Category Archives: Learning

Step 1: Get over yourself

The four little words you need to embrace in order to be your best?  “I LOVE TO FAIL!”

Until you are comfortable with this concept, your greatest accomplishments will be just beyond you reach.  You simply cannot be your best if you are doing it all right all the time.

The challenge we face is getting out of our own head and developing the willingness to be wrong.  We are all products of our environments and from kindergarten through college we were rewarded for being right and punished for being wrong.  We were graded every step of the way and we learned to only hold up our hands if we knew the answer because the last thing anyone wanted to hear from the teacher was “you are wrong”.  We were taught to feel shame for this and it is something we learned very quickly to avoid.

The problem we struggle with after school is that the world doesn’t work like this but we are too fragile to do it any other way.  We seek and are comforted by the approval of those we perceive to have authority over us.  The list is very long and includes our parents, friends, spouses, significant others, bosses, co-workers, etc, etc.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not their fault…IT IS OURS!  We give them the power and then become angry, frustrated, and even bitter when they use it.  We look for people to blame so that we never had to look at ourselves in the mirror and admit we gave up.   We are disgusted that somewhere along the line, we lost our self-worth and allowed the world to tell us our value.  This is why we avoid failing and take no chances…we are afraid that what we do defines who we are.  We are not confident enough in ourselves to commit to action unless it is a guaranteed success because we cannot withstand criticism.  Our fragile egos cannot handle someone’s opinion because we are somehow totally dependent on what others think instead of evaluating our own actions against our own standards.  Before you listen to anyone else consider these questions:

  • Why would you give more weight to someone’s opinion if all they are doing is telling you all the reasons you should not have done something?
  • What have they done to earn the right to offer your their opinion?
  • Did you ask for it?  When is the last time they tried something and failed…and tried again?
  • Is anything they are saying the slightest bit positive?
  • Is everything they are sharing coming from their own fear and shame?
  • Are they recommending you give up and accept your fate?

If they are, maybe you should stop talking to them!  Maybe your problem is that you have surrounded yourself with people who do not strive to learn and grow?  Maybe you are now just like everyone else and have become so delicate that you cannot withstand any shock to your ego?  I want to stress that this is only a problem if you want to achieve your potential.  If you are completely happy with your current level of performance in all aspects of our life, then please disregard everything I have shared and enjoy the rest of your charmed life!

If reading this has made you uncomfortable and upset, then you get it and I hope you are willing to do something about it.  If you want to, here are a few things you can try:

  1. Quit worrying about your “image” and what others think of you
  2. Spend some time figuring out who you are (or most specifically, who you were) and understand what that means to you and those close to you
  3. Figure out how to be more “you” than you have been in recent years
  4. Find your strength in you and not from others
  5. Begin acting in alignment with who you are and see how that feels.  There is no right or wrong (so long as it’s legal) so don’t be afraid to take some risks
  6. Find ways to FAIL more quickly and you will soon find that it feels quite good because at least you TRIED
  7. LEARN from your mistakes and continue to pursue your own version of excellence
  8. Find people who believe what you believe and create your own “tribe”

I leave you with these two thoughts from Teddy Roosevelt because he said it much more eloquently than I can…

“It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”  “

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”


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Filed under Futuring, Leadership, Learning, Looking in the mirror, The Human Condition

Inertia is a bitch

Sir Isaac Newton figured out this out in 1686.  That is 331 years ago and we still haven’t come to terms with it!

His First Rule of Motion states, “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

So I ask you:

  • How has this impacted your life and career up to this point?
  • What are you willing to do in order to overcome it?
  • Would you be willing to be “acted on by an unbalanced force”?
  • Why or why not?

If you decide to seek an unbalanced force, remember Sir Isaac’s Third Law of Motion that states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.”  I can share with you from experience that those who seek an unbalanced force will find “equal and opposite re-action” from two main sources:

  • Themselves (because they overestimated their own willingness to change)
  • Those close to them (because it would require they change as a well and they did not sign up for it)

Here’s the rub, you should never stop evolving because once you stop moving forward, you being sliding backwards…there is not status quo in life.  As it is with all things in our lives, this is a choice and, as William James said, “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

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Filed under Learning, Looking in the mirror, Thinking about thinking

E + R = O

I am not sure where I first learned this “formula” but I am a fan of Occam’s Razorand believe that anything that helps us simplify our thinking is worth sharing. After reading the following blog posts, I saw a theme developing and the content coalesced on its own from there.

  • In Dorie Clark’s recent article “Why Mindfulness Is The Next Revolution In Marketing”, she makes the point that while there are many things we cannot control, what we can control is how we respond. While the context of this discussion is centered around marketing, it is obviously applicable to anyone’s daily activities.
  • There is also correlation with David Brendel’s blog post “How Philosophy Makes You A Better Leader” in which he expounds on the value of self-reflection in regards to behavior change. Brendel is a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and discusses the actual neuroscience of self-reflection as it pertains to activating the anterior cingulate cortex. The ACC is a critical region of the brain that can “detect discrepancies between the actual and desired states”. So once we begin engaging the ACC, we can identify goals and develop plans to attain them (more or less).
  • In Les McKeown’s post “Why ‘Capacity’ Is The Key to Success in 2015”, he makes the point that “…it’s not the events that will shape your future next year–it’s how your business responds to future events when they occur.”

