Sure, there are some nifty, helpful basic rules of thumb, but success is not achieved simply by following a formula—if it were, everyone would be successful.
I have to admit I am a list maker. I find the process of enumerating all the tasks ahead of me somehow calming, especially during particularly frantic periods when there seems too little time to accomplish all that needs to get done. Having that list feels empowering and encouraging; I know exactly what's required and have the ability to reprioritize, augment and, most satisfying of all, delete items as circumstances change and I get things done.
Recently, as I prepared for a week away I wondered why I hadn’t drawn up my usual pre-vacation stuff-to-get-done laundry list of everything work and packing related I needed to accomplish before locking the door behind me and slipping into the proverbial gone fishin' state of mind. Here's what I realized: I'm sick and tired of lists!
I don't really mean my own lists, although clearly they have suffered; I mean all the lists tossed, chucked, spewed, spit, dumped, and otherwise flung at me through various media channels about one thing or another. How many Top 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 20 lists of the best/worst, highest/lowest, most/least effective, innovative, successful or whatever do you receive in a day, a week? The week before my week out-of-town 3 of 7 headlines in my LinkedIn Today stories bore list headlines, all of which started with 7, and a fourth included a list of "3 Reasons...” LinkedIn, if these are really tailored to me, take a memo, two is about my limit on a good day.
Everywhere I look someone wants to break things down for me with a list of insider tips, secrets or absolutely essential information that only a real expert could know. Ninety-nine percent of the time, these lists include very little that is new or that goes beyond basic 101 level insight. But, here's what I really find objectionable: Most things in business, or in life for that matter, cannot be broken down into a simple list. Sure, there are some nifty, helpful basic rules of thumb, but success is not achieved simply by following a formula—if it were, everyone would be successful. So, why are we constantly sold or marketed the idea that it is, that all we need to do is follow this simple recipe and wham-bam?
I've been suckered in by these headlines time after time, and while I may pick up a crumb of interesting information now and again, usually it's not a very good use of my time. What's worse, my own valuable list making has suffered in the process. So, why do I keep falling for it? The reason is these numbers and lists are psychologically appealing. Everyone likes the idea that if they follow a system, process or series of steps, presto change-o, they, too, will unlock the secrets of the universe.
I’m not saying there are absolutely no valuable articles that include lists, but for my money, this has just become a cheap device to attract eyeballs, rather than an honest attempt to provide value rich content that imparts knowledge and/or sparks discourse, and I, for one, am no longer going to suffer “listmania.”
So, I pledge to resist the call of these tempting “list articles,” and they are tempting; everyone will tell you these headlines are very clickable, but, like junk food, they’re mostly empty of substance. By extension, this means no more promoting list articles either; if they’re not worth my time, I’m certainly not going to retweet or share them with clients and followers.
If all the numbers that really don’t add value numb you, too, then join my boycott. If enough of us stop clicking, the Internet tides will turn.
Without a willingness to fail and learn from failure one cannot gather the information needed to identify the best solution for success.
I’ve just begun reading Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, which examines what’s happening in our heads when we’re making decisions and the role dopamine plays in connecting our decision-making to our emotions and our system's desire to recognize patterns for better and for worse.
One research citing in the book struck me as particularly fascinating as it made me consider how as children our futures as good decision-makers or "experts" may already be defined for us by something as innocuous as the words of praise we receive from parents or teachers.
Several years back Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, and her team ran an experiment in NYC with 5th graders, conducting several rounds of exams. The first round was a relatively easy exam after which each student was given their score and either praised for their intelligence or their effort. Then, they were offered the choice of taking a more difficult test, where they were told they would learn a lot, or a test that was about the same level of difficulty as the first.
Next, Dweck gave the same group of students an exam designed for 8th graders, making it extremely difficult. After taking the test, students were asked to choose between seeing exams of other students who scored better or worse than they did on the same exam.
Finally, the students were given a round of tests similar in difficulty to the initial round and were asked to self-report their scores.
Of the group praised for their intelligence:
Of the group praised for their efforts:
So what does all this have to do with being or becoming an expert? Well, it shows that failure is necessary and, I would even say, vital to the process of learning. Without failing our brains can’t properly work out the patterns that reveal the best solutions because they don’t have enough information from which to formulate the correct answers or drive us to make good decisions.
Dweck’s research shows that our desire to learn is highly influenced by the feedback we receive. In her research, like in most learning situations, Dweck's feedback sparks each child's desire either to learn or to succeed; those inspired to do the former embrace exploration and the possibility of failure rather than fearing failure and opting for what might be thought of as "the safe bet."
It is this willingness to fail that encouraged 90% of the effort-praised 5th graders to attempt the more difficult round 2 exam and drove almost all of them to learn from their mistakes by comparing their exams to those who scored better than they in round 3. And, in the end, it's the defining factor in why they became more proficient and expert while their intelligence-praised classmates actually decreased in proficiency.
