The New Yeoman

Thoughts on Making a Living

Tag: professional development

Grit For Organizations

What is this “Grit” I keep hearing about?

Grit is a hot concept right now, but largely in the self-improvement space. I listened to a good Freakonomics Radio podcast interview of Angela Lee Duckworth by Steven J. Dubner about Duckworth’s book entitled, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perserverance. Duckworth’s basic premise is that people with the most grit have the following characteristics, in order;

  1. They cultivate an interest in a subject
  2. They practice that subject deliberately (a la Anders Ericsson’s Peak)
  3. They feel the subject has meaning or purpose in their lives
  4.  They are optimistic about their outcomes with that subject

By the way, Duckworth reveals a great tool to fight off boredom of a subject. It involves nuance versus novelty, but you should listen to hear her talk about it.

So, that is the personal version of grit in a nutshell (according to Duckworth), but what about organizations?

Can organizations have grit?

On my walk yesterday, I came to this question as I pondered an organization that I was talking to recently about their culture and how to ensure they kept it as they grow. It occurred to me that, yes, organizations could have grit, but many organizations have only three of the four characteristics. They have interest in their work, they generally have purpose in their field, and for the most part they are optimistic that their hard work will result in good things. Sometimes, they have deliberate practice in the sexy fields of website and product design (e.g. A/B testing). However, many fail in the deliberate practice characteristic, especially with their sales and customer services work. For certain, they are “practicing” all day, every day at their work. They are answering an increasing number of phone calls, emails, webchats, etc., but are they deliberately trying to improve in a well-chosen and specific area every day in a way that stays true to their mission? Sadly, many are not. This led me to think of grit in another manner. Let’s call it “Strategic Grit.”

What is Strategic Grit?

First of all, it is entirely reasonable to have this conversation based on Anders Ericsson‘s concept of deliberate practice, instead of grit. However, I like to think of it in terms of grit, because deliberate practice is recursive inside of Duckworth’s concept of grit, so you get a twofer. In other words, to want to practice deliberately, you probably have to have an interest in the subject, feel that it has meaning (purpose) in your work, and be optimistic about the outcome. That’s when I started thinking about how, in order to know what to deliberately practice, an organization needs to analyze its current state and compare it honestly against its desired future state. In other words, finding out about what should interest the organization. This is the first step (Diagnosis) in Richard Rumelt‘s Good Strategy, Bad Strategy (Excellent book, BTW. If you have not read it, the Kindle edition is $1.99 right now). But being clear-headed about strategy requires a little grit too. At this point, I was starting to confuse myself, so I tried to simplify what I thought grit was, in terms of analyzing (diagnosing) what should interest an organization. I decided to use Duckworth’s model of four characteristics, in order, that I had personally seen in organizations that truly faced up to what was causing them problems, especially in dealing with customer service and sales. I created an acronym, because that is what consultants do. Here is my attempt to define Strategic Grit.

TJ Linzy’s definition of Strategic Grit for Organizations

G – Guts – Have the guts to face up to the real issues (take interest) that confront your organization based on your core mission and prioritize them for deliberate practice. Not those that everyone else focusses on, but the ones that will most help meet your mission. This is where the nuance versus novelty discussion is often pertinent.
R – Resolve to improve (deliberately practice)  on the issues mentioned above, even if it means changing KPIs, bucking industry trends, or challenging the status quo. For the other issues that are not part of your core mission, resolve to be at the market standard and stop fretting about them.
I – Integrity. Know what you want to be remembered for ethically (feel what your doing has purpose). Ensure integrity with your ethics by ensuring your actions are aligned with your values.
T – Tenacity. Keep going, even when it looks bleak and going back to your old ways seems like a safe bet (optimism in the outcome helps with tenacity). If you honestly diagnosed your gaps, aligned your principles to guide you, and used logic to ensure your actions were coherent with your diagnosis and principles, you’ll be on the right track and only tenacity will separate you from success.

Well, that’s it. Any value to anyone?

 

Photo credit – By zaui/Scott Catron [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Elliott Hulse and Non-Jobs

I like Elliott Hulse. The guy is mesmerizing. How often do you run into a guy who is so physically fit that is this eloquent? If you are an older guy like me looking to improve your health, check his Strength Camp video channel. If you are a young person and are debating university, watch this one. If you don’t like the cursing, ignore it. Elliott is speaking to an audience that he understands and the cursing helps his authenticity. I love his message which is truer than many will accept.

Elliott’s view on NonJobs is boiled down to these points.

  1. Find something you love. This is sometimes hard, but Hulse’s point is that you have to keep searching, even, no, especially when you’ve found it.
  2. Share the love. I like his point about credentials. If you get a degree… a piece of paper, you may or may not know much about it. It probably depends on why you went for the degree. However, if you LOVE a topic, you “ooze” your knowledge and that is attractive to other people. It is far more attractive than a degree.
  3. Receive the love. Our world is cynical, but the love does come back, if we gave it freely. I can’t tell you how many times I have bought something after having someone give me something for free that I loved and valued. I want more of that person, I feel a connection with them, and I want to make sure they are fairly compensated for that.

Watch this video below and if you like it, you can get more from Elliott at the NonJob website.

Disclosure: I get no payment of any kind from Elliott Hulse or any of his affiliated businesses. I am just inspired by the guy. Good luck, Elliott.

Deep Work and Meetings

Here is a good article from Help Scout on How to Sabotage Any Meeting. In reference to my previous post on Deep Work, the work that gets done at meetings is normally bad too, because everyone is flitting about on the surface with too many distractions. Number three on How to Sabotage Any Meeting,

Do synthesis work at the meeting

…. I’ve learned the hard way that while meetings are useful for outlining what can be done, they’re god-awful for putting paint on the canvas. Feedback becomes relevant when The Thing has taken shape—even if it’s just a fragment of the final result.

