Why Quality of Thinking Is So Important

PhotoCredit: Getty

Some facts are chilling. Consider this one: the quality of everything we do depends on the quality of the thinking we do first. It is chilling because its implications are enormous. The critical takeaway is that there is nothing – nothing—more important in developing organizational effectiveness than ensuring that people think for themselves with rigor, imagination, and courage. Every day, in every meeting, and in every interaction.

It begs the question: In hierarchical structures often driven by the alternation between reward and reprisal, what does it take for people to think clearly and for themselves? And how do we find the time?

The answer is not in our innate intelligence, education, experience, or power. It is not even the amount of time we allot to thinking. The main factor in whether or not people can think clearly for themselves is the way they are being treated by the people with them while they are thinking. The impact of our behavior on people’s ability to think is, whether we realize it or not, that big.

The ability to hold our attention is a meditative and psychological tool that helps us perceive the subtle patterns continuously occurring between others and ourselves. These patterns determine our behavior and the automatic ways in which we react. When we do not hold our attention we cannot be fully aware of our impact, nor can we perceive the unconscious subtle pulls continually placed upon us by others.

When we hear or watch any story, our brains go wholly into perceiving mode, turning off the systems for acting or planning to act, and with them go our ability to see reality clearly. This is one reason why humans have such trouble recognizing lies. First, we believe what we are told. Then, we have to make a conscious effort to assemble facts and disbelieve. Only when we stop perceiving to think about what we have seen or heard, only then do we assess its truth-value.

In other words, we have to fight the tendency to form opinions immediately, work to deconstruct what we’ve learned, and reconstruct it through a more objective stance.

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Constitutional Experiment #45…the largest A/B test in the world

PhotoCredit: Common Dreams

Regardless of your political persuasion, you’ve likely become a more engaged citizen now than ever before, because the grand experiment has not turned out the way you thought it would.  You’re either completely depressed and dejected or surprised and elated. With the Republicans on one side and the Democrats on the other, the U.S. government is really the largest A/B experiment in the world. But that’s exactly what we forget: it’s an experiment.

We think we are watching politics, but what we are really watching is an A/B test. In A/B testing, one solution wins out over another. Tests always start with a set of assumptions. Assumptions are informed by values, such as: Liberty, Equality & Self-Government. A winning result means both sides to develop and refine their processes, prompting new questions, but one solution dominates.

The shock (and surprise) being expressed right now are reminders that we got complacent with our own values, and with the grandness of the experiment. We forgot the magnitude of the opportunity and the impacts of losing liberties.

Experiments require ongoing participation. Results are never taken for granted. Living in one of the greatest experiments of our time, we have the privilege of directly participating in through voting, activism, volunteering, or dedicating our careers to a regional problem or public service.

How many of us do two or more of those things on an ongoing basis? 

When we don’t have to earn our rights by fighting a war, surviving a depression, or managing a natural disaster–all of which rely on government systems–we forget our core values and take our liberties for granted. We get complacent. We begin to feel entitled to a particular outcome from the great experiment. If this occurs, it means the refinements happening are no longer. Over time, the results of the test are less and less inclusive of the whole. The test has become, in fact, rigged to one side or the other.

We are consuming reason and facts and evidence and science and feedback—en masse—more than we ever have before. Synthesizing information is a messy process. So is governing.  Meaningful shifts do not come from one test. They come from thousands of tests.

Government is less efficient than business, by design. It is a giant barge, not a nimble aircraft. Systemic change that lasts gets fully integrated by society, like minimum wage, social security, civil rights, or voting rights takes time. It requires everyone participating in the experiment, not just the leader, to commit to playing a long game. For example, the judicial appointment to the Supreme Court was not 45’s victory, but a predictable outcome of 30 years of painstaking work by an organization most people are just now hearing of: the Federalist Society

The longest game we’ve had in the oval office in a very long time is being replaced by the shortest game in that office, maybe ever. And the feelings experienced across the country (and around the world) is the “quick hit” once an A/B test returned “an answer” as if it were the last answer.

