Monday, January 28, 2013

The Art of Being Interesting

If you want people to be interested in you, give them something to be interested in. BE interesting. If you're interesting then you are memorable. When so many other things are competing for the attention of your audience, if something about you is not memorable then you are left lining the bottom of the proverbial bird cage.

Think about your past accomplishments.  Your LIFE accomplishments, not just work.  What have you done that is different or unique from your audience?  What have you experienced that might make them sit up and take notice?  I have had clients that felt there was nothing particularly 'special' about themselves until we started talking about their background.  During these conversations I discovered a client that...

  • had once lived in a monastery and trained to be a monk.
  • had moved, on their own, from a foreign country to North America, at the age of 17, to live and work.  They did not speak English at the time and had no family here.
  • had hiked Mount Kilimanjaro
  • had survived a tornado when a child, when their entire house was levelled
  • had written a book
  • had been attacked by a shark while swimming in the ocean on a vacation
  • had built an igloo to live in for a winter camping exercise
  • had backpacked throughout Europe as a teenager for a full year
  • had travelled through the desert for a month on camelback
  • had volunteered for a year in Africa helping to build schools
  • had taken in and raised her sister's four children, when her sister and brother-in-law died in a car crash, along with her own five children
  • had won numerous cooking contests 
  • had completed more than 18 marathons
  • had built their existing house from scratch, doing most of the design and building themselves
Are these not things that, if faced with this person, you would want to know more about?  And yet, these people didn't recognise the value of their accomplishments and experiences, downplaying the interest others might have in them.  All too often we make the mistake of assuming that because we have done something, that anyone could have done it.  If your audience hasn't then it's worth the telling.  Here's the kicker... even if your audience has done it, they will likely enjoy hearing about your experiences to compare and contrast them to theirs.  Again...  interesting for them.

In business it is important to differentiate yourself from the crowd.  Certainly, we want and hope that our work will do that for us.  However, we have a wealth of other experiences that, when shared appropriately, can add more depth and breadth to our work accomplishments, helping our audience to understand us more fully and to appreciate our strength, confidence, tenacity, perseverance, commitment, generosity.... in a new and clearer light.

What are your stories?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Why Good-Enough is Good for You

There are those for whom making a decision becomes analogous to running a marathon.  It is not something that you can just simply step out and do, it involves endless preparation, training, planning and research.  For these individuals, known as Maximizers, making a decision requires work and effort.  They want to make the best decision they possibly can, about anything, and that means often spending months researching and learning as much about the item as possible to make as informed a decision as possible.

Take my friend Mary for example.  She wanted to purchase a new couch.  For some of us, this requires measuring the space we have available, going to the store, seeing something we like, checking it will fit and... buying it.  For Mary though, this wouldn't be enough.  Before even beginning to 'shop', Mary begins her research.  By the time she is done, she knows all about how a 'good' couch should be constructed.  Not just whether ropes or springs are better but what kind of ropes, what kind of springs, what kind of batting or foam, what the density is and on and on.  Certainly all of this research takes place prior to making the purchase but continues after the actual purchase is made to ensure that she did, indeed, make the best decision.

This level of investigation makes Mary an 'expert' in many different product areas.  If you're looking for a new couch you might just want to tap into her knowledge-base prior to setting out.  However, it can turn seemingly small decisions into larger, stress-making, time-gobbling activities, leaving her with little energy or time to spend engaging with others in more positive or 'fun' ways.

On the other side of the decision equation we have Satisficers (think of Satisfying + Sufficing). These are individuals that make Good-Enough decisions... and then move on.  They do not look at each decision requiring a huge investment of their time or life.  They decide and move on. This does not mean that they trivialize important decisions but, rather, that they don't give the relatively trivial more importance than it merits.

In general, you will find that Maximizers tend to be unhappy with the choices they make in life, feeling always that it could have been 'better' somehow, if they had only had more time, more information.  Additionally, they are more prone to suffer from Decision Fatigue, the mental/emotional/physical drain we feel when we have been faced with too many decisions.  We all suffer from this periodically, Maximizers much more frequently.  The problem with Decision Fatigue though is that researchers have found that when we are suffering from it our willpower is at 'low' point, leaving us more susceptible to making poor choices like over-eating or over-spending.

Satisficing allows us to make faster, easier decisions that do not deplete our energy, thus conserving those willpower units for a time later in the day that we may need them.  For a Maximizer, learning to switch to Satisficing mode, they need to ask themselves, early in the decision-making process, What is the cost to me of making a bad decision here?

When the perceived cost is high and is important to your life, goals, family... go for broke.  Here the costs to you and your family have much bigger ramifications and therefore they are worth your investment of time.  Give reign to your Maximizing needs and assure yourself of making the best decision you could.  You'll sleep easier when you do.

Most of our decisions though involve a relatively low cost and therefore lend themselves well to going for Good-Enough.  The paint colour for the bedroom, which Bran cereal to try, a play to see.  When the cost of making a bad decision is low there is no true advantage in spending too much energy on trying to ensure that you make the 'best' decision, Satisficing is the way to go.  An investment of any more time than what is required by Satisficing will not net you a more positive result or bigger gain. Save your energy and willpower units for something else.

