Category Archives: Creativity

Rules vs. Results

We were all trained as children to “follow the rules.” But should our teachers have taught us how to decide when to break the rules? (Yes.)

Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal spent years studying managers and seeking out the habits and characteristics that separate “purposeful managers” (only 10% of all of them) from the frenzied, dTiger Woodsetached, and procrastinators. Their findings are collected in A Bias For Action (2004).

One of their most interesting insights is that successful managers know when to “break the rules” to reach critical organizational goals.

They write:
“Purposeful managers take an active stance when it comes to formal regulations and informal rules developed through cultural norms, habits, and shared expectations. Not only do they question rules that they deem outdated or inappropriate, but they also break or circumvent the rules when it’s absolutely necessary for achieving their goals.”

Sometimes, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I getting paid to do things the way my boss and her boss would like me to do them, or am I getting paid to give my boss and her boss the results they want to see?” Bruch and Ghoshal’s research reveals that the most successful 10% of managers prioritize results over following protocol.

What rule – either formal or informal – are you letting stand in the way of your optimum performance?

Advertisements

Sustaining “Pure” Self-Confidence

My most recent article over at Lifehack.org tells about the “life list” my 7 year-old son has been composing over the last couple of months – on his own. I stumbled across his list about a week ago (modeled after John Goddard’s life list), and it has led me to ponder the question, “What difference do goals make, anyway?”

I recall hearing a terrific quotation from David Allen about goals. He said: “The value of goals is not the future they describe, but the change in perception of reality they foster, and the change in performance they effect right now, inside of you.”

hell freezes over(Re-read that quotation… it’s a great one.)

I love that my son believes that anything he can dream is possible. I love that that’s his reality. (“It’s not over, Daddy,” he says frequently, when watching a sports event whose outcome seems obvious. “Anything can happen.”) His life list reflects his expectation that he will eventually fulfill his loftiest aspirations (whether this is accurate or not is irrelevant) and if David Allen’s quotation is accurate, today and tomorrow he’ll “perform” with the pure self-confidence that fuels all great lives.

My challenge as his parent is this: How can I help him sustain his self-confidence, optimism, and possibility-thinking and carry it into adolescence and adulthood?

(To read my original article, My 7 Year-Old Son’s Life Listclick here.)

What if Muhammad Ali Believed He Would Fail?

Ali pounds ListonI recently posted an article over at Lifehack.org about the motivational potency of reminding myself, “Not exercising is like taking a brain damage pill.”

This got me thinking about the importance of how we talk to ourselves inside our own heads. Don’t think it’s that big a deal? Consider this question:

How would the history of sports be different if Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicklaus, Muhammad Ali, Joe Montana, Nadia Comaneci, David Ortiz, and Michael Jordan all had the habit of thinking to themselves, “You’re going to choke – you can’t do it – here comes disaster!” just prior to the most critical moments in their athletic careers?

An absurd notion, I know — which underscores the fundamental power of the words we use (and don’t use) in our heads, every moment of every day.

What if We Were Starting From Scratch?

building a wallAnother compelling way to think about investing your “100 marbles” is to ask, “If we were starting this company (or rock band, or non-profit, or department, or marriage) from scratch, how would we build it?”

This question is markedly different from the question, “How would we change our marble allocation to improve results?” The starting from scratch question offers the metaphor of a clean slate – a blank page – a new beginning.

It forces us reexamine the questions, “What’s the point of our company (or non-profit, etc.) anyway? What are we trying to accomplish? And what are the proven, leading-edge methods for accomplishing this?” Rather than thinking about merely adjusting current strategy, staffing, and spending (which implies incremental improvement), the starting from scratch question liberates us to choose an entirely different tack – or an entirely different goal.

Thinking about adjustments tethers us to the current reality (“Add a part-time staff member; Spend 30 more minutes per day talking with customers; Increase the marketing budget”). But talking about starting from scratch unhinges us from the current budget, the current staffing model, and all of our current routines. We can ask, “How would we staff our organization to achieve optimum results?” and “What kinds of people would we hire?” and “What would these people spend most of their time doing?”