Without a willingness to fail and learn from failure one cannot gather the information needed to identify the best solution for success. Expertise results from innately recognizing patterns for success, which itself is not possible without a preponderance of information and/or experience within or among a given field or function or set of disciplines.
If you’re an expert or want to be seen as one, you need to understand the patterns that govern your success so you can communicate your expertise in a way that makes sense to clients, customers, colleagues and/or employers. Consider:
If you need help with defining, refining or translating your expertise for your business or career, please don’t hesitate to get in touch; I'm always happy to put my expertise to work for you.
24 hours is a really long time when you have no idea where the day will take you.
Sunday marked the beginning of Walmart’s holiday layaway plan, a whole month earlier than last year, officially kicking off the holiday season before summer has even officially ended. I believe that may just be a record—not counting those “Christmas in July” campaigns.
But, seriously, for many September is a bittersweet month. It’s the end of those long, hot summer days—of late quite humid, too—but also a kind of happy return to getting down to business. Chalk it up to that old “back-to-school” mentality, ingrained in so many of us, kicking in as kids actually go back to school. Or, the beginning of that last quarter of the year bearing down on us and the experience to know how quickly time will fly before we so much as work out our get-it-done-by-year-end lists. So, do we really need the added pressure of Christmas in September, too?
When I worked in higher education I quite literally measured out my life in accordance with the academic calendar and those six years flew by so fast I hardly remember what else happened in my life outside of work; in my memories everything still seems tethered to convocation, midterms, finals, graduation or winter or summer break. I left that job to spend six months in the Pacific Rim. My time included serving as a volunteer teacher in Thailand and in a cultural exchange program working for the Melbourne Film Office as well as traveling through several countries by myself.
My first day found me, after about 24 hours straight of travel from New York City, in Taipei, Taiwan absolutely exhausted, but unable to sleep; I spent all day sightseeing and even bought a ticket to the evening performance at the National Theater, which I watched with half-closed eyes. The next morning after not much sleep either, I sat writing in my journal of all I had done and experienced the day before. It occurred to me I’d already learned one of the greatest lessons of my life: 24 hours is a really long time when you have no idea where the day will take you.
When I returned from my travels and reentered the workforce it was a real challenge not to get caught up in living in the future tense. You know what I mean? “I can wait till next weekend/my vacation/the holiday.” Or, even worse was living days ahead at work, envisioning what needed to get done and making lists for each day of the week; such endless planning ahead was like slow death by post-it notes and reminder emails to self.
So how do we navigate what is for so many of us the pressure cooker time of year when our lives accelerate on almost all fronts, demand for our attention increases exponentially, and we have even less time to spare than usual? Here’s what I have found helpful:
Do you have tips for managing the frenzy that comes with the beginning of the holiday season and usually doesn't let up until after New Years? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment
or get in touch.
Participating in this fascinating social, educational, and even cultural experiment that has the power to transform learning and teaching, not just in higher education, worldwide, is a pretty amazing opportunity in and of itself.
I’m going to admit something that for some, I'm sure, isn't going to shatter any illusions, but I did not entirely hate school when I was a kid. In fact, I kind of dug it. Granted, I didn’t love the uneasy feeling of not knowing what awaited me at the beginning of each school year, but from an early age I grew addicted to learning and the opportunity to dive into the things I really enjoyed like literature and history and music. I also loved the wonderful feeling of discovering something new that left me breathless and excited.
I suppose that’s why I always look forward to Labor Day like a small child welcomes the coming of Christmas, even though my school days are long behind me. While, of course, I know and believe we are lifelong learners—well, I am at any rate—my days of formal education ended with a graduate degree not quite two decades ago. Well, at least that’s what I thought.
When my BFF emailed me earlier this year about a website called Coursera, which offers free online courses from prestigious institutions of higher education, I was immediately suspicious. I worked in higher education once upon a time and know that courses weren’t just given away for free. My friend mentioned she’d already signed up for a course being offered by Stanford University, so that certainly made me curious. When I check out the site for myself it all seemed on the up and up.
I ended up signing up for two classes: Gamification offered by The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which I took for business purposes, and Introduction to Philosophy, offered by The University of Edinburgh, which I always wanted to take in college, but could never quite fit into my schedule.
My Gamification class just started at the beginning of September. Taught by Wharton Associate Professor, and co-author of the ebook For the Win, Kevin Werbach, it’s one of the first university-level courses on this timely subject. You can take the class for a certificate of completion, which means you need to do the weekly homework, complete the quizzes and final exam, and participate in the discussion forums, or you can simply watch the lectures and do whatever aspects of the homework, quizzes, etc. you want if you don’t really care about the certificate, which requires a passing grade.
