Fearless Searching – manage your fears to get more of what you want.

Full Disclosure: I’m not one for all the commercial hippy dippy positivity stuff. When I have read many of the self improvement style books in the past, it has felt unreal and disconnected. And don’t get me started on the tapes – the schmoltz is enough to make you wretch.

Life is all about searching

search ,  photoOne of the most transformative discoveries I made was from Steve Blank – the tireless mentor of generations of entrepreneurs. It was about how Steve defined a startup as being:

.. a temporary organization used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

This idea of a search – and consequently a search space – was very profound for me. It means I could be systematic in getting more of the things I want.

Steve was pivotal for me in a couple of ways. Firstly by framing the entrepreneurial work as a search and, secondly, for naming what the startup founder is searching for.

Think of everything you have done in your life – what was it for? Why go to school and university or dates? Why travel and explore?

There are a number of ways to frame these experiences  – I prefer to frame them as a search.

I went dating because I was searching for companionship. I went to university in search of knowledge and a basis for a profession. I go to the cinema in search of some entertainment.

How do you find a needle in a haystack?

Haystack ,  photoImagine you lost a golden needle in a haystack.  How might you find it?

Imagine also that you have an irrational fear of hay or extreme hay allergies – how might this help or hinder your search for the needle?

Or perhaps you fear looking silly sifting through hay for a needle?

Any of the above would probably stop you finding your needle.

Now imagine if you had a fear of flying that would limit – pretty severely – how far you might travel to search for new cultural experiences.

Or if you had a fear of conflict, you might never have your ideas challenged and improved through healthy debate.

Name your Search, name your fears

list ,  photoDo this little experiment – you’ll need a pen and some paper.

First,  write down what you are searching for by going to work. For example: I go to work because I’m searching for financial security.

Next, write down 3 things that you are afraid of that apply to that search. For example: I’m afraid of appearing ‘unprofessional’ by arriving late for meetings

Finally, for each 3 things you are afraid of, come up with 3 things you are almost uncomfortable with to try and make it a little better. You might need to ask a friend for suggestions or do some research about how you might manage the fear. try and keep the actions mostly dependent on things you will do i.e not waiting on someone else.
For example: I’ll set an alarm so that I can arrive at meetings 5 minutes early.

How was that? Don’t worry if you didn’t get  absolutely 3 things per fear – the goal is to think through this and find the smallest steps you can take towards managing your fear so that you can minimize their ability to affect your search. Remember – you do not have to conquer your fears entirely in order to prevent them from affecting your search.

3 things you can do now to make fearless searching a habit

brush teeth ,  photoThe above was a simple exercise, but for it to work, you have to do it for real and review regularly. To get the benefits of fearless searching, you have to get habitual. It can be pretty hard at the beginning , however you can use a little bit of will-power now to avoid using much more in the future.

Here are 3 things you can do right now to help you build the habit to help you get good at fearless searching.

  1. Keep your output from the previous exercise – this is as good a place to start. Pick one thing you will do and by when you will do it.
  2. Make an appointment in your calendar to review your list and the action you took. A week away usually works best.
  3. Send the appointment to a friend and ask them to call you on the day as though you were meeting. If you don’t have someone to do this with – I’m happy to help – add me to your calendar

Go forth and be fearless in your search. I’d love to hear how you get on with this.

Why Walking Meetings Are Good for Your Brain, Your Life, and Your Job

What are you doing right now?

I bet my butt that you’re sitting. You might think I’ve gone bonkers, thinking ‘how is my sitting any of her business’. It’s not my business.

It’s your problem.

We sit for about 9.3 hours per day — that’s more than the 7.7 hours we spend sleeping. Sitting has also been found to increase the likelihood of developing some diseases like cancer and diabetes. Horrific, really.

In the words of Nilofer Merchant (from her TED talk):

Sitting is the smoking of our generation.

This is why people all over the world have been thinking of solutions like the standing desk — remember when that was trending? Another simple enough solution is: just stand up and walk about a bit. It’s a common practice at Wellness & Prevention, where employees are required to do so for one or two minutes every half hour. It was found to increase productivity.

Nilofer herself adopted the practice of walking in her busy schedule: by turning one-on-one coffee meetings into “walking meetings”, which were also popular with tech giants like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

So let’s see why you should add walking to your busy schedule.

A change of scenery

Context shapes behavior. You’re like a walking reflection of your surroundings, and the more you stay inside the stuffy office or board room, the more you’ll feel stuffy and closed up.

If you’re looking for a re-charge or new ideas, walking outside can literally boost your cognitive function and even your memory. Furthermore, changing the scenery makes you snap out of your “work stupor”.