We need to remember that experiments are never over. There is only more refining.  Another A/B test is coming.

How will you choose to engage?

It’s safest inside a ring of fire

Some truths are counter-intuitive.

My focus has been to study master craftsmen. Craftsmen are innovators, working on the fridge or trade, and focused on raising standards. I look at what they do and how they think can be applied in other areas.

Craftsmen tend to work alone. They are in community with other craftsmen, but they work day in and day out by themselves. They are in the business of playing with standards and elevating them. They do this through innovation and creativity.

There is great power in groups. We all know the kinds of things we can accomplish with strong teams. But this article focuses on the trouble we can get into when craftsmen encounter groups. And I want to point to a parallel that happens with people embracing creative problem-solving, trying to push through norms, and how organizations respond.

When groups grow, they become more coherent and pull together. They start to share an identity and see things similarly. They become powerful. These qualities can build cohesiveness on the one hand, and group-think on the other.

A challenge to both the craftsmen and the groups they interact with is that individuals outside the group are trying to work with existing standards, something the group is familiar with, and create something new.  This difference gets aggravated by the fact that innovations are experienced as happening out of sync.

The cliche “they were ahead of their time” comes to mind, but no one is ahead of their time. People invent in reaction to something (an event, a set of ideas, etc.). This is why we experience innovations as unpredictable.

We rarely recognize them as solutions or potential answers to a problem. We don’t know what to do with them when we see them. They make us think differently. They change the way we understand and engage the world around us. They force us to learn something new.

The virtue of any particular innovation is hard to judge until you’ve tried it.

As a result, communities often fear what they can’t understand. More often than we would like, we circle the wagons believe around our beliefs, shunning the new idea. We don’t even want to give it a try.

History shows us that bad things can happen at least temporarily and good things are lost. They are lost often at a time when they’re needed most.

It’s fire season here in Seattle, so it seems like a good time to reflect on firefighting, in general, and in particular, a 1949 fire that fundamentally changed the way we approach fighting fires.

A group of smokejumpers about to take off in Ford Trimotor plane at Missoula Airport, Missoula, Montana for a practice jump, June 30, 1941.

This particular fire is a cautionary story and it’s an important illustration of how the issue of learning well, how we can meet challenge head-on, and predict that it’s going to happen because it happens over and over and over again throughout history.

The fire-fighting crew this group was a very heroic bunch of young men between the ages of 17 to 22. They called themselves “smoke jumpers.” The last of them recently passed in 2014. They were the first firemen to parachute from a plane into remote areas to fight forest fires. The smoke jumpers were a courageous, elite group held together by their group values, their mission, and the courage to do accomplish a difficult job. They dropped into a chaotic environment with the few resources they could carry.

It’s most important to remember for this story is that these men knew if the fire came toward them, they could find safety on the top of a ridge. A ridge provides a natural break in the line of fire.

The innovator of the story, Dodge, was older and more experienced than the group. He could do everything the smoke jumpers could, but better. He had a great reputation and a lot of experience. He was also a reticent, quiet man. He took care of everything in the base camps. But he wasn’t one of them.

The day of the fire, he was their Foreman. They didn’t know him personally and it was the first time he had actually led them as a group. Left in the afternoon to meet the fire and they were on the ground fighting by five o’clock. We know because they found a watch that was melted indicating the fire confronted them 59 minutes later at 5:59. The incident happened in a very short period of time.

This is a familiar dynamic between communities and innovator.

In a crisis or pressure-filled experience, it’s never time that matters,

it’s the certainty with which we hold our views that seems to make a difference.

When they saw this fire the innovator saw one thing, and the group saw another. The kids saw something they could conquer they could tame. They referred to such fires as “ten o’clock fires” and laughed about them.  But Dodge saw the fire and saw something different. He saw a fire that was about to explode and get out of control. He tried to move the group down toward a river that ran through the center of the fire, where they could safely fight the fire within relative safety. They would be able to exit through the river.