All of these folks referenced, either explicitly or implicitly, the formula E+R=O (Event + Response = Outcome). Here are some thoughts on why it is so valuable (yet so simple).

  1. Events are going to happen whether we want them to or not. This is where I think we all need to release ourselves from the Fallacy of Control (my own personal theory). No amount of planning or thinking will cause or prevent events from happening in our lives. I am not saying we should adopt a fatalistic attitude but I do believe we should shift our mindset from planning to preparation.
  2. Our “response” is truly the only variable we control (some of us better than others) and our only consistent method to change the outcome. Don’t waste you time & energy (2 extremely valuable resources) lamenting the event .Instead focus on being mindful and controlling your response so it is both positive and productive for you and others. If you are in a leadership role then this is paramount because your reaction to events serves as a model to others so it can be multiplied tenfold or more! In order to leverage this power, you have to engage in triple loop learning which enables us to self-correct “on the fly” because we are objectively aware of our own behavior.
  3. Outcomes are only within our control in the context of our responses so the more we shift the burden or blame to others, the less likely we are going to be able to achieve our goals (personally or corporately). The minute we relinquish our power in the process, we are through. Here is where you find out where your true locus of control rests. The goal is always to have an internal locus of control so that you believe you can impact the world around you. The alternative is that you are acted upon by outside forces beyond your control and that is not a happy place to be.

I will share that while this formula can help you achieve your goals and completely change your attitude, it also comes with a heavy price. I could tell you about it but I think Rocky Balboa says it much better than I ever could.

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Filed under Decision Making, Learning, Looking in the mirror

Focus…a limited and diminishing resource

I have always been interested in how we are able to impact those things we focus on and continue to be amazed that if systems and processes are designed properly, extraordinary results can be achieved.  The challenge seems to be realistically qualifying our own ability.  In Rapt, Winifred Gallagher tells us that a person can only attend to 110 bits of information/second (listening to someone speak takes 40).  This means that we can only “pay attention” to 173 billion bits of information over our lifetime (on average) so attention is limited.  The fact that it is a limited resource makes it valuable and one we must take care to manage. 

Consider this, “Reality is an intentional, first person experience you construct from the material of intention.”  To loosely paraphrase Descartes, “I am what I pay attention to.”  Sit back and really allow the reality of this statement to wash over you and seep into your deep recesses of your consciousness.  Imagine the weight of this responsibility.  What we focus on creates our experiences…which in turn creates our life.  It seems so simple but something we rarely consider. 

So what does this mean to those in leadership roles?  I think we need to be extremely careful and not adversely impact our teams when it comes what we focus on collectively.  Here are some thoughts:

  • Limit “the next big thing” thoughts that can (without meaning to) shift people’s attention from the task at hand.  It is always good to be on the look out for the next big thing but as leaders, that is something we must shoulder and not always involve the team until there is context for the organization.
  • Develop 1-3 goals (and requisite measurements) and stick to them.  Allow the team to internalize them and create performance goals that support them so they can see how their activity leads to achievement.
  • Allow them to work uninterrupted for more than 60 minutes.  Set weekly meetings (if necessary) and discuss ideas during those times and not intermittently through the week.
  • Repeat yourself. This is actually the one quality that all great leaders exhibit.  Once you have created the areas of focus for the team, be relentless in your discussions and always tie everything back to those main points.  Lead by example!
  • Be very protective of your focus and do not allow others to drag you down their rabbit holes.  When someone says, “Do you have a minute?”, respond honestly.
  • Stop multi-tasking.  There are many studies that indicate multi-tasking reduces both efficiency and effectiveness. 

As with all good things in life, this is simple but not easy.  Just remember that when you choose what you pay attention to, you are choosing your experiences which impacts the quality of your life.  Do not give up that power to choose and allow your life’s experiences to be someone else’s decisions.

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Filed under Leadership, Learning

Inward focus, outward reward

Talked with my son the other day about the concept of self-regulated learning (yes, he was thrilled about it) and began to realize there the core concept is really applicable to overall performance.

Self-regulated learning has 4 domains:

  • Cognition – How we learn from our environment
  • Motivation – How we manage ourselves (internally)
  • Behavior – How we manage ourselves (externally)
  • Environment – Being selective about where we are (in context of the first three) as well as adaptation techniques when we cannot choose our environment

This is about meta-cognition (learning about learning) and it is the core issue with being successful.  We have to take the time to analyze our own performance over time and try to draw out the similarities when we were successful and when we were not.  We can then begin to understand the “why” of our performance and take steps to create situations within which we will be successful.