Collaboration has its limits. Use meetings to chart the course, to get visceral reactions along the way, and to push past the finish line. Don’t use them to synthesize on the spot. Create alone, decide together.

I couldn’t agree more. Rather than spending the time to do the Deep Work and bring a thoughtful proposal to the table, most people are either too lazy, distracted, or scared. Lazy, because they are trying to get others to do their work or don’t want to do more than one iteration. Distracted, because they have lost the discipline to do Deep Work. Scared that their Deep Work would look amateurish. My advice on this last one is to not worry. If you really do think about the issue deeply and consider the situation, you will almost always out-think the distracted rest-of-us at the meeting.

That article about The Collaboration Curse from The Economist is a good one too. Good fodder for another post.

Photo Credit:

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Harlem branch, Boys club meeting” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-8207-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Beautiful Questions in a Target Rich Environment

“Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” ― ee cummings

In A More Beautiful Question, Warren Berger makes the case that in a world full of easily accessed knowledge, the real skill is to pose better questions. I like the title wording of Warren Berger via ee cummings. Our new world is not bereft of questions. I get tons of them. Most of them could be solved by the person asking them with a DuckDuckGo search.

In fact, our new world is full of answers and full of questions. However, the answers often have no context and people don’t often frame the questions well. Part of this ties in with what I wrote last week in Deep Work and Self Education. The ability to think of a really good question is often what separates true understanding from mere collections of fact. What keeps us from formulating a good question is often not thinking about it deeply, because we are busy and awash in information. Its a vicious circle, but one we must break.

Elegant questions are what make our work meaningful and give us real priorities, rather than artificial deadlines to do something. Taking the time to answer the basics, understand them, help others understand them, and put them in context before posing an intelligent question is what separates the professional from the amateur. Insightful questions are also what gets the attention of the experts you may be seeking to involve in your project or cause. The best way to be ignored in professional circles, and social circles too, is to ask simple questions that show no understanding or empathy for others’ time or concerns. What intrigues people is when you ask something that shows you spent some time trying to understand the subject and you are looking to them for a deeper understanding.

Berger’s theme is that more beautiful questions are what is needed to increase innovation. To tie in Steven Johnson’s assertion that good ideas are derived from the chaos at the edge of current knowledge, the glut of information and lack of good questions present a target rich environment. For those who can grasp the context and continue to push out the knowledge with perceptive questions, the adjacent possible comes into view.

I also think that stimulating questions make for better plans. What I really like about the Minto method and the Army Operations Order is that you start with a fully acknowledged Situation and Complication before you decide what you should do and how you should do it. Using modern Army parlance, “The enemy gets a vote.” By making this understanding explicit, one gains the confidence of the people one will eventually ask to do something. With that confidence and an expectation that those involved will also be expected to ask compelling questions, the network mind is activated.

If you are looking for your next professional read, I highly recommend Berger’s A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.

Deep Work and Self Education

In his new book, Deep Work, author Cal Newport goes in to detail about why the ability to focus on work that requires deep thought and multiple levels of inquiry has become a competitive edge. No doubt, this type of work has always been relatively rare. However, it is more so these days due to the much discussed proliferation of technologies that nip at your attention like a pack of hyenas trying to pick off the weak in the wildebeest herd. Sadly, in our world, the attention-hyenas have grown fat and don’t even have to give chase. We sit in our chairs and wait for them every morning.

I think Newport’s thesis is correct. The ability, not the time, is actually what is missing. Lots of people say that they just don’t have the time to set aside and think deeply on things that are important to them. However, I don’t need to quote specifics –about the billions who use social media all day long or the people who respond to emails in seconds like it is some lab experiment to grab pellets when the bell rings– to make the point that we are not using the time wisely. (yes, I see the irony in this article… get back to work 😉

Because we have been doing this now for one or two decades, many of us have lost our ability to do the deep work even when we have the time. Stare at a blank document or project plan for twenty minutes, meet the first obstacle, and freeze. Send an email to Fred to see if he got that new data. Text Mary for an update on how the meeting went. Read our “professional” newsfeed for the fourth time this morning, etc. We are all talking about talking about talking. We’re just doing it on new and different platforms.

The ability to think deeply and present new ideas on how to tackle problems is now the rarest of things. I often see this in the board room. The conversation flies around, but nothing is tackled in depth. No one brings deep critical thinking to the table. Every one just brings the latest data, report or presentation. None of it sticks to the walls and becomes deep conversation.

I agree with Newport on career development too. If a person wants to make themselves valuable to themselves or to an organization, they need to develop the ability to go into a quiet room, think deeply on an issue, and come out with either a new option on the issue or deep analysis of which known options are better and actionable. Either output is far more valuable than anyone else is likely to bring to the table.

When one ties this ability with the other rarity of the modern world which is the ability to self-educate, a person will have a formidable set of skills. In fact, I’ll go further. Teaching yourself to A) work deeply and B) self educate is the whole education that most should be seeking. If one develops the discipline and skill to work deeply on any topic and develops the skills to educate themselves with the near-universal amount of knowledge available today, there is no need to predict what comes next. One with these two capabilities doesn’t care. They can analyze any market, make deeply considered choices, and educate themselves to tackle what they choose. If they are wrong, they can start again. They are not one-trick ponies. In other words, strive to be adaptable, not prescient.

Finally, I think this is New Yeoman territory too. Any trade is susceptable to improvement in these skills. Don’t waste time in the truck on Facebook before the next customer call. Read the trade journal and come up with new ideas for your customer. Consider how your invoices and receipts may help you convert more sales. Develop that nagging idea you’ve had for a new specialized tool. Think deeply, turn it into digestable chunks of work and take action.

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