But the wind was so strong grass just burst into flame between them and the river and they were trapped. He told them to run. At this point, their only option was uphill, against a fire traveling 100 yards a minute. This was a race they would not win.

At that moment, he did something that at the time that no one had ever done before. He took a pack of matches out of his pocket, turned toward the fire, and lit a ring around himself. He had invented what is now called an escape fire. It is something that every forest firefighter has been educated in today and has saved many many lives since.

The term now means….

escape fire noun\is-’kāp\’fī(-ə)r\

  1. a swath of grassland or forest intentionally ignited in order to provide shelter from an oncoming blaze.

  2. an improvised, effective solution to a crisis that cannot be solved using traditional approaches.

The fire was approaching fast. He called to his men and said to them, “Step with me into this fire.”

The team was running as their training had instructed them to do. Fifteen smoke jumpers ran for the ridge because that was the knowledge that they could rely on.  But Dodge took his canteen out, watered a cloth for this face, knelt in the ashes, and laid down in the ashes of the fire he had burned. The fire burned over him. Other firefighters found a lucky pile of stone. But the fire caught the rest of the men.

Dodge, the foreman, survived the fire by staying in the circle he had burned in the grass. Two more made it to the top of the ridge, only to watch ten members of their team fall to the fire. Two more died the next day in a hospital. All but one died of smoke inhalation.

This is a sad story and I don’t tell it to make you feel sad. However, this urgency of communication and influencing between innovator and group is one that breaks down all the time. You only have to look back through history:

  • the first time we were told the earth is flat;
  • the first time someone said microscopic things are responsible for disease
  • the first time someone said vehicles can go underwater, through the sky, and into space
  • the first time someone said a computer could fit in our pocket
  • first time Lady Gaga said I’m going to be a rock and star Idol

Whenever groups come together, they have common beliefs and their identity is preserved by them holding on to those beliefs. Innovators need to understand that when they are calling people to come with them to a new idea
they’re inviting them into an unproven fire.

No one knows if someone says “I have the greatest idea in the world” if it’s going to work or if it’s going to be a disaster until effort happens. I think in every group we have to ask questions and assign mechanisms that allow us to be open to ideas we haven’t anticipated.

As innovators, we have to find better ways to communicate and accept new ideas while maintaining our relationships. There have to be better ways to pool ideas and share resources in times of stress.

I know that was an intense story, but I want you to think about how you go through your day and interact with others when you are a member of a community that is holding to beliefs, or an innovator approaching a problem from the outside-in.

You are both. You are going to be in communities that you’re working hard to build and you’re a creative innovator that has ideas that people around you will not understand. So the question that we all need to answer for ourselves, and it’s a different answer for everyone, is:

what is the one thing you can do if you’re a member of a community

to see what’s possible when what is presented

is something you don’t understand?

OR

when you take the role of innovator 

and you are telling someone what is possible, 

and sharing how you see differently or more effectively?

In the end, learning new ideas, and really being able to try them on when it counts, is the way we move forward. It’s about getting over our own anxiety. Change is not the problem. I’m not entirely convinced that we even mind failure so much.

The problem for most of us is fear of deviating from a leading strategy.

Just look what it’s doing to the business of healthcare, education, and poverty.

Why Learning to Learn Well Is Fundamental to Our Survival

You can’t blink now without seeing articles on the pace of change, exponential growth, or the need to innovate. Over 60% of all executives now believe disruption will hit their industries hard in the next year. Artificial Intelligence will only accelerate this momentum. The majority of organizations have recognized that company culture, as it impacts decision making and strategic integration, is a major driver of successful transformation. People know change is coming, but do not have the skills and support to drive the transformation. It doesn’t matter the industry – management consultingfinancial serviceseducation. Everyone’s at risk.

Then, there are these old chestnuts…

  • The only constant is change.
  • People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.
  • Change before you have to.

The problem is that organizations of all sizes can be challenged on how to cope with change. All wrestle with their reality and go through denial about the need to change.