But beware, if you walk out into a busy street, you’ll probably start to feel stressed, so it’s better if you find a park. Stepping into Nature provides immediate relief, acting as a “reset” button. And because we spend our lives in artificial environments, our brains become even more eager to reconnect with Nature. This is why some people surround themselves with green — to trick the brain into believing it’s there, but the real thing is better.

A blast of fresh air

How many times have you taken a deep breath today?

Your brain needs tons of oxygen to operate properly. While breathing is mostly an unconscious process, you must remember that you CAN control it.

Like, for example, when you’re stressed. When you’re stressed your heart rate goes up, pumping blood like there’s no tomorrow, making you take shallow breaths. If you want to de-stress, you need to take deep breaths. Then the heart goes back to its normal rate, the adrenaline subsides, and the brain calms down, ready for the rest of the work day.

Obviously, the quality of air you inhale is also important — the stale, recycled air of the office is not good enough —  so I suggest taking a walk in the park (don’t forget the sandwich on your desk). And breathe deep.

A dash of creativity

Research shows that walking enhances creativity. In a study of students completing tasks, those who walked showed greater creativity than those who sat. When you walk, your mind naturally wanders and comes up with new ideas. Perhaps this is why so many famous creators of the past took long walks in Nature — to get their creative juices flowing.

It’s an amazing discovery, especially now that the bulk of our working lives is sedentary, both for office workers and remote workers. Also, this changes the game for brainstorming sessions. They shouldn’t take place inside the office, after hours and hours of work, they should follow a power walk!

Granted, I’m not impartial on this subject — I am an avid walker. Which is why this article — Why Walking Helps Us Think in The New Yorker — sparked the idea for my own. Give it a read if you’ve got the time.

A bit of perspective

This is where things get interesting.

Your brain makes powerful associations. For example, your desk screams work and your bed screams rest, right? Right.

What happens when you walk side-by-side to someone?

They become your equal. The brain automatically throws away the hierarchy, the prejudice, and just assumes that the person sweating and puffing next to you is someone who is working with you.

Perhaps this is why Mark Zuckerberg likes to walk new hires around Facebook Headquarters. Maybe this is his way of bonding with them. Whatever the reason, if you want to meet with someone face-to-face and drop the corporate mumbo-jumbo, try a walking meeting.

Just remember, walking too fast or too slow might not produce the best results. The perfect pace is your natural pace. Hopefully, your walking buddy will have one that’s similar to yours.

A few considerations

First of all, if you’re considering to pick up walking meetings, you know that they’re most effective when it’s just you and somebody else. A whole group of people walking together will never reach any consensus because they’ll have to out-scream one another and make a scene on the street.

Secondly, I have found that if you’re considering to taking these walks alone, the process itself is not only beneficial for creativity, but it can also act as an incubation period when you’re solving a problem or making a decision.

Finally, you need to stop making excuses — I’m not fit enough, I don’t have enough time, people won’t like that — and start taking care of your health. You don’t have to compromise your health for the sake of your job.

So start today. Set an example. And stay healthy. 🙂

Why You Should Encourage Conflict at Work and Women Speaking Up

When I was in University, I learned a lot about myself.

For instance, for a person who shies away from conflict at all costs, I sure liked it a lot when it came to ideas. While everyone else would stay silent in debates, I would argue to the death. Even though it’s not typical of me, it just seemed that somebody had to. I mean we’re not sheep.

Did you hear about women staying silent in meetings so that men could not interrupt them? Sadly, not just women, but people in general do this: they hold back for fear of saying the wrong thing, being perceived as a nay-sayer, or just because they don’t like conflict. I mean, who does?

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The problem in this scenario is: There could be no progress without conflict. With conflict comes creative thinking, innovation, change. If you stay silent long enough, you might as well become a —

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Sure, there is the bad kind of conflict — nobody would invite it in their office or during their lunch break or from their boss. But that’s generally the kind where someone is arguing just to argue. This is completely different from disagreeing with a point. And as long as nobody takes it personally, a disagreement can kick off a discussion.

Staying silent is just another problem in organizations that needs to be given top priority. Especially when it turns into a gender issue. And it’s not always driven by fear either. Sometimes people will agree because of bad politics, sheer laziness, or even blind faith.

There’s a term in Social Psychology related to this; every team encounters it sooner or later — when you’re in the meeting room, you are a team. You know it as ‘groupthink’. It’s when members of a team agree on a decision, whether it’s the right decision or not. For example, the poor CEO below can’t get any counter-arguments from his team because they would agree with anything, whatever the reason. (Maybe to leave early?)

