Saturday, July 21, 2012

Improving on "know thyself"

Do you know who you are?
Do you accept who you are?
HBR author Anthony Tjan wrote a great post entitled "How leaders become self-aware."  To be honest, his title lacks pull but his article although short is incredibly practical and relevant.

He expands the well known maxim, "know thyself," to include improve thyself, and complement thyself.  After gaining an understanding (and acceptance) of your key strengths and personality, you should evaluate your past actions and decisions in order to learn from your own mistakes.

Tjan states that famed investor Warren Buffett makes it a habit to write down the reasons for an important and difficult decision.  In a tumultuous field such as the stock market, being able to revisit those decisions 9-12 months later provides feedback in a unique way.

Lastly, just as no two people are alike on this planet, you should strive to find close friends and family members who complement your personality and strengths.  The best teams are made of varied roles and people.  As you journey through life, you also are provided the opportunity to learn from others and expand and grow as an individual (thus circling back to the first step, "know thyself").

1.  Using 3-5 sentences write down on an index card your core personality, strengths, and interests.
2.  Review that card throughout this week and find other colleagues and friends who bring out the best in you, make you happier, and help you accomplish the most important things in your life.
3.  At your next critical decision, take the extra time to articulate your entire reasons for and against a decision.  9-12 months after, or the next January 1, review the meaty life decisions you've made and reflect on your (mis)understanding of yourself.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Staying grounded

" 'How can you call yourself a free man when your weakness has brought you to this? If a man has in himself the soul of a slave will he not become one no matter what his birth, even as water seeks its level? If a man has within him the soul of a free man, will he not become respected and honoured in has own city in spite of his misfortune?'
…For over a year I was a slave and lived with the slaves, but I could not become as one of them. One day Sira asked me, 'In the even time when the other slaves can mingle and enjoy the society of each other, why dost thou sit in thy tent alone?' "To which I responded, 'I am pondering what you have said to me. I wonder if I have the soul of a slave. I cannot join them, so I must sit apart.' ” -Richest Man in Babylon
Social mimicry and the influence of our peers has been studied in a variety of settings. Dutch scientists revealed earlier this year that when pairs of women ate together, they mimicked each other’s eating behavior. Study participants were more likely to take a bite when their eating companion did rather than eating at their own pace. Other anecdotal evidence of behavioral influence includes interviews with prison inmates who attributed their crimes to the negative influence of certain friends. Ex-marines quickly became out of shape and were more likely to adopt the fitness and eating patterns of their associated peers. High level employees at Enron confessed that the business culture tacitly encouraged immoral business practice. When I read through The Richest Man in Babylon, the excerpt above gently persisted in my subconscious. Am I really who I claim (or want to be)? Or am I what people expect me to be, or am I a combination of the two? 

Mark Zuckerburg's (Facebook) desk
Rhodes Scholar and HBR leading business management mind Clayton Christensen confessed that many of his fellow scholars did not intend to end up in jail or get divorced. How do you keep yourself grounded? I don’t think there is one answer that will work for everyone. Meditation, personal mission statements, corporate vision, prayer, support groups, and quotes all can help us keep sight of the big picture and not get buffeted by the storms of life. Stephen Covey’s quintessential book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People begins with self discovery and crafting of a personal mission statement. I have found this exercise (and his book) to be helpful and I recommend it to others who are looking for a place to start.

1. Develop a tool, practice, or ritual that helps you remember your most important priorities and your most important parts of self.
 2. Commit to regular review of these things.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Off the grid...

Living without power or internet in 100+ degree weather the past four days has been an eye opening experience in a lot ways.  If you've ever traveled or lived in other parts of the world (or VA, MD, DC in more recent times...) you probably agree that there is a great synergy between  discomfort, removing distractions, and living more meaningfully in the present.

These past few days I have experienced a significantly slower pace of life.  With fewer opportunities to get distracted, time has dramatically slowed.  Furthermore, being at the whim of nature and having to encounter uncertainty and discomfort in locating sources of restaurants, gas stations that still worked, a/c, internet, and power to recharge phones helped ground me in the present.  I was acutely aware of how hot, sweaty, uncomfortable I was.  I was acutely aware of how good a Quizno's sub was after unsuccessfully trying to find a place to eat.  And the pure bliss of sitting in an air-conditioned supermarket is something that I can still relish after having regained power.

Peter Schwartz recently posted on HBR an article entitled, "How hard are you willing to push yourself?"  Rather than another article decrying American laziness and the loss of work ethic, Schwartz' own experiences focus the article at the individual level.  He argues that humans have through multiple generations evolved to avoid pain and move towards pleasure--neither of which are suited for delayed gratification.  (As demonstrated by the Stanford experiment involving children and marshmallows, success has been tied to individuals who are able to delay gratification.)  

To solve the challenge of delaying gratification, Schwartz poses three solutions:

1.  Minimize temptation.  Newer research has demonsrated that willpower exhausts just like a muscle.  Losing power and internet was a blessing in disguise because I would have never had the willpower to cut myself off for four days.  However, having gone through such an ascetic diet, I feel that I am more able to walk away from or remove distractions.

2. Push yourself to discomfort for short, specific periods of time.  

3. Build energy rituals. (understand your energy peaks and ebbs).

In order to get better at something and achieve excellence, we will have to be willing to sacrifice instant gratification, and endure discomfort to some degree.  As difficult as it may be to take small or drastic steps to remove distractions, I hope that you can be more engaged in present and be able to prioritize the actions and relationships which will help you become the person you want to be.  

1.  Would you benefit more from adding something new to your living experience, or taking something away?    To help you answer that question, picture who you want to be and think about what is keeping you from getting there.
2.  How will an awareness of (dis)comfort help you accomplish the big goals in your life?  Take an inventory to determine the biggest factor hindering you.