Enter the field of change management.

Change management has its origins in the 1960’s when business was much more predictable. As a formal discipline, it has been around since the 1990’s. However, references to change and change management can be found in the psychological literature more than 40 years earlier. Psychologists described “change” as the unfreezing, moving, and refreezing of thoughts or behaviors. These developments described how people internalized change and their experience with it, though the researchers did not apply these concepts to an organizational setting.

In the 1990s the topic of change and change management was applied to organizations, and managers and leaders took notice of the new groundswell of articles and books such as John Kotter’s “Leading Change”, and Spencer Johnson’s “Who Moved My Cheese”.

Most change models are still based on old-school thinking, tools, and techniques. No wonder 70% of all change efforts fail. In the past, leaders had months and years to implement change. Now, change needs to be understood and addressed at the moment while it is occurring. The response to change needs to be implemented in days and weeks.

Three Barriers to Learning to Learn Well That Impact Our Ability to Respond to Change

Here are three barriers to learning, common behaviors that lead to beliefs we all succumb, that I believe account for the failure of our ability to contend with change:

Barrier: We are biologically wired to be afraid of uncertainty.   Belief: Change is bad.
When confronted with the choice to continue with the status quo or accept change, few us will opt for change. We like to stick with what we believe works. Behavioral psychology explains why we think change is bad:

  • Change is a threat.
  • Threat leads to a loss of food.
  • Loss of food leads to death.

So you notice things changing in the world (the robots are coming, the politics are more polarized than ever) and you’re one step to it all being all over.

So we learn a trick or two that works and we use those tricks over and over.

Inertia makes it hard to turn. What gives us this momentum, gives us power: that’s the power of scale. Scale is a force. When we have committed our lives to going in a straight line, and a revolution comes along requiring us to take a turn, we don’t understand the new strategy and paradigms it’s creating, or the tactics it requires, we get left behind.

CONSIDER: What is shifting in our culture is the death of the industrial age. That is at the heart of all the shifts going on. Having a solid understanding of strategy (understanding the systems in play), tactics (the skills and capabilities required to manipulate strategy), and emotional labor (caring enough to really fail at something) are how we make a difference in the world. There’s so much confusion now in the business world, a world that 50 years ago had virtually no confusion, about these three concepts, but we rarely separate them into these three different groups of problems and work them together.

 

Barrier: We accept artificial replacements for actual experiences   Belief: Change Is Fixed and Linear
In order to make sense of complex concepts, we use models to simplify our understanding. We seek templates, models, and prototypes versus gaining direct involvement with the problems we are trying to solve. In doing so, we give up proximity to the particulars in favor of distance and simplification. When describing complexity, most change management frameworks assume that the process of change is linear. Here are several examples. They all have a beginning, middle, and end because that is how we understand things.

Losing proximity to the nuances of the problem we are trying to solve and the need for simplicity in how we think run counter to the ongoing learning that needs to occur when reckoning with change. We can no longer give up proximity to the particulars of these issues in favor of distance and simplification.

CONSIDER: We need to remind ourselves to engage with the actual substance of a problem, not just a model. This requires us to revisit goals and strategies based on the learning that occurs from the process of intervening in the change itself. Moving fast requires creating feedback loops so you can adjust as needed based on what you see and experience – not by following a step by step approach with little flexibility. Like Design Thinking, it may be useful to jump back to a previous step and do it over based on what’s been learned.

 

Barrier: The values of formal education, advancing technology, and limitless expansion of global corporations stand between us and the learner’s mind. Belief: Change Has Clear End States
The values within the structures we embrace emphasize efficiency, mechanization, standardization, and automation—enabling powerful forces that drive production, convenience, and reliability. They seek the ‘right answer’ to a prescribed question. The inertia behind these values drives towards homogenization. Values of standardization tend to generate problems with relatively clear end states. If something isn’t efficient, troubleshooting persists until the wrinkle is smooth and systems run according to plan.