As research is now showing us, not only are there times where Good-Enough truly is Good-enough, we're finding that learning to practice the principle may also be a healthier option,  proving that Good-Enough is also Good for you.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Toleration - in Moderation

There are so many things in life that we have, for our own sanity, learned to tolerate.  These are those aspects of our everyday life we have learned to overlook and step around to ease our frustration...
  • endless line ups
  • warm chai even when we've asked for 'extra hot'
  • commutes
  • constant road repairs or roads never being repaired
  • bad service
  • service people who can only promise 'sometime between 8am and 5pm
You get the idea.  To rail against all of these frustrations would create too much negativity and angst in our lives.  Instead, we learn to 'go with the flow', learning to accept (if not to also expect) and tolerate these frustrations.  My concern is not with many of these elements, I too have learned to cope with most of them.  My concern is with the 'habit' of toleration, the habits that lead us into unconsciously tolerating and accepting those things in our life that we should not.  There is a line that needs to be drawn in the sand that many miss, tolerating too much and compromising the quality of their lives and their happiness as a result.

As we enter this new year, we might want to consider introducing the new slogan of Toleration - in Moderation.  Learn to tolerate the small, petty annoyances... they will only drive you crazy otherwise and, in the grand scheme of things, likely don't have an impact on the quality or nature of your life.  However... do NOT continue to tolerate those that DO have an impact upon your life, work, happiness and esteem.  You are better than than and deserve better.

What should we stop tolerating in our lives?
  • Being unhappy at work.  Find work that brings you fulfillment and joy, work that stretches you, challenges you, allows you to contribute.
  • Staying in relationships that drain you of your energy, happiness, and sense of self.  Whether a friend, family member, lover or spouse.  Get out.
  • Anyone treating us with less than the respect we deserve.  Any time.
  • Negativity.  Surround yourself with those will lift you up, not bring you down, that help you to be and do more, not that make you feel like less.
There are, of course, elements in the world around us that are intolerable also that we must learn to stop accepting or expecting.  However, I believe that if we tolerate too much mistreatment of ourselves then it is logical that we would expect others to be mistreated.  Learning to set boundaries for ourselves, and to enforce them, helps us to develop and strengthen a voice that we can then lend to others, helping them to also find theirs. The movement starts with you.  Expect more for yourself, accept nothing less.  

Toleration...  in Moderation

Monday, January 7, 2013

Out on a Limb

We do our best work when we are out on a limb.  No, not 'good' work, not 'gee I met deadline and
budget' work, not 'that'll keep me employed and might give me a raise at the end of the year work', I mean our very BEST work, our 'This will change the face of how people see me, buy stuff, think about stuff' work.

When we are out on a limb we are leading.  We hope others will see our vision and follow, but we start by being out there on our own making change.  We are pushing, pulling, stretching, transforming, challenging  the status quo in some way, and that requires us to take a risk.  We risk being mocked and ridiculed.  We risk being seen as wrong.  We risk being out on that limb alone... for a very long time... before others 'get' it and begin to follow us and we risk being out there alone with no one following us... ever.  

The problem, of course, is that it is damn uncomfortable out there on that limb.  Fear of falling (read... FAILING) keeps us playing it safe hugging the tree (read... maintaining the STATUS QUO).  Fear can make us give in to the pressures of others around us to conform.  Worrying about what our audience will think and say about what we're doing though will keep us tree-hugging forever.  In order to step away from the tree, and out on that limb, we have to be willing to let go of the thought that not everyone will 'get it', that not everyone will 'like it', that not everyone will 'buy it'.  And worse, of course, is the personalization of  'it', that people won't get us, like us, buy into us.

The sad truth though is that too many of us spend our lives hugging the tree and never step out to discover what we are capable of.  Our fears keep us clinging to the comfort and safety of the trunk and we fail to stretch ourselves, showing the world our very best selves.  

Where would we be if many before us had not gone out on a limb?
  • Christopher Columbus
  • Charles Darwin
  • Albert Einstein
  • Benjamin Franklin
And consider the impact of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg or, even... Sir Thomas Crapper (inventor of the flush toilet... seriously!)

The limb you step out on need not be one that will change the face of the world, but if you are taking a risk on something it will mean change of some kind, even if on a smaller scale, even if only of one... you.  Too nervous to try?  Test it out by going out on a limb a little closer to the ground first, one which has less of a fall.  There's less of a risk, less of a change involved, but it is still a step forward, still a step toward strengthening your balancing skills - preparing you for those limbs higher up.

I'm implementing some changes this year, in my business and personal life, that have me precariously perched on a limb that seems pretty high up there to me.  It represents big challenges and risks but I believe it's the next step for me and for my growth.  I hope that you will join me out there at some point, that you follow me as I make those steps and changes, but I am stepping out on that limb regardless.  It is going to be scary, it will be intimidating and I know it could be a big fall for me but, and here's the big plus for those of you ready to step out on a limb of your own... I hear the view is great from up there!