Monday, October 31, 2011

The Lotus Blossom

No, I am not getting poetic on you, nor am I looking to share with you the benefits of yoga poses.  The Lotus Blossom is a Japanese Brainstorming Technique.  This was a technique originally developed by Yasuo Matsumura of Clover Management Research in Japan, and described by Michael Michalko, author of Creative Thinkering and Thinkertoys.
Lotus Blossom Diagram

This technique allows you to organize your thinking around specific themes, which allow you to keep your thinking fluid, allowing shifts in your thinking patterns.  All too often we attempt to brainstorm in far too linear patterns, not keeping ourselves open to alternative directions of thought.  Certainly the benefit of brainstorming in groups is to open yourself to the various possibilities that different minds bring to the table.  But when you are working with the benefits of just one mind, your own, how do you ensure that you are not missing potential pathways of thought by not fully exploring all options?  Yep... the Lotus Blossom.

Like Bubble Diagrams, you start with a central subject and expand it out into different ideas/themes.  In this technique, each of these core themes, representing various petals in the blossom, are expanded themselves to reveal key components or sub themes.  This continues to expand outward, in ever widening circles until each has been fully explored.  By expanding outward in such a way, you ensure that each theme becomes developed fully enough that all alternative possibilities are clear, allowing you to abandon or accept each.

How to:
1.  Write the central problem in the center
2.  List the main themes in the surrounding circles (A to H).  The optimal number of themes for a diagram that doesn't drive you crazy is between 6 and 8.  Consider what your specific objectives are, what the dimensions of the problem are... even... if your subject were a book, what would the chapters headings be?
3.  Each of these ideas in turn break out into forming new petals, generating eight new ideas or applications.
4.  Continue to expanding outward until no other expansion is possible.

The diagram itself allows you to begin to recognise emerging patterns and relationships between themes.  Sometimes, features not previously identified or recognised will emerge, offering new opportunities.  This technique can be applied to any area in which you need to generate new ideas, whether for a project, business issue, job search, or personal dilemma.  If your current brainstorming techniques seem to have stalled, give this one a try, or check out one of Michael's books for some alternative ways of approaching your problems.  It just might be that you just need a new way of approaching your problems to uncover new solutions and answers.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Defence Mechanisms - What ones are you using?

Defence Mechanisms.  We all use them.  These are the unconscious protective measures we take to protect ourselves from our anxieties, to avoid confronting our weaknesses.  In the short term they typically work to help us to manage the stress,to cope with messages and situations, allowing us to slowly come to terms with our thoughts and experiences.  In the long term though, our defence mechanisms may serve as barriers to our own learning and growth, preventing us from coming to terms with our experiences and growing beyond them.  Learning to recognise your defence mechanisms of choice can sometimes help you to unmask your barriers and learn to move beyond the initial hurt and anxiety.

According to Anna and Sigmund (Freud that is!), there are 9 key defence mechanisms...

1.  Denial.  This has to be the most common and generic of the defence mechanisms (and really, have any of us not used this at one time or another?).  Denial occurs when we refuse to accept the reality of a fact or experience, we argue against an anxiety provoking stimuli by stating it doesn't exist perhaps that it never even happened.  You may see this in people who distance themselves from their bad habits by insisting that they are only social drinkers or smokers, or perhaps someone who denies that their physician is correct in their diagnosis of cancer and continues to seek out other opinions rather than beginning treatment. 

2.  Repression.  This simply means you forget that something bad happened to you.  Just as someone may 'forget' sexual abuse from their childhood, due to the trauma and anxiety it caused, repression serves to create a buffer between you and the event.  In the short term this may be a necessary method of coping with the pain, but in the longer term it may have an unavoidable impact on the way in which you view yourself or relationships in general if not recognised.  Repression may even result in your unconscious 'forgetting' an upcoming event that you dread attending as a means of avoiding it entirely.

3.  Regression.  In this defence mechanism we tend to revert to a childlike emotional state (a previous stage of development) where your unconscious fears and anxieties generally reappear.  In short, you are likely to have a more childlike reaction to the stress you are under; throwing a temper tantrum, refusing to talk when mad, sitting in a corner and crying, running to your room, slamming doors...  if you are a parent you know these signs!

4.  Displacement.  This occurs when you transfer your feelings and take out your impulses on a less threatening target.  For example, punching the wall instead of hitting someone, yelling at your spouse or kids because you're mad at your boss.

5.  Projection.  Instead of recognising and accepting a particular quality in ourselves (which might not be that appealing or comfortable for us) we 'project' it onto others and instead accuse them of having those thoughts and feelings.  In essence, whatever we don't 'like' about ourselves we see in others. An example would be when we're losing an argument we accuse the other person of being 'stupid'.  Homophobia would be another.