We have a bias to concluding what we start. We need closure. This bias runs counter to truly gaining the intimacy needed with complex problems.

While the systems designed to support us have enhanced our lives, they are breaking down. Systems of scale allow more of us to do more than any one of us could do alone. And, they also block. With convenience, we have less need to master feeling, judgment, and sensing. We don’t even see it happening. Slowly we lose the capacity to troubleshoot the machines that support us. Process replaces feel; rules replace judgment; policy replaces our need to think critically. When ambiguous questions arise, we have less practice with the struggle of finding solutions. In the name of stability and convenience, we lose the opportunity to engage the problem with any meaningful intimacy.

CONSIDER: When we address change, we typically focus on assessing the current state, defining the desired end state, and then bridging the gaps between the two via a gap analysis. This approach offers a logical end state. The ideal future is defined at the start of the change process and everything done from that point on hammers it home. But how often do people, or organizations, or economies freeze for the time you are working on your solution? In short, there is no closure. The environment you operate in is not fixed, but an emerging ecology that needs to be tended and responded to. Neither the pace of change nor disruptive technology will wait for you to implement your change. Customers don’t wait around either. Change processes that myopically focus on a pre-defined future risk having that future disrupted before it arrives.

 

CONCLUSION

arrows-direction-change-move-750

Embracing the emotional labor of change, gaining proximity to the nuances of the problem we are trying to solve, and questioning the explicit and implicit values that guide the structures in which we reckon with tension, are the forces we need to embrace in order to learn to learn well. Change, real change, demands that we really integrate the idea of ongoing learning. Superbugs, homelessness, inequality, and global warming are all examples of ongoing, complex problems that can’t be solved without changing our beliefs:

OPPORTUNITY v Threat: We can learn to respond and not react. We can learn to reframe threats into challenges and opportunities. The threat-challenge idea and its effects may rest on the assumption that people are prone to consistently interpret situations as a threat or a challenge based on their life experiences. But that doesn’t mean that this tendency is a life sentence that we always think this way. If you actively re-frame stressful situations as challenges and your elevated heart rate as excitement, you can improve your health, well-being, and performance level, all at the same time.

ADAPTIVE v Fixed. Business as ‘unusual’ will not feel natural at first. At some point, we might even need new words to describe it. Eventually, we will need to reinvent what it means to lead or to work in an organization. To be as close to creative problem solving as possible you must learn to improvise and adapt. You can no longer pay lip service to these terms. To improvise means “to work with what is available.” It is the antithesis to preparation. To adapt means “to adjust to new conditions.” Both infer the need to respond to a shift in the environment around you. The opportunity for you is to be that agent of evolution. Waiting for the DNA to evolve will take too long. A random feature that is created when a strand of DNA, or an idea, is altered and then transferred creates a mutation. Seeking or creating positive mutations can increase an organization’s resilience to change.

INFINITE v FINITE:  Complexity needs to be managed, not solved. That means we need to get adept at managing and leveraging tension between two opposing forces: open/closed; stability/innovation, etc.  Leveraging is about getting more with less. When you go too far to one side, you lose out on the benefits of the other.

James Carse summarizes his argument in Finite and Infinite Games,

There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. Finite games are those instrumental activities – from sports to politics to wars – in which the participants obey rules, recognize boundaries and announce winners and losers. The infinite game – there is only one – includes any authentic interaction, from touching to culture, that changes rules, plays with boundaries and exists solely for the purpose of continuing the game. A finite player seeks power; the infinite one displays self-sufficient strength. Finite games are theatrical, necessitating an audience; infinite ones are dramatic, involving participants.

We are slowly acknowledging that we are in an infinite game, playing by old rules. We will never solve the complex problems that plague us today with the tools that got is here. We have to build new tools, which require a different way of thinking.

 

 

Finding a Mentor

FINDING A MENTOR

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Editorials are deeper pieces than daily thoughts from short blog posts. 

They provide actionable ideas and anchors for reflection on your life or your work.

Explore more posts here.

