Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's The How, Not The What

I am a big believer in visualization. I have found it to be an instrumental driving force behind change. In many ways my livelihood hinges on my ability to harness or create change within people and organizations, and I have often relied on the power of visualization in my work.

There is however an aspect of visualization that can be both subtle and startling. For me I bump against this tenet whenever I'm discussing future plans or goals. Especially when they are other peoples future plans or goals. I find myself talking more about how they are going achieve their desires, more so then about those specific desires. This actually works to my advantage because quite a few people only want to talk about the car they are going to drive, they aren't interested in what it takes to acquire it, so they learn to stop talking to me about it. ;-)

The Process is more Powerful than the Product

Have you ever heard someone say "It's the journey, not the destination."? This is a common sense way of explaining this same tenet. How you are going to go about doing something is more influential to your success than what you are trying to accomplish. How to use a tool is more important than acquiring one. The way you go about solving your problems will limit you more than the solutions you may or may not find.

This is a fully loaded tenet so I'm going to go into some more detail about how I apply this every day. When I'm talking to people who have goals, I don't start by asking them to visualize their goals. Instead I ask them to visualize the process of achieving those goals. I don't ask them what they are willing to do for their success. Instead I ask them what they are NOT willing to do.

This sounds pretty counter-intuitive until you realize that it is our limiting beliefs which truly rule our mental maps and models. Consider that guy you know who wants a bigger house. He wants the house, but he isn't willing to move to the middle of nowhere to afford it. That new car? But not willing to work an extra job. Fame? But not willing to wait tables and suffer the humiliation of auditions. Lose weight? But really enjoy dessert. They want to stop being hung over? But won't give up the weekend binge drinking.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It isn't just about focusing on the limits. It's also about realizing that breaking down the limits is a process of change. It's fine to set a weight loss goal for 6 months out. But if you don't change your lifestyle in your little decisions every day, you likely won't meet your goals. If you want to have a comfortable retirement, but you are only contributing the minimums to your 401K, you'll likely not reach your dream. Afraid of speaking in public? Want to improve your self-image? Focus on the internal processes you use to restrict and limit yourself. When you can see the process you use you can change it.

The same is true with those people who want to talk about that better job or more money. When I tell them what they'll have to do to get it, they always do one of two things. They give themselves permission to do the necessary, or they realize they don't really want to do the necessary and they can finally stop obsessing over some future state and enjoy what they really have.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How Bad Do You Want It?

The grind I currently find myself participating in has its advantages. Namely, the problems are complicated and haven't been solved by numerous other "smart" people who have tried for extended periods of time. I've had a week and been slowly making progress.

As is often the case with tremendously screwed up situations like this one, even some progress is met with skepticism and distrust for a while. I'm carrying the baggage of all the months and host of people who were here before. To cope with this I've been repeating another foundational tenet.

You haven't failed. You've only gotten feedback.

The trick to really complicated problem solving is realizing that you don't have to boil the ocean all in one go. You can take steps and make progress, sometimes just by ruling out things that clearly aren't the answer.

Thomas Edison has a good quote on this, Benjamin Franklin has one, and so does Albert Einstein. There are numerous other versions and misquotations, but they all can be paraphrased in the same supporting tenet:

You can only fail if there is a time limit.

Specifically in my situation, I have people who have already tried quite a few alternative solutions. So when I ask them to proceed down a path they believe they've already wandered, they resist. They fight every step of the way. But as is often the case, I'm able to point out something in the way that they failed which sets them on a new direction. Yesterday we had a breakthrough because I insisted on making someone follow my instructions even though we both knew it was going to fail. We needed to see the way it failed to clearly develop an alternative to the process. Once we saw that, I was able to twist the problem and put him on a path to success. Which in very short order he achieved.

When you feel like you are beating your head against the same wall, perhaps you need to consider. But if you continue to learn and improve even though you fail repeatedly, don't give up. Acknowledge the success of your feedback, twist the problem, and keep going.

Monday, January 19, 2009

We All Have Good Intentions

Here's another basic premise I had to recall today. Interestingly, it wasn't because of anything at work but in a personal relationship.

