When I was much younger I used to play pool with my Dad. I had a habit. If I couldn’t find a direct shot I’d go for a ‘Hit and Hope’. I’d just hit the balls hard with the intent that something good might happen.
It rarely did.
Over time, I became a lot less discerning about when I played a H&H shot. I stopped taking the time and effort to find a genuine shot. I’d just give the cue ball a slap and watch what happened. It was easy. It was addictive. It was unsurprisingly ineffective.
It was the opposite of purposeful.
Sometimes you need to apply a large blunt force and hope for the best. But don’t make it a habit.
It’s easy to tick a box, to say “I’ve done this”.
It’s harder to make sure that you understand the purpose of a task, ensure it’s been fully decided and/or communicated to you before you even start.
It’s a mistake to do things without grokking the reasons for doing it. It’s also a wasted opportunity; it’s almost impossible to over-deliver when you don’t know where the goalposts are.
Next time that you’re indulging in box-ticking, spend a moment to think about what you could be doing instead.
(I’m posting this right now because I’m working on a book and I need a kick up the ass to make progress on it.)
Know what you believe in.
When times get hard, when threats or opportunities or temptations arise, know what you believe in.
Some beliefs are easy, trivial, commonplace. Others are more controversial or nuanced, unique to yourself, your family, your organisation.
Evaluate your beliefs, record them. Return to them frequently because when the situation is stressful or diverting it’s all too easy to forget what you believe in. And that’s when your beliefs are most important.
The Head and Shoulders effect. I named this after the 90s TV adverts for the shampoo. Their tagline was “I never knew you had dandruff.” In the adverts, one surprised individual asks their well-coiffed friend why they are using an anti-dandruff shampoo when they clearly don’t have dandruff.
More generally, the question might look like: why are you taking a preventative measure for something I didn’t realise needed preventative measures?
It always struck me as wrong and illogical as a question (but great advertising if you look at their sales results).
Recently, I’ve come across this style of question in real life (adverts don’t count as real life, despite what they want us to believe). I’ve been asked why I was watching what I was eating since I was already slim. The answer is that I’m slim because I watch what I eat (mostly…).
I think the Head and Shoulders effect nicely illustrates confirmation bias: our tendency to interpret information in a way that tends to confirm our beliefs.
There’s a darker angle to confirmation bias. I see this as the flip-side of the Head and Shoulders effect: “I’m taking measures, why aren’t I seeing results.”
I think the answer – and the problem – here is that sometimes we shouldn’t be comparing our progress to where we were at the start of the journey but to where we would be today if we hadn’t chosen to make a change.
For example, it’s very easy for me to feel bad about the slow progress I’ve had trying to improve my running fitness but if I instead think where I would be if I hadn’t done any training at all suddenly it’s obvious what the value is.
I think today’s lesson is to be kind to ourselves by realising that we can’t always directly measure the impact of our efforts because we can’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t tried, and to treat ourselves to a great shampoo.
(Lessons from Arnold Schwarzenegger and his midriff)
Apparently, Arnold Schwarzenegger only ever had a 4-pack. A 4-pack stomach is like a 6-pack stomach but not quite as ‘good’ (some of the abdominal muscles are still covered by body fat), or so I hear. There’s an 8-pack option too.
Genetics meant that even though Arnie was the Mr Olympia for a number of years he was never able to attain a 6-pack.
Did this bother him? Did it hold him back?
I’m not sure we can know the answer to the first question but by most standards the answer to the latter question is a resounding no.
What are the 4-packs in your life, home or business? How much time and effort are you exerting chasing a metaphorical 6-pack? What else could you spend that energy on? Where could you apply the rule of good enough?
The opposite side of the coin from incrementing to awesome is knowing when to stop.
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‘Better than nothing’ is normally a dismissive term.
Sure, whatever, better than nothing right?
Let’s look at it from another perspective for a second. Consider the activities in our lives and businesses that contribute nothing to our goals. Pointless meetings, wasting hours on social media, dealing with the wrong kind of clients…
Now think of things that are simple, easy and better than nothing. If you did those things instead of the things with no value at all what do you think the net effect would be? After a day, week, year, lifetime?
A 5 minute walk is better than no exercise. Writing a few words is better than writing none. Reaching out to one person is better than helping no-one.
The best thing is, once these tiny better-than-nothings are in place we can do something very slightly better again.
It could be that the biggest opportunity we get in our lives is the opportunity to do lots of tiny things.
Where are you most creative? Where do you do your best thinking?
Where do you spend your time? Where do you go to solve complex problems?
Are you desk- or office-bound? What about your team if you have one?
The idea for this post came to me originally when I was running on a treadmill. I forgot about it for a while but I kept remembering it when I was in the shower.
I seem to be at my most creative when walking outside or when taking a shower. I solve problems best in front of a big whiteboard. Yet I spend all day sat on my bum.
It’s easy, inoffensive and conventional to spend hours sat at a desk. That doesn’t make it right (or healthy, but that’s a different topic).
Today, my Path to Awesome is to be more aware and respectful of my own needs for appropriate creative space, and those of my team. How about you?
Incrementing to Awesome is about taking gentle steps towards a better place. There are three parts to this equation.
Firstly, there’s ‘Incrementing’, the practise of making consistent, tiny, mostly-safe changes. It’s the spirit of Kaizen mixed with the Art of the Possible.
Next, comes ‘Awesome’: the destination of your incrementing journey, whether or not you intend or desire to reach it.
But the most important word, so fundamental it’s not even mentioned?
(If you’re thinking ‘honesty’ here I’m glad the subtle clue worked)
The answer is honesty. (Surprise!)
What do gentle steps look like to you?
What costs are you prepared to pay to take this journey?
Who are you willing to become to become the person you want to be?
Whatever stage of your journey you’re on it’s worth considering these questions, maybe even recording the answers. Our future selves don’t always remember what our past selves intended.
I know I didn’t consider these things early enough and it nearly knocked me off my path.
Hopefully, with a bit of honesty that won’t happen to me again, or anyone else.