According to research, this process has lead to many dysfunctional and irrational decisions throughout history. A few would be:

  • The Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 — the explosion was caused by the hardware failure of a solid rocket booster (SRB) o-ring, however, NASA was warned about abnormally cold weather the previous day, and because they had postponed once, they were reluctant to do it again. Pressured by NASA, the engineers agreed to proceed as planned.
  • The 2008 financial crisis — Wall Street CEOs, investors, bankers and homeowners all believed that the credit system was working, even though accountants and economists voiced their concerns. The former groups of people held the false belief that nothing could go wrong, but if history is any indication, that’s exactly when it does (i.e. Titanic).
  • The attack on Pearl Harbor — many of the senior officers did not take the warnings seriously because they thought the Japanese would never dare attack U.S. soldiers, that a war with the States would be futile.

And so on. While not as serious as a mistake of war, a faulty decision made in a board room meeting could result in disaster for any company. If the people on top weren’t so quick to judge without backing it up, the middle people would not feel the pressure to comply, and these mistakes would not be present.

So, it seems, it all depends on management.

You’re the manager, or CEO, or whoever you are, you threw the meeting, so you’re in charge. Take matters in your hands and make this meeting count. If your coworkers will not argue, then encourage them.

In case you think all of this is mumbo-jumbo, I’m going to point you towards a video I watched on TED.com, which completely threw me.

It’s called Dare to Disagree and this is the summary:

Most people instinctively avoid conflict, but as Margaret Heffernan shows us, good disagreement is central to progress. She illustrates (sometimes counterintuitively) how the best partners aren’t echo chambers — and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree.

In her speech, Margaret Heffernan, gives a great example of a good team —Dr. Alice Stewart and a statistician called George Neale. Back in the 1950s, Alice discovered that X-raying pregnant women caused cancer in their children, and she fought to spread awareness (which took 50 years!).

Now, Alice and George were great collaborators because they were completely different. Whatever Alice thought, George disagreed with, and vice versa. But they saw it as a good thing — as a breeding ground for thinking. They knew that arguing with each other made their ideas more informed, more creative, and in the end, more valuable.

And when George didn’t argue about her cancer findings, Alice knew she was right. Isn’t that great? Having a compass telling you you’re on the right track? This could be your colleague, your employee, your wife…

Whoever it is, it’s important to have a person who challenges you.

In terms of teams, project managers can ensure that there’s an open-argue or a ‘must-argue’ policy. You can call it a challenge — people love challenges. It’s up to you to encourage the right behaviors. Make debating a game. Make it fun. Make it a part of the company culture. You hear the buzz phrase ‘company culture’ everywhere, and for a good reason. Companies with a healthy culture produce happy relationships and happy employees.

These days everything’s up in the air and there’s a rug underneath your feet, waiting to be pulled, so do something about it. Without risk there’s no reward. And without conflict, there’s no progress.

3 Overlooked “Soft” Skills in Leaders — Steve Jobs Had None of Those

For a decade now I’ve been arguing with my father what intelligence means. He (a member of Mensa, believe it or not) argues that IQ surely determines how smart you are, and I (forever the fan of Forrest Gump) will argue that emotional intelligence is sometimes more important than IQ.

In the context of business, I’ve been proven right by surveys (“employers value emotional intelligence over IQ”) and research (employees/executives with higher EQ perform better than others), which makes total sense, especially for managers. When you have to meet and manage people on a daily basis, you need some sort of understanding of people.

The only time a leader doesn’t need to be emotionally intelligent is when he/she’s working with robots.

Then there’s the whole debate about “hard” versus “soft” skills, which is the same thing, really, and it’s completely pointless since an effective leader needs to have both. Let’s take Steve Jobs for example.

Jobs was— and forever will be — known as a great innovator. Some may even go as far as calling him a genius. However:

A genius does not a great leader make, necessarily.

Was he a good leader? A lot of people will say no, simply because:

  1. He didn’t have high emotional intelligence.
  2. He didn’t have some vital soft skills.

I mean, the guy yelled and threw tantrums at work. Around him, employees had to walk on egg-shells and every time someone took the initiative to speak, he would publicly humiliate them. No wonder most of the staff of Apple left prematurely! He was more of a dictator than a leader.

A good leader would be the opposite really, so I’ve taken the liberty to collect 3 somewhat overlooked — because they are “soft” — skills in order to get to the bottom of the question of great leadership:

  1. Empathy
  2. Communication
  3. Humility

There was a time when Psychology was a bogus science and management was straight-forward. However, as the times bring change and we find ourselves in a less straightforward world, I’ve taken to believe that some things “make sense” and other things “make progress”. Whether these soft skills make sense to you or not, they’ve certainly made progress in both scientific and business contexts. So let’s discuss them individually.