Behavior always has a Positive Intention.

This is one of those blindingly obvious things that just eludes as all from time to time. Basically, the point here is that anything someone is doing is because they are trying to achieve some goal for themselves. From their perspective, there is a reason and a motivation for their behaviors. Even in cases where those reasons or motivations seem irrational to us, or are hidden from them.

Our whole intellect is designed to pursue our desires and achieve our goals. Even in cases where we aren't aware of what those desires might be. For example, we see this in our preservation instinct and our self-defense mechanisms. Our brain resolves all the inputs and formulates responses that will further our internal goals. This is why some people are spenders and some are savers, some people are aggressive and some are timid, and so forth. Internally, they have goals in mind which motivate and drive their behaviors.

When you understand that people are never just acting in a vacuum, and are always acting in alignment with their goals, it becomes easier to empathize, understand, collaborate with, or even control them. When you are aware of their goals and motivations, you can predict or rationalize their behaviors. When you witness their behaviors, you can derive their goals.

To take this a little further, consider people watching a sporting event or chess match. It's easy to assume each player or coach just wants "to win". But the reality is that they have other goals which dictate the constraints and subordinate goals to winning. For example, they might want to manage exposure to risk, protect certain players or pieces, or have a preference for certain techniques or plays. These constraints and subordinate goals will impact their decisions and behaviors. So when people ask "Why'd he call that play?" or "Why did she try that attack?" they are only verbalizing that they don't understand these other non-obvious motivations.

The twist on positive intention is due to the nature of perspective. Often I would substitute the word Purpose instead of Positive Intention. This is because most people understand positive to "good" or "beneficial". In reality, the only person that is true for is the one demonstrating the behavior. It might very well be painful or hurtful or "bad" to others. But in their mind it's serving a purpose. Perhaps hidden and subconscious, but very real.

To put this in practice, pay attention to how people behave when the goals are very public. You will still see them act in unique ways which gives you clues to their hidden goals and motivations. For example, watching people shop is a great way to get a view into their psyche. Do they check prices first or follow colors? Do they check sizes before saying they like something? These are simple examples but they can be extrapolated to how people order food in a group, the questions they ask about the news, or how they act at a party. Are they thrifty, self-conscious about their weight, a leader or follower? The key to unlocking most peoples inner picture of themselves starts with simple observations like this.

In every situation, we are individually running all the inputs through our internal goal-seeker and deciding on a response that best gets us what we want. Watch what people do when the goals are obvious and you'll find out all those other hidden goals they don't even know about themselves.

Friday, January 16, 2009

You Get What You Put In

I'm starting a new endeavor and as usual, I need to review some of the things I've learned to make sure I can be successful. I'll be posting some small snapshot entries as I unpack my toolset for the days to come. Here's one I typically start with:

The meaning in a Communication is the Response you obtain.

This is one of those that most people think they understand until it slowly unravels in their mind. Here's another way to perceive this concept: Consider that you are trying to explain a concept to someone and they insist they understand your point but their words don't align to prove they actually do. If you continue making the same points with the same language they may very well shut down with "I don't want to have the same conversation again." then you've learned how to end a conversation with that person. This can be a valuable resource, especially for when you need to slow an interaction down.

Consider a different scenario in which you offer to help someone with something (say some action items they are responsible for accomplishing) and they abruptly retort "I can take care of it." then you have garnered a valuable response. You now know how to get them to snap at you if the need for that arises. You'd be surprised at how often being able to evoke a response is useful.

These are both negative responses, and I use them intentionally, because the positive ones are easy to ignore. To get inside both cases, you have to come to the realization that you are responsible for your own communication. Because of that, the response you get is something you can impact. If you aren't getting the response you desire, it's up to you to change your communication. If at all possible, change your words. If you can't change your words, change how you are saying it.

You might find these intrinsic in your own understanding, but if you are like me, you forget to keep these clear in your mind from time to time. So a refresher on how to have an impact with my communication was just the ticket.