While one may not agree with Hamlets’ statement that “there is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so”, it is clear that our mindsets matter a lot in how we perceive life, how we are perceived and the degree of success we may have in our varied endeavors.
In rapidly changing and chaotic times an agile mindset can be critical to success. While there are many personal trainers to help sculpt our bodies into somewhat supple forms, there are few folks who show us how to exercise our minds to be as flexible as they need to be.
Here is some of what I have learnt over the years:
1. Align with Reality: Yoda (a.k.a George Lucas) wishes that the force be with us. But what is this force that we need to align with? Tangible Reality would be a great place to start. Besides human reality that we will all die (but others will be born), there will be loss (but there will also be gains) and life cares about the species and not the individual (sorry but that is how evolution works), there are some business realities.
Three in particular: Globalization. Digitization. Markets.
One can fantasize as much as one wants but these three forces are unstoppable and now the Internet (“Connection Engine”) acts like Viagra on them, where each force connects to and rejuvenates the other.
If you wish to thrive and make a living accept and prepare yourself for increased digitization, globalization and market forces (markets are why China and India have risen more than anything else over the past two decades) . They will be impacting every single industry and crevice of life.
All the fretting, complaining and hoping that these three realities go away is a complete and total waste of time. They just are and they will be. Let us use our energy to learn new digital skills, find ways to expose ourselves to different global experiences and learn a little economics (the non Marxian versions please).
2. Optimism Matters: In the novel “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon a character is described as one whose “mood collapsed the room”.
While misery may love company,nobody likes being in the company of miserable people. Optimism is not just an essential component of innovators but a trait that you must have if you wish to inspire folks to follow you. “Woe is me, doomed are us” works for a few drinks in a bar but at the workplace it saps energy, hurts culture and is just a plain downer. Pessimism is a lazy persons way out. If you cannot get yourself positive about what you do or where you do it for a majority of your working days (there will always be days from hell where you feel crushed and beaten), then do yourself and your company a favor. Quit!
A way to get optimistic is to forget all the legacy nonsense you may have to grapple with and ask that if you had a fresh sheet of paper, a subset of the talent in your firm and its assets (brands, network, money), what would you do? You likely will find you actually are looking forward to what you and your company can do. Every day is a new career beginning. Tomorrow is where you will spend the rest of your life. So buck up!
3. Recognize The Opposite Is Also True : To sell a point of view or a recommendation it is critical to know its weaknesses and the information that you may not know. Often I first build a case for the very opposite of what I believe a Client or Company should do. (Yes, I can launch a very interesting anti-global, anti-market, techno-averse screed if you would like!). By completely understanding the other side not only can you make a stronger argument but you are sensitive to a) how to sell the point of view to non-believers since you understand their position, b) recognize how much you should compromise and most importantly c) you can be sensitive to when the recommendation and point of view may need revisiting since you are aware of the variables that went into your recommendation.
I suspect folks who only see one side of a story or position. Their minds and postions are not subtle but brittle. Brittle cracks at first true opposition.
Look at the world through a different lens. We can have blind corners in the areas where we are most competent since we often stop needing to look out in those areas. Practice building the strongest opposing case. The stronger you can build it the more likely your recommendation may be correct if you still choose to make it.
4. Constant Iteration & Improvement: Inside our hard skulls is the most beautiful software. But like all software if it is not constantly updated and enhanced it will be irrelevant to the applications and tasks that the modern world requires.
We all need to be students again. Apprentices this time since only by doing can we enhance our craft. Iteration happens by doing, testing, incorporating, rejecting, and being active! Do do not over think. Every day try to learn one new thing or one new feature or try one new experiment of some sort. Incorporate what works, learn from what does not.
This way your software keeps improving and you signal that you are willing to learn new things and see things in new ways and are not some ossified, stuck in the mud slug of a carbon life form. Computers that cannot run new software are junked regardless of how pioneering, famous and awesome they once were.
Put aside 30 minutes a day or 3 hours on weekends to learn and improve by doing.
5. Expose Your Mind To New and Different Stimuli : Innovation and change is often about connecting the dots in new ways. To do so, one must be aware and familiar with a lot of dots and not just the dots at work.
Try to expose yourself a little every few weeks to developments in the world of Arts, Business, Science, Travel, Sports, History, etc. For instance I give myself a goal of reading at least three non business books, seeing three movies, visiting a museum etc every month among other things. This not only makes you better at work but most importantly better at life! (Here is a post from my “right-side” blog on how Art can teach a lot...http://rishadt.posterous.com/ )
6. Take care of the hardware (a.k.a your body): Oddly having the right mindset requires care and feeding of the machine that the mind is contained in. Exercise, sleep and get away even if it is for a few minutes during the work day from your office and your desk. Research has proved that all these three things are proven to make us happier and more productive and therefore improve our minds.
In the end as Sheryl Sandberg said at a recent convocation it is important to understand the difference between internal barriers and external barriers. Most of us complain about external barriers that are often impossible to change but we shirk from attacking our internal barriers which we have much greater control of.
Improve your mindset.
After all as the famous public service announcement says..” a mind is a terrible thing to waste”…