And the answers might require us not to simply “add a sax player,” but to fire everybody in the band and hire new musicians — at least one of whom can drive the band’s bus to out-of-town gigs…

(note: You can read my original “100 Marbles” article at Lifehack.org by clicking here)

The Threat of Mediocrity

elegant restaurantA couple of years ago, I attended a panel discussion where five philanthropists talked about how they make giving decisions. One philanthropist spoke passionately about a school he supports that truly “wows” him every year in the way they thank him and show him the impact of his gifts. His relationship with them has been memorable, meaningful, and exhilarating. Someone in the mcdsaudience asked this philanthropist, “How does the way that the school reaches out to you affect the way you feel about the other non-profits you support?” I will always remember the philanthropist’s response: “Have you ever dined at a restaurant where the food, the atmosphere, and the service were simply amazing? [“Yes.”] How did that experience make you feel about McDonald’s?”

100 Marbles and The Time Log

marblesAs I wrote in an article over at Lifehack.org, there’s a game we’re all playing, like it or not. It’s called 100 Marbles, and you win by allocating your “marbles” (units of time, attention, effort, and energy) in new ways to achieve more out of life than if you were to maintain your current marble allocation. It sounds simple: invest your marbles thoughtfully, improve your results.

But before you can even try to win this game, you need to know how you’re investing your marbles now. Ironically, most of us have no idea how we allocated our time, attention, effort, and energy over the last month. Even though you were there for every minute of it, you would probably be amazed to learn the actual, exact allocation of your 100 marbles during this time.

The only way to truly know how you’re investing your marbles is to keep a time log. I was persuaded to try a time log by three superb books that make strong cases for it: 1) The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker (1966); 2) How I Raised Myself From Failure To Success In Selling, by Frank Bettger (1947); and 3) The Critical Path To Sales Success, by Frank Sullivan (1970).

I have kept a time log for 1-2 week periods about six times over the last few years, and each time, the results have been eye-opening and enlightening. Just the act of keeping a time log radically increases my awareness, from moment to moment, of what I’m focusing on – and what I’m not focusing on. It’s like having a mini coach sitting on my shoulder, with a stopwatch in one hand and a clipboard in the other, watching everything I do. Wasted time becomes more intolerable and painful, and long stretches of uninterrupted time on important projects and pursuits become the Holy Grail of productivity.

Peter Drucker writes: “Effective executives start by finding out out where their time actually goes. The analysis of time, moreover, is the one easily accessible and yet systematic way to analyze one’s own work and to think through what really matters in it.”

So before you reallocate your 100 marbles, investigate how your marbles are currently invested. Then, be strategic, thoughtful, and deliberate about allocating your marbles to the things that “really matter.”

(note: You can read my original “100 Marbles” article at Lifehack.org by clicking here)

The ONE Question to Ask Yourself

compass on mapOne of the greatest blog posts I’ve seen comes from Rajesh Setty’s Life Beyond Code. If you haven’t seen his “Quoughts” series (Quought = Question that provokes thought), you must check it out. Rajesh asked several influential thinkers, “What is the ONE important question a person should ask himself or herself in 2007?”

The questions he received are big doozies – the kind that unhinge us from our comfort zones and help us see our lives through a new lens. Here are a few samples:

“How can I be the person that I hope my children become?” (Harry Beckwith)

“What do I have to do to earn and deserve the key relationships that are going to get me where I want to go?” (David Meister)

“How can I help others attain a level of success greater than my own?” (Mike Sansone)

“What is the question whose answer would set me free?” (Peter Block)

“What do I care about enough to defend in conversation with people I respect?” (John Battelle)

“What would I do differently in 2007 if I had no fear?” (Steve Pavlina)

And here are a few quoughts I’d have shared with Rajesh if he’d asked me:

“When am I in the zone, and how will I double the time I spend in the zone in 2007?

“On January 1, 2008, what habit or routine will I wish I had established in 2007?”

“What project can I start working on now that could, conceivably, lead to my next career?” (A good question to ask even if you love your current career.)