Let’s talk about Empathy.

Empathy is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.

Empathy is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day. It helps us connect and communicate in ways that bind us to our fellow workers. Without it, we are all islands in the same ocean.

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why, says:

The lesson I’m learning is that I’m useless by myself. My success hinges entirely on the people I work with — the people who enlist themselves to join me in my vision. And it’s my responsibility to see that they’re working at their best capacity.

See that? It’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure the employees are working at their best capacity, meaning they are at their most productive. I don’t know about you, but the only times I’ve been productive at work were when I wasn’t being driven crazy by a passive-aggressive boss from hell.

The manager-employee relationship is so vital to both sides’ performance that it should never be overlooked. You can’t expect for employees to be engaged without actually being engaged first by their manager, and you can’t expect the manager to make progress without knowing where the team’s at.

It’s a team effort — as cheesy as it sounds — but the leader sets the pace. The manager is the one who sets the tone of his/her relationship with team members, and if a member is slacking, then just talk to them.

But make sure you’ve set the right tone first. I agree with Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, when he says:

At its very heart, a business is the beauty of bringing together people and things to make the community better off — these are the businesses we admire. Empathy is the one tool that makes it all happen.

Let’s talk about Communication.

If you’re empathetic, chances are you’re a decent communicator. Notice I say decent, not great. Truth is, even an empathetic person can be bad at communicating… if they don’t listen carefully.

Communication goes both ways. Now, you may be excellent at putting your point across and even motivating your team to get the job done. But have you asked your team for feedback? Are they likely to come up and give it to you? Those are very important questions to think about.

Once you get your team talking, that’s when you get them engaged.

According to employee engagement expert David McLeod, engaged staff deliver 50% higher customer loyalty, 50% higher sales, and 27% higher profits — all figures any company owner would find attractive.

Furthermore a happy, engaged employee is more likely to stick with you when, for example, the competition offers them a job. Ka-bing!

Maybe there’s something to learn from Holacracy here that could benefit project managers.

Holacracy is a very modern idea of a business without management roles. More specifically, Holacracy distributes leadership into each role, so each employee can hold different roles at different stages of the project. Ultimately, the goal is transparency — a buzz word of late, especially in entrepreneurial circles.

While the idea itself could have some holes, when it comes to communication, it solves what the traditional corporate structure cannot — the problem of communication between the different levels. It could be quite empowering for employees to be regarded as important as the VP, for example, and encouraged — by a meeting facilitator — to voice their opinions and “tensions”. In that meeting, your main priority won’t be to speak according to your job title, but to advance the project.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be trying it out before discarding the idea. Times are moving fast and new challenges are presenting to employers that we never imagined possible. To paraphrase Darwin, adapt or die.

Let’s talk about Humility.

Probably the most overlooked quality in business, and in life.

Humility is a quality few people have. It’s in the emotional intelligence toolset, but unlike empathy, it targets the self, the ego. Most people — especially bosses — have enormous egos. They wouldn’t shut up about it. And they put people off with their arrogance and selfishness.

It takes enormous strength to put your own ego aside and admit that you make mistakes. Let someone else talk. Let others list your accomplishments and shrug compliments off. It’s not about you, after all.

For you, it’s about the common good.

A humble leader not only understands and listens. A humble leader brings out the best of other people.

It’s natural that when you put yourself aside, you’re able to really see others. To see what they’re good at, to tell them that, and to inspire them to take action. You’re naturally good at leading and people are happy to follow.

And hey, it’s not just mumbo-jumbo. A recent Catalyst study shows that humility is one of four critical qualities of a good leader. Not to mention that scholars from the University of Washington Foster School of Business discovered that humble people make the most effective leaders!

As the researchers put it:

Our study suggests that a ‘quieter’ leadership approach — listening, being transparent, aware of your limitations and appreciating co-workers strengths and contributions, is an effective way to engage employees.

Not only were the employees of such people more engaged, but they were also more committed to their leader’s vision. I mean, when your boss actively listens to your ideas and encourages you to share them, wouldn’t you be more committed and receptive to their ideas?

Of course you would.

So you can try this approach or… you know, idolize Steve Jobs and be a jerk at the office, but bear in mind that the bottom lines and the attitudes of your employees will be a perfect reflection of your leadership style.

In conclusion,

We, at amazemeet, certainly hope that you can see these “soft” skills as they truly are — a competitive advantage and an enlightened way to be.