Today I was working with someone focused on a job transition.  She asked a question I hear frequently from clients who know that mentorship is important to their careers but don’t know how to engage them.

She asked:

Thinking about THE job (not just any job), I have worked through all your recommendations but mentorship. I’m stalled out. When I look at peers with similar career goals, many are now big successes in the industry, but find myself hesitant in approaching them and asking for help. I don’t want to be perceived as needy. But my hesitation also stems from not really knowing the right phrases to use that would make them want to engage. I need your help in this area and so I can follow-through of this job hunting step.

This is an important question. So many people I speak to are struggling in their approach to finding mentors and are ending up disappointed, frustrated, or confused.

Here are some insights I can share about finding great mentors and making the most of the help you receive:

1. Work inside out. 

To find great mentors, you don’t want to reach out to people outside your network. That’s not how you’ll find them. Generally speaking, when you find the right mentor, it is obvious. Chasing or forcing a connection rarely works.

Start inside out. Find mentors among the people you’re already interacting and working with now. They need to be people to whom you have already demonstrated your potential. They know how you think, act, communicate and contribute. They have to like, trust and believe in you already (why else would they help you?). They also need to believe with absolute certainty that you’ll make use of all their input and feedback.

Strangers (or those who’ve become “big” successes, as the individual above mentions) will virtually always have to say “no” to mentoring requests from strangers. Why? Because their time is already spoken for, and they’re drowning in similar requests. Secondly, they don’t have a relationship with you, and therefore can’t know how you operate or if it’s a great investment of their time to help you.

Find your mentors among the people you know who are 10 steps ahead of you in your field, role, or industry, doing what you want to, in the way you want to. Connect with new people who you can help, and who will find it a mutually-rewarding and beneficial experience to support you. If you don’t know of any inspiring people that fit this bill, you need to go out and find them. Here are some great tips from Kerry Hannon about finding a mentor, and from Judy Robinett about networking that generates amazing results.

2. Connect

Develop a relationship. Start small.  Follow their work. Be helpful and supportive. Be generous. Tweet out their posts, comment in a positive way on their blogs, share their updates, start a discussion on LinkedIn drawing on their post, refer new clients or business to them, and the list goes on. In short, offer your unique voice, perspectives, experiences, and resources to further the action and conversation that these influencers have sparked. Understand that you are able to be of service to them, and go out and do it. Be a builder. Build on their foundation and extend it.

Don’t ask for mentoring directly.

3. Prepare.

Attracting mentoring has a lot to do with how you operate in your career and your life. Would you want to mentor you? Are you open, flexible, resilient, respectful? Are you eager to learn? Are you committed to adjusting how you interact in the world so you can achieve your goals?

You have to be in process. A car going 60 miles an hour is faster than one starting from 0-60. Be someone who is already actively building his/her career. Demonstrate that every day, to yourself first.

  • Be great at what you do; people want to invest in someone with momentum.
  • Ask for more responsibility.
  • Know how you can contribute.
  • Be prepared, volunteer.
  • Promote others’ successes.
  • Build a support network by learning what others do and how you can help them succeed.

4. Empathize.

Walk a mile their shoes. If you were in their seat, what would you want to see from this individual asking for help? If you had multiple requests for help every day, what type of person would YOU choose to assist, and why? Go out and become that person that others would love to support and nurture.

The bottom line?

The answers to all your networking and career-building questions aren’t as far away as they seem. They’re right inside of you. Sometimes that can seem like an unsatisfying answer since we look outside ourselves most of the time.

Imagining yourself in the shoes of those you deeply respect and admire, who’ve had fabulous success in the same ways you want it helps point you in the right direction. Then imagine your “future self” already achieving this tremendous success. Ask your future self what to do. And always conduct yourself — in life and in work — as one who is doing all that’s necessary to attract (and offer) fabulous, high-level help and support.

Your Circles Define You. Choose Wisely.

The people in our circles of influence set our standards, what we vision for ourselves, and how we approach change.

