Tagged in: making change

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Did it Work?

There are things we do for fun and there are other things we do to achieve a given goal. These activities may vary in intent between days or people. Some people run for fun, others for competition; sometimes those that run for fun need to run for a bus.

I would go a step further and suggest that whenever we deliberately do anything it is either to enjoy the activity or the end result, or to gain the benefits of the activity or end result, or some combination. That might sound obvious but being obvious, believed in, respected and considered are all different beasts.

During our waking hours we’re always doing something, even if that something is twiddling our thumbs. In business and in everyday life there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of activities each day that we undertake for a purpose other than personal enjoyment.

Hopefully, we know why we’re taking on these tasks but how often do we check that what we’re doing is moving us toward our goals? Potentially everything we do is another step towards awesome, but only if it’s in the right direction.

I’m not suggesting that we gather metrics and analyse performance for every email written or every sandwich eaten (but some people might want to…) but there should be a line in the sand, placed with intent and forethought. We can give ourselves permission to do certain things without subjecting our performance to analysis – and it can be a great big list. I suggest though that the default should be to develop and apply a system of analysis on anything not on that list. Emails, meetings, networking, blogging; tasks short, long, simple or complex should all be subject to the same rigorous application of post-activity analysis.

This all sounds like hard work and it can be. We could simply chose not to bother. But if a task is worth doing isn’t it worth checking to see if we did it well?

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The Head and Shoulders Effect

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.

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Better than Nothing

‘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.