The first step is to build in time to reflect on your efforts and think about what makes you tick.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at this paper written by Cynthia Roberts,  Associate Professor of Organizational Leadership and Supervision  at Purdue North Central. 

If we never take time to think about what we did and why it was or was not successful, how do we ever hope to improve our performance?

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Filed under Learning, Looking in the mirror, Thinking about thinking

Tribal learning…continued

Tribal learning also enables you to increase your learning agility (the ability to learn at a rate that meet or exceeds the speed of change) which is incredibly important to your/your organization’s viability.  If you remember from my last post, I offered the following definition of tribe – “A unit of sociopolitical organization consisting of a number of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry and culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent“.

This is exactly what you gain from developing your own learning tribe via linkedin, twitter, Facebook, and any of the other social communication tools available today.  This technology has offered all of us the following:

  • Access to people (& their knowledge) from all over the world.  The kicker is perspective. I have found some of the most fascinating answers to my questions have come from those outside of the U.S. who have a vastly different point of view and frame of reference.  When it comes to learning, you have to be ready and open to POV’s that challenge your assumptions if you want to grow.
  • Speed!  Where else can you ask a question or share a thought and have multiple answers/responses from all over the world in less than 24 hours?
  • Egalitarianism. Normally, we ask people for insights that we know and are comfortable with.  Your tribe can consist of people from various functional areas who may have knowledge to share but you would never have thought to ask.
  • Network strength. If you are familiar with network theory, diversity=strength and that is exactly what your tribe will do for you.  There are people in my tribe I routinely reach out to just because I know they will provide me with a POV I could never get locally.
  • Shared burden/support. In a tribe, you are never alone…enough said.

So now what do you do?  For starters, you are no longer building a networkyour building a tribe. A tribe is much more personal and primal.  If you revisit the definition of tribe, you see it is about a shared culture and that can be aligned our learning.  When you are building a learning tribe, you would invite or initiate people in who share the desire to ask questions, share knowledge, & actively engage/challenge others to do the same.

Once you have your 2010 planning completed, make sure you develop goals/strategy/tactics/resources for your learning tribe that will increase your ability to make this year one to remember.

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Filed under Learning, Thinking about thinking

2010 – The year of “tribal learning”

In the past few months, I have read a number of articles, blogs, etc. on the topic of learning and all of them have discussed both the speed of learning and the concept of informal learning.  Given my proclivity for simplification, I believe we are on the cusp of a learning revolution.  I think we will finally learn that learning is just like business in the respect that is requires a relationship before it can occur (it is actually pretty amazing that relationships serve as the medium for many of our activities…but i digress).  This leads me to throw out the term “tribal learning”.  A tribe is defined as, “A unit of sociopolitical organization consisting of a number of families, clans, or other groups who share a common ancestry and culture and among whom leadership is typically neither formalized nor permanent“.  I was drawn to this concept due to the fact that the leadership is neither formalized/permanent.  This is critical in my concept because that requires each individual to be responsible for their own learning.

Quite simply, this is the way we learn now only it has become institutionalized to the point it is both unrecognizable & ineffective.  I am not blaming anyone for this but the fact is that most training & development is owned by those who are trained in designing & delivering the content but may or may not know the content first-hand.  We are at a point where mentoring future leaders is not considered a core requirement of those leading and that will eventually erode the future pipeline.  This should not be difficult or time-consuming.  It was done for hundreds of years under the practice of apprenticing and it worked pretty well.  Here is why I believe returning to a more tribal approach would yield better results:

  • Skin in the game – It all starts with the potential apprentice stepping up and seeking the opportunity.  It has somehow come to the point where all the discussion is around how to select the right people.  Why not start with evaluating those who express interest and willingness to do the work and allowing them to self-select out of the process as it moves forward.  There would obviously need to be a qualifying event for those who express interest but then it becomes the responsibility of the individual to make the choice of whether they stay or go.
  • Longer fuse – This is not a 3, 6 or even 18 month “program”.  You are in until the “master” decides you are ready.  I know this might seem arbitrary but who better to decide if someone is ready than someone who is doing the work.  Also, the master has a vested interest as it is his/her name attached to the performance of the apprentice.
  • True mastery – As opposed to a passing understanding or knowing just enough to be dangerous.  This means you will learn how all the activities fit together and why each piece is critical.
  • Application in a controlled environment – I am quite sure this is not what a master blacksmith would have told his apprentice but it is what happened.  The apprentice gets to try his skills in a low impact environment under the supervision of the master until there is proof that the apprentice can correctly perform the task multiple times.
  • Appreciation of the relationship  – Given the time required, a powerful relationship is created and one that transcends the craft.  This puts the correct context on the experience as the master invests time & effort to pass along knowledge and context (which equals wisdom) to the apprentice.  So often, we are passing along information under the guise of knowledge and it can never be turned into wisdom by the receiver.

I am not advocating abandonment of any/all formalize training & development but I do challenge us all to form our own learning tribes and invest your time in being both master and apprentice in 2010 – your life will be richer for effort.


Filed under Learning