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Committing to Change September 24, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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I recently revisited “Your Brain and Business” by Srinivasan Pillay, in which the author describes many behaviors and habits studied by psychologists, sociologists, and economists in terms of recent fMRI research.  Even though it’s a fairly new field of study and its implications are not completely clear, we can still learn much from studies of emotion, decisions, and creativity and the connection between brain physiology and real-world behavior.

For example, most of us are familiar with visualizing a task or goal as a key step in achieving it – especially when behavioral change is necessary.  We might be trying to decide about a new job, resolve a conflict at home, or even simply lose weight.  Trainers and coaches advise that you should picture yourself in whatever “end state” you aim to reach.  You would visualize yourself in your ideal job, with your happy spouse, 20 pounds thinner – or whatever your goals might be.  Some might call it psychobabble, but fMRI demonstrates there are important changes in our brains when we visualize this way compared with not.

Example fMRI results

For many reasons, we are wired to set ourselves into habits.  It saves energy, protects our egos, reduces fear and anxiety, and feeds our feelings of reward when we accomplish things that are within our abilities.  Moving out of these habits then takes away all of these ‘good’ feelings and replaces them with brain chemicals that drive our fight or flight reflexes.

The fMRI studies show that when we visualize, we are literally training our minds to be more accustomed to our desired end state.  By reducing the novelty through mentally simulating our achievements, our brains are less likely to perceive these as fear-inducing unfamiliar situations.  This makes it easier to create further commitment to our goals, as each small step becomes an achievement (releasing reward chemicals) rather than a seemingly insurmountable task.

Advice, not Coaching April 23, 2012

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The job-search scene is hard enough.  You send applications, letters, resumes, and networking requests, spend hours searching the same boards over and over again hoping that this week, it will be different.  Unless you have considerate friends to give good feedback, or actually pay money to have someone review and edit your personal documents, you rarely get much constructive criticism or suggestions for improvement.

Enter Shea Gunther.

His clean tech job ad, unsurprisingly, drew hundreds of eager applicants looking for a great writing gig.  Anyone who reads applications for a living surely can guess at the percentage of worthwhile responses, and can probably sympathize with Gunther”s realization that there are truly a lot of bad resumes out there.

Perhaps out of frustration, he took it upon himself to write what appears to be a well-thought-out rejection letter (also here) – something most prospective employers wouldn’t bother to do.  Most applicants are lucky to get a form letter response, if anything at all.

So what went wrong?  Wouldn’t most people want helpful tips to improve their future search?  It turns out, not.  And, it turns out, this should not be a surprise to anyone.

While there are many hardy souls out there who took Gunther’s words at face value, many more thought he was being insensitive, arrogant, egotistical, and all manner of other unprintable names.  Gunther’s mistake was in believing that he could coach these people without ever meeting them.  He was giving unsolicited advice that triggers the human defense mechanism – he literally caused most reader’s brains to react with automatic rejection of their own (if you want to find out how this works, I highly recommend the book “Your Brain on Business”).

The takeaway from all this is that constructive advice is most helpful if the adviser is aware of the listener’s motivations in the first place.  A coach is someone who supports the individual’s effort and provides the necessary leeway to allow some degree of failure.  But this only works if the coach understands that individual’s limits and personal goals.  Basic, unfiltered advice is all over the internet, and most people have a high tolerance for sarcasm and cynicism.  But if the intent is to provide truly helpful and personal guidance, there’s only one way to do it – and it doesn’t involve a keyboard.

For Shea’s rebuttal to the naysayers, click over to salon.com

Bright Spots December 23, 2011

Posted by Jason in Management.
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The Heath Brothers are all about change.  But really, we all are.  The subtitle of their book Switch is “How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.”  That seems a  bit redundant.

Humans are hard-wired to resist change.  Psychologists, sociologists, and advertisers have known this for a long time.  It is the rest of us – the owners of such irrational brains – that seem consistently surprised that most of the things we would like to (or need to) change take plenty of hard work.

So with the close of another year and a reflection on just how difficult it has been to change ourselves, our businesses, and even our countries, it is appropriate to recall some of what the Heaths call “bright spots.”

Their bright spots are the things that highlight that progress is being made.  The small wins and micro-steps that occur day to day, but that are often invisible when we lift our gaze to the goals that still seem quite far away.  But they are there, and in fact we need them – we are biologically wired to stick to the safe path and avoid unnecessary risks.  These small wins allow our minds to grasp the possibilities and literally reshape our thinking.  Our hesitancy to take the first step along the path is many times greater than that keeping us from the second and subsequent steps.

So it is as many of us look forward to 2012, make our resolutions, set high goals, and then – come February – discover that, “gosh, this is hard work!”  So many of us examine our weaknesses and resolve to reverse them – the ultimate definition of personal change.  Alternatively, we could examine our strengths and achievements over the past year – and build on them.  I guarantee that even if your life was turned upside-down during the last year or two, there have been small successes.  You never know when one of those will be the key to the next door.

Shooting the Elephant – With Lasers! April 28, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Your efforts to improve profitability are lagging. You might be staying afloat, making payroll, and beginning to reinstate a few benefits, but you’re not really doing your best work. For the most part, that might be okay, since that’s probably also (more…)

What’s Your Mission? February 16, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Today was about goals.  The external environment changes rapidly.  Much more rapidly than we would often prefer, and sometime more often than we are able to match.

But it is still necessary to set goals based on the information you have available at the time.  This isn’t to say that we should obsess over particular achievements, however.  With every change comes the opportunity to revisit our goals – and our personal and business mission statements.

As an entrepreneur, you are in the unique position of having a personal mission that meshes quite nicely with that of your business.  After all, for many, the business is their life.  But the larger the organization, the more it becomes necessary to reaffirm the business mission, and to further ensure that it still does indeed reflect the personal goals of the founders.

Don’t be afraid of changing the goals in the middle of the game.  Also don’t forget that it’s okay to decide that your personal goals don’t necessarily fit with the organization’s.

The Problem With Vision December 15, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Make no mistake – vision is necessary.  It is critical to developing a strategic approach to individual projects or overall business practices.  Unfortunately, many managers take the concept just far enough to feel powerless when visions do not turn into reality.  The frustration is understandable, and even palpable when a firm’s livelihood is on the line.

The problem with vision is that big picture goals do not in and of themselves comprise measurable or distinctly prioritized goals.  The problem with vision is that once you realize that the vision is not working out, it’s too late to change course.

In order to convert vision to execution, it is absolutely necessary to break the big picture into manageable, short-term goals.