The course itself won’t earn you any college credits, so, other than the certificate, which I do think you could list on your resume and anywhere else such credentials would be of value, here’s what I’m getting out of my online educational experience that’s certainly worth the time investment, never mind the tuition:
And, although it’s not on the hit list above, participating in this fascinating social, educational, and even cultural experiment that has the power to transform learning and teaching, not just in higher education, but across the entire spectrum of education worldwide, is a pretty amazing opportunity in and of itself.
So, while I watch all the kids in my neighborhood acclimate to their new school schedules, their shiny new backpacks already weighted down with more books than their small frames are meant to carry, this September, rather than feel a twinge of envy, I’m actually commiserating. For I, too, have quizzes and a final exam for which I need to study and homework I have to devote a portion of my weekends to (aw, man, that’s so not fair).
Unless feedback relates to an isolated issue for just one customer, the problem will only get worse the longer you ignore it.
I've been thinking that this whole social media thing is like physical fitness; you have to get into the right "good" habits, learn to do things that might be uncomfortable and even hurt a bit at the beginning so you can develop your network, sharpen your social media reflexes, and, perhaps, even become addicted to one or more activities.
This became even more apparent to me last week while I was sitting out on my terrace working away amid the traffic and construction sounds of midday Manhattan. I was deep in my own world of thought when I noticed my cell phone flashing an incoming call from an unrecognized number. Now, it may sound strange but I don’t actually receive a lot of calls on my cell as my business is largely conducted online, in person or via email. To be honest, I don’t even know if there was a last time someone I didn’t know called me in the middle of the day on my cell, so I was definitely suspicious, but too curious not to answer.
The call was from my cell phone company, Sprint. Well, what I mean is, it was from a Sprint representative—more precisely, their Vice President of Customer Finance Services who was calling me regarding an article I had written about my recent customer experience that centered around their automatic bill pay feature.
I'll admit I was kind of abrupt when I answered. This was partly because it's really hard to hear on my terrace when there's traffic and construction, which seems like all the time these days, and partly because I expected it would be someone asking me for money, which, if you work from home like me, is pretty much the gist of every call you do receive from 9 to 6 that isn't from someone you know. However, after I realized who was on the phone and why they were calling, I moved inside so we could conduct a proper conversation.
Like an Olympian, the VP got right down to business. Firstly, she apologized for the inconvenience and dissatisfaction I experienced both with the communications supporting Sprint's automatic payment system as well as for the customer service I had received; this went a long way toward changing my tone. So, we were off to a good start. Then, she mentioned Sprint’s awards for customer satisfaction and how they were a top ranking company for customer experience with small and medium-sized businesses and, to me, that was a definite misstep. Frankly, if someone has experienced the opposite of excellence in either or both of these categories, I’m going to suggest that, yes, there’s a time and place to mention these plaudits to them; pick the wrong time and place and you only succeed in rubbing salt in an already irritated wound. I’ll give you a hint—it’s not right out of the gate, you have to earn back a good bit of trust and goodwill first.
Okay, so things were looking a little iffy, but then something really interesting happened: The VP explained to me that around the time I had originally set up my automatic bill pay Sprint was experiencing an issue that delayed automatic payments. It was this very problem that had prompted me to make manual payments, which then overrode my auto pay setup; a maddening situation that happened twice. Next, she admitted that the company had not properly communicated to customers how their automatic payments would be affected to reset expectations. And finally, she assured me that this kind of oversight would not happen again. For lack of a better metaphor, that was a home run.
Basically, Sprint took the negative feedback it received and turned it into a positive by identifying a significant flaw in their system that could be damaging to their customer experience and bottom line in the future. Now Sprint knows that understanding and addressing the impact on all aspects of their customers' experience is a high priority when issues arise. And this is really important not just to Sprint but to any business that receives customer feedback from whatever forum it may come. Unless the feedback relates to an isolated issue for just one customer, the problem will only get worse the longer you ignore it. Far better to flip that negative around and credit your customers for helping you improve your service, product, experience, etc.
Before we got off the phone the VP scored another couple of easy points—she gave me her direct contact information, a credit on my account and offered to send me her information via email, which I accepted and received in short order.
While my original experience with Sprint’s customer service left quite a lot to be desired, I must give credit where credit is due—in the social media realm Sprint seems to have its act together. Their response was rapid and effective, which is exactly what a social media response strategy should be.
After the VP and I hung up I went back out on my terrace and checked TweetDeck; it seems my article had been retweeted several times earlier in the day, which explained how and why I'd received that personal call. The whole experience gave me a new appreciation for the muscle of social media and the first tangible evidence that, like a good exercise regime, if you stick with it, you will begin to reap its rewards.
If you can't figure out how to reap the rewards you seek from your social media efforts or don't even know where to direct your energies, let's connect. You can reach me on Twitter @GrowBeyondNY or by email.
Get Growing is a syndicated business. blog. Many posts are also published on business2community.com.