6.  Reaction Formation.  This is when we mask our true feelings by adopting the exact opposite, because the true feeling causes us anxiety.  For example; we lust after someone we feel we shouldn't so they become the target of our hatred; we have a bias against a particular race or culture and so we embrace them to the extreme.

7.  Intellectualization.  Is the avoidance or neutralization of unacceptable or uncomfortable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects.  We deal with the logical aspects to avoid feeling or dealing with the pain.  For instance, focusing on the details of a funeral, rather than the sadness and grief we feel.

8.  Rationalization.  This is somewhat similar to intellectualization but it deals more with supplying a logical or rational reason for some negative action we have taken, as opposed to the real reason.  Often it is easier to blame others for our behaviour than to face up to what we were feeling, or why we did what we did.  Rather than accepting our poor performance as the reason for being fired we create the explanation that the boss never liked us and always had it in for us.

9.  Sublimation.  This tends to be a much more long term strategy, in which we act out our unacceptable impulses in a socially acceptable way.  In this mechanism we transform our conflicted emotions into more productive outlets.  Dealing with aggressive impulses by taking up boxing or martial arts would be an example.

Certainly you it would be difficult to read over the list above and not see yourself in some of them.  We all need to create some distance between ourselves and our emotions at times.  However, we don't want to be at the mercy of these defence mechanisms and have them create such a bugger between us and our experiences that we are unable to learn or grow from them.  There can be tremendous growth that comes out of our experiences, but we have to be present to those experiences for that growth to occur.  Next time you catch yourself using one of the above, take a moment to ask yourself what emotion you are defending yourself against, and what you can learn from it.  The point is not to wallow in the emotion but to discover the life lesson it contains.  Embracing the lesson is all about moving forward toward something better.  And really...  who would want anything less for themselves?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Living on Auto-Pilot

We are all creatures of habit. Our habits are time and energy savers and, in general, serve us well. We can engage in activities throughout our day, expending little conscious thought in accomplishing these tasks. Our unconscious, habitual autopilot takes over for us and we are able to think of other things while performing these tasks.

• In the shower, we tend to wash ourselves in the same way, same order of body parts, every time

• We dress by putting our pants on the same way, same leg first

• Ever drive on autopilot, coming back to yourself just as your exit comes up? (or...worse still...just as you pass your exit?)

Much of our everyday lives have been condensed into habitual rituals that save us from having to be consciously aware of each moment needed to complete them. This frees our mind to be present for, and focusing on, different things. The downside, of course, is that we can get locked on autopilot for various activities and we then fail to question the 'why' of the behaviours we engage in. We therefore fail to learn or to grow by attempting to do differently.

In organizations we see this all of the time, processes that are running not because they are efficient but because they reflect 'the way it's always been done'. It is only when someone new enters the picture and challenges the status quo that we begin to question these processes ourselves and search for improvements.
How many of these opportunities do we miss for ourselves, those potential moments of possible growth and improvement simply because we live too much of our lives on auto-pilot? Sometimes the biggest thing holding us back from taking a chance on something is our belief that 'it's not the way things work', or that 'it's not how things are done'. Perhaps it is time for us to challenge some of those assumptions by telling ourselves instead... 'that's how it was but it isn't necessarily how it has to be'.

This point came home to me this weekend when I went to see the movie 'Moneyball' with Brad Pitt.  In this true life story, he plays the Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, who is legendary for having rethought (and revamped) the way that baseball players are selected.  He faced tremendous criticism (perhaps most notably from baseball scouts) who were all quick to tell him that it 'wasn't how it's done'.

Tim Ferriss, in his best selling book The Four Hour Workweek also gained notoriety for completely shifting the assumptions we had about the way we view and structure 'work'.  Tim constantly explores and challenges 'the rules', looking for ways to reorganise, restructure or flat out work around the way things have been done to get more done, in less time.

Take a lesson from Billy Beane or Tim yourself periodically to switching things up a little, trying a new way of doing something. You just might find a better path, a new interest, develop a skill or just streamline a process. Maybe instead of not doing something differently because you’ve always done it a certain way, your new reason for doing different is simply BECAUSE you have always done it a certain way.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Art of Mastery

What does it take to achieve true mastery, whether in a skill, a subject or an activity? The answer seemingly is straightforward and simple...practice. What is not so simple perhaps is the amount of practice required. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book The Outliers, speaks about the 10,000 hour rule. Studies from various disciplines show consistently that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve the level of mastery needed to be considered a world-class expert in anything. 10,000 hours.