Given the impact our peers have on us, it’s surprising to me that we select our them based on proximity.

Relationships are not necessarily formed people who have similar personalities and interests. It’s the people you literally sit next to, work with, or live near. Whom we find ourselves mingling with can have enormous implications. As Jim Rohn has wisely said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Similarly, international public speaker Portor Gale believes your social capital, or your ability to build a network of authentic personal and professional relationships, not your financial capital, is the most important asset in your portfolio. She wrote a book about it: “Your network is your net worth.”

Like the frog in a pot of slowly boiling water, we adapt to whatever environment we find ourselves. We have what psychologists call an “external locus of control,” where we believe factors outside of us dictate the direction of our lives. Thus, we live reactively to whatever life throws at us.

Who is in your smallest circle? How did they get there? Was it intentional or because they were close by? Do these people raise your game? Or, do they hold you back?

If you want to move forward in your life or career, you need to surround yourself with people who have higher standards than you do. Life is a reflection of what you deem permissible. You embrace what you are willing to tolerate. Personal experience shows us that most people will stay in unhealthy relationships for too long, nurse poor finances, and endure jobs they hate. If those things were tolerated, they wouldn’t be in our lives.

Recently, I’ve been working on a book. I had gotten it to a level I was comfortable sharing it out. I shared it with friends asking for feedback and got a few comments here and there. I took a writing class and in every draft, my teacher shows me why and how it could be 10x better, and she holds me to that standard.

Versions I was previously satisfied with now make me cringe. Were my standards that much lower than my writing teacher’s standards? At the time, yes. As she helped me raise my game, my standards increased too. Feedback is a wonderful gift.

The same thing happened during my doctorate research. I sent my advisor a paper I thought was good and he found it unreadable. He challenged me to rethink my outline, always centering me with the question, “what is the story I’m trying to tell?” His questioning forced me to continue to think deeper and deeper on my topic. It was challenging and even frustrating, but it made me better.

This kind of dynamic isn’t just for working relationships. What about your romantic partner? Do they help you rethink your standard for what is possible? Do they help you become a better person? Do they challenge you to think differently? Do you help them?

Generally speaking, at any given time, a small part of your group is moving forward, the rest mimic whoever they are around at the time (we want to fit in), and the rest are moving backward. I didn’t make that up, it’s the old 80/20 rule from economics.

Here’s what the Wikipedia has to say about it:

The principle was suggested by management thinker Joseph M. Juran. It was named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed that 80% of income in Italy was received by 20% of the Italian population. The assumption is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes.

Because we reflect on those around us, it’s important to take stock of who is in our circle and what standards they have. If they drop, we drop. If they raise, we raise. That is why phrases like “rising tides raise all boats” or “better together” are used to describe efforts of raising everyone in a corporate culture, or society at large.

There are people in your life that just by being around them have increased your thinking, creativity, and energy. Those are the kinds of people you need to reach out and collect. Those are the kinds of people you need to be more like yourself so that you are an example to others just by being around you.

The standards you embrace for your life and work are set by what kind of life you want for yourself. You determine what is permissible. You define a quality life and the quality of your work. If you’re fine coasting than those around you coast as well.

If you want to raise your game, you have to find the better players and learn from them. Change your circles, change what and how you learn.

The talent and “potential” you were born with are irrelevant, especially if they don’t help you realize it. We all know people in our lives with unfulfilled potential. Don’t let that be you.

The people in our circles of influence set our standards, what we vision for ourselves, and how we approach change. This fact is undeniable.

The question is: what are you going to do about it?

 

The Importance of Relationship Currency

Carla Harris, Vice Chairman and Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, discusses the importance of Relationship Currency in your career as a keynote speaker at this year’s Judson Women’s Leadership Conference.

“Invest in relationships in your environment if you want to ascend to higher and higher levels”, advises Carla Harris, Vice Chairman at Morgan Stanley. Listen to Carla’s advice on how building “relationship currency” is a game-changing investment in your success.