cards?
  • How strong is your partner’s hand?
  • Are they going to try to do something fancy – such as try to win NO hands – to get themselves more points?

My partner and I had a couple of advantages over my brother and our friend.

  • I had played before (admittedly a long time ago and I wasn’t very good).
  • My partner and I live together and know each other VERY well. I could use that information to interpret what was going on during game play and help his position if he is looking to win or lose a hand.
  • I also know my brother well enough to predict some of his moves.

This background knowledge allowed me to focus more on what others were doing and how they were playing the game. I could then make decisions based on that information. It wasn’t about me winning hands.

Successful change, whether personal or professional, starts from where you are at and continues based on what you are observing in the environment.

It’s not about “beating” someone else. Even in our highly competitive Spades game, everyone stayed more focused on quality time together and having fun in each other’s company over winning hands. No temper-tantrums ensued (thankfully). We all stayed focus on the reason for the game.

What we each did was observe, check our initial strategy against our individual and collective objective, decide what to do, then act based on that information.

Result – a fun evening and a stronger bond.


Resources:

Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff, The Right Game: Use Game Theory to Shape Strategy, Harvard Business Review, March-April 1995.

Looking at the Time Dimension

“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.” 

Bill Gates

We can only act in the present moment.

We only have certainty right now.

We can only decide what to do next from where we currently stand.

We can base our decisions on where we want to go in the future.

If I take this next step – will this move me towards or away from my desired destination?

Clarity only exists in the immediate.

I only have certainty that I will perform the next task.

I can plan my to-do list for today. Whether I am successful in crossing anything off may be another story – and that’s OK.

Slightly more challenging is figuring out what I need to get done this week. I can set time aside in my schedule and try to scope the work to fit the time I have. A lot can happen in a week that we don’t expect.

Same thing with the month, the quarter, the year, and other, longer periods of time.

We lose clarity the farther out we go on the time scale.

That’s OK.

More importantly is whether you are headed in the direction you desire and that you are clear on why you are headed in that direction.

As much as we wish that our dreams would manifest instantaneously – creation takes time. Often more time than we would wish.

Life happens, energy fluctuates, we make our estimates based on our best-case scenario with our current environment staying static.

This is why we tend to over-estimate what we can accomplish in a year and under-estimate what we can accomplish in 10 years.

We feel we can get more “done” than we actually can. We over-estimate our time and energy and under-estimate the amount of change in our immediate environment.

However, if we continue to move forward, weaving between the trees and finding the shallow spots in the creeks, we can find ourselves having accomplished more than we ever dreamed of.

Evolution Happens – How You Can Work With It

How is your life different from last year?

How is your life different from 5 years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago? Since you left college (or high school)?

How has your life evolved over time?

Is it an orderly progression of steps towards mastery?

Is it a series of plateaus punctuated by periods of change and confusion?

Are you where you thought you would be?

Did everything go according to plan?

Did you find challenges you didn’t expect?

We continue growing and developing as we age.

We’re not stuck with our initial decisions around “what we’re going to be when we grow up.”

We learn new things through experience – especially if we allow ourselves time to reflect on that experience.

If we manage to get some clarity around what we want our life to look like in the future, we’re able to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.

We don’t have to wait for a wrenching event outside of our control to move towards our desired future.

We may be able to evolve more gently.

How can you ease into your future?

Can you combine what you are doing now and leverage your existing skills and experience with what you want in your future?

Can you set aside some time to make future-building a priority? Are there particular skills you will need that requires more concentration than combination will allow?

As you ease into your future, what will you ultimately need to let go of?

What will you need to prepare to say “no” to?

What obligations and contracts will you need to break?

What relationships need to change? What relationships may need to be abandoned?

In an ideal world, we are all doing this evolution mindfully.

We are taking responsibility for our experience of life and for what our life looks like.

Often, we’re reacting to what life throws at us. That’s OK. We can’t predict all-the-things and we control very little.

The best we can do is take one more step towards our desired future.

Look around and see whether an opportunity has surfaced that helps us along the way.

Occasionally discard things from the pack that weigh us down.

And continually check to make sure we are still going in the direction of our dreams.

Approaching Major Change

I was chatting with a friend a few weeks back. We started talking about how to handle conflicting major goals.

As I reflected on the conversation, I realized that in my life, I’ve handled major (somewhat planned) change using these three approaches:

  1. Combination.  Can I combine goals or activitie?
    • Example: If one goal is “Live in New Zealand for a few years” and another goal is “Become an herbalist” – maybe I can combine the goals “Study Maori traditional medicine in New Zealand.”
  2. Periodization.  This is the approach cited by those (like myself) who are big fans of focus and prioritization.  I find it works best for goals I can chunk into small steps and can tackle separately. 
    • Example: If a goal is to change careers to be able to spend more time with family: I can focus one period on getting clear on the transition, the next period on any necessary schooling (maybe further breaking that process down into the various skills required), the next period on working with a mentor to practice these new skills, the period after that practicing something specific, etc.
  3. Evolution. This is the process of combining old and new and is often done accidentally. 
    • Example: When I transitioned from History to IT, this was done via evolution (albeit not very planned). I had teaching skills I picked up when I served as a History Graduate Assistant and moved those to a new context (IT and corporate work). I let go of the old History context.  As my career evolved and opportunities arose, I would pick things up (e.g. project management) and let things go (e.g. eLearning development). 

I’m going to talk about each of these approaches and how they might combine over the next few posts.