In fact, no one has yet been able to document a case of someone whose mastery was achieved in anything less than that. Practice is therefore the key to becoming truly excellent at anything requiring:
  • Clarity of intention
  • Dedication of effort
  • Focus of mind
  • Commitment to achievement

What then for those of us that are only beginning our journey into mastery? Do we feel weighed down by the seeming impossibility of ever achieving that magical number of 10,000 hours and give up before beginning? I believe this question should be answered with a clear and resounding NO!
 “ The Master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both. -- Zen Buddhist Text
The important catch-phrase in the 10,000 hour rule, that most seem to miss, is that it is a requirement for achieving 'world-class' mastery. Your goal of personal mastery can be something less than world dominance in a field. In fact, you need only look to your field and strategically plan for 20%, perhaps 10%, better than those around you to be considered an expert. Let's face it, even doing 1% better, knowing 1% more, achieving 1% greater results can often be enough to put you ahead of the game being played by those around you.

Regardless of your target though, mastery both begins and ends with practice. You have to put in the time to net the results and it is this time that separates the achievers from the non-achievers. Those that are truly dedicated to gaining a level of mastery over a subject, a discipline, an activity, will invest the time needed to learn and develop an area.

I heard an alarming statistic this weekend. The average American tends to spend 4 hours a day watching television. This is 4 hours a day that they are not working on or practicing their mastery of anything. 4 hours a day that they choose not to dedicate toward becoming excellent at something. To take this statistic even further, consider that if you take someone in their teens, through to the age of 66, those four hours a day turn into 13 years. 13 years of your life that you have devoted yourself to watching television rather than devoting yourself to your development.

A further thought...the biggest reason I am given by clients as to why they have not taken action on a desired goal is that they did not have time. My follow up question of course is whether they had watched any television in that same week in which they had not found any time to work on their stated purpose. (and yes, YouTube counts!) The answer of course was that they had. Could you have responded differently?

I'm not suggesting that you run home and sell your television sets, but I am suggesting that you take a serious and long look at where and how you could be investing your time to develop your level of expertise. The fastest way to a promotion and increased career opportunities is to become better at what you do, to develop your level of mastery. Even small investments of time can accumulate big results.

For instance...

1/2 hour per day spent in study and practice would give you a total of 78 hours of study over the course of a year. Given an 8 hour workday, this represents the equivalent of just under 10 business days of focus and growth.

Would you not be significantly ahead of your competition at the end of a year in which you set aside just 30 minutes a day to practice, hone and refine your craft, to dedicate to extending your level and area of expertise? The answer seems pretty clear to me.

Your choice then...Master or Disciple? How you choose to spend your time will contribute greatly to the answer to this question not to mention what you achieve and experience in your life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Run Your Own Race

Last weekend had the half marathon for our area starting from the park across the road from my home. Seeing those runners brought back to mind my experiences in running marathons and, in particular, the life lessons I learned along the way.

The goal of most first-time racers is typically just to finish! They may have a rough goal of the time they would like to complete the race within but, if being honest, most really just want to cross that finish line. They have likely invested in their training schedule; worked on their pacing and stride; learned about what will fuel them throughout the race. Often the most overlooked element though is an understanding of how quickly and easily they can get caught up in the hype and the moment of the race and end up running someone else's race.

That starting gun goes off, the crowd surges forward and they get caught up in the energy and excitement of everyone else around them. Before you know it, they are starting off too fast, running at a pace that quickly leaves them exhausted and, ultimately, without enough energy left to finish. One of the biggest causes of not finishing is getting caught up in running a race other than your own.

I was lucky enough, before my first marathon, to have someone emphasize to me the need to know and understand your race intimately. To know the feel, rhythm and beat of your stride so that you don’t get pulled off of it by others around you. This takes requires you to build that element into your training plan, to gain the clarity you need about yourself to be able to focus and stick to it on race day.

I don’t run marathons anymore but I do still apply the lessons of the race every day. In our work and personal lives, we can become easily distracted by the noise of those around us. There is never any shortage of people that are willing and eager to tell us what we ‘must’ do, what we ‘should’ do. I’m not saying don’t listen, but it is necessary to weigh these suggestions against your own plan. If it fits and it helps… keep it. If it pulls you off course… ditch it. Unless there is a definite strategic reason for doing otherwise, stay the course and run your own race.

Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the feeling of ‘momentum’. Momentum alone can be deceptive. You are busy, you are accomplishing things, but it they aren’t activities that move you forward in the direction you’ve set for yourself then, when it’s all over, you just might find that you’ve crossed the finish line of a race you never intended to run and ended up somewhere you never really wanted to go.

• Decide consciously what race you want and choose to run.

• Do what you need to prepare and train yourself for that race.

• Take action to move you forward. If you’re running a race of your choosing, any action that moves you forward, even small steps, gets you closer to that finish line.

Remember this also. Your race is run by you. There is no first, second or third place… there is just finishing. There is you and that finish line.

Clarity of purpose, Focus of Intent… now… GO!