Make yourself non-equitable

Scott Ginsberg (or in the name is more famous for, The Nametag Guy), introduced a challenge on his blog. He has a new book out, called -ABLE: 35 Strategies for Increasing the Probability of Success in Business and in Life (see cover above). This is how he describes his book:

The purpose of this book is to sell you on my theory of the universe. Which is:

The only thing in life you have control over is yourself.

And that you can’t make anything happen – but you can (greatly) increase the probability of that thing happening … by making yourself more “-able.”

(The title of the book is pronounced as “a bull,” just like the cute little cartoon.)

So, he challenged people to come up with more concepts that represent their own theory of the universe or describe secrets for increasing the probability of success and name it with a word that ends in the suffix “-able.

Hence, this post titled: make yourself non-equitable.

Equality is an important concept in many aspects of life, especially in the legal field, I know so well, as a former lawyer. But in real life, because equality is intertwined into our thinking DNA it is used in ways that many times hinders excellence. All men are not born equal. Whoever tells you that is lying. All man should deserve an equal opportunity to excel, to be happy and to use their comparative advantage. That is the truth. And there is a big difference between the two. Nobody can be good at everything. People who truly excel do it by recognizing their comparative advantage, maximizing it and letting other people do what they are better at than them.

In western societies, equality is part of the ethos. People fought for the right of equality for ages and it is so commonplace and understood (even if not completely practiced) we regard it as a given right. The quotation “All men are created equal” is arguably the best-known phrase in any of America’s political documents.And if all men are created equal, they should be treated as equal in the workplace as well. And they think as themselves as equal. And this creates problems.

Because we are not equal. We are unique. Special. With different talents, skills, perspectives, life experiences, likes and dislikes. And that means that treating us as if we are the same is wrong. Can you honestly tell me that everybody is equally fitted to be a manager? Of course not. And still, the structures for development in most companies are mainly built on the assumption of equality. People who don’t get to be managers feel they are not successful. If we have different talents and needs, why do managers devote equal time to the people they work with instead of giving different people what they need? Why are performance reviews standardized? Because everybody is the same! And we fire the worst performer on the standardized criteria because he is not as good as doing the same thing as everybody else.

The equality ethos, while not bad or wrong by itself has its limitations. The problem is it is so entrenched into our thinking, that we export it to areas of life that it has no place for. Have you ever been part of team that needed to make a presentation and the members insisted that everybody speak during the presentation? Nobody asks whether this makes sense or whether this actually hurts the effectiveness of the presentation. No! We are all equal in this team. We all have to participate! That is just a simple example, but it demonstrates how, in places where we don’t have to, we are willing to sacrifice performance for artificial equality.

It is time we leave equality to the human rights field and start treating people as unique beings and not as cogs in a productivity machine. Nobody can be good at everything. People who truly excel do it by recognizing their comparative advantage, maximizing it and letting other people do what they are better at than them.

So, how do you become non-equitable?

First, by finding your own unique talents and strengths. What are you great at? What do you bring to the table that nobody else does? What do enjoy doing? In what activities do you feel a sense of flow? Doesn’t it make sense that you would do more of that and less of other stuff? So? What are you waiting for?

Second, by not treating others like they are equals. By finding what each individual brings to table and helping him or her be the best they can at it. By respecting others and treating them like they are different from you and thus, have something to teach you. By not evaluating people on standardized scales and expect them to be all-around players. That is just the path to mediocrity. By learn from what we know about how to treat kids:

Rena Subotnik, a researcher with the American Psychological Association, has studied children’s progression into adult creative careers. Kids do best when they are allowed to develop deep passions and pursue them wholeheartedly—at the expense of well-roundedness. “Kids who have deep identification with a field have better discipline and handle setbacks better,” she noted. By contrast, kids given superficial exposure to many activities don’t have the same centeredness to overcome periods of difficulty

Its time you leave the equity ethos behind and start becoming non-equitable.

Elad

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The right job and the manager’s role

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Bob Sutton wrote a very interesting post a few days ago. Here are the main parts of it:

I realized that while much of what I write about focuses on bad versus good bosses, jobs, and organizations, that I ought to also be emphasizing that there are many perfectly good jobs out there held be people who are, nonetheless, quite unhappy because the kind of work they do, the mission of their organization, and a host of other factors simply do not mesh well who they are and what they would want to be.

But some of us have jobs that don’t fit who we are and we would be much happier doing another kind of work … I thought of three signs that someone is in the wrong job. These are:

1. “People whose careers aren’t the right fit often feel like impostors, even if they are very skilled at their jobs.”

2. “Another symptom is constant annoyance with the demands being made of them, even though these are reasonable for the business they’re in.”

3. “An additional warning sign is a feeling that their current work doesn’t rank very high in their value system.”

This little list just begins to scratch the surface…

Sutton raises great points and I think the three signs are right on. As someone who went through (and actually is still going through) a career change, I can say that this is exactly what I felt before I made the decision to make the move for a different career and job.

Having said that, I think Sutton de-emphasizes the importance of the subject so close to his heart – good bosses and bad bosses. Yes, we need people need to find a fit between them and the job and not everybody can do any job. However, I believe there is a connection between the boss (or manager), his relationship with his employee and the appearance of the signs in that same employee. If a manager’s job is to take the hurdles of employees out of the way and help each employee find his or her strengths and help reach a sense of flow, then it is a manager’s job to see the sign in his employees. It is not always in his ability to influence all of the relevant dimensions (the entire organization value system for example) but he does have an important affect on the employee’s day-to-day environment.

So, the three signs Sutton details are not only important as a self-reflection tool but also as a management tool. If your employees are experiencing any of the signs, maybe you are not doing your job as a manger very well…

Elad

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Not everybody can

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“Anybody can pour a cup of coffee, rent out cars, sell pairs of jeans. Except, of course, they can’t. The [businesses] that are the best at these things take ‘anybodies’ off the street and make them their own ‘somebodies”

I found this quote, by Alex Frankel (from his book Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee), in a great post by John Moore from the Brand Autopsy Blog. Here is another part from the post that talks about the same point:

Turns out the quality of the employee is the difference-maker between an energetic store and a lifeless one. It can also make the difference between a loyal customer and an infrequent customer.

I really like these quotes because they touch upon a few powerful ideas I really believe in. More than anything else, it means that not everybody is equipped to do every job. I know it is not popular to say this, but we are not equal. And I mean this in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, most people can do any work, but they can’t excel at everything. They can’t create Art in the Seth Godin sense of the word. And excellence and Art is what is needed to create true engagement.

I can pour and prepare coffee. But I will never make connections with a customer in a way that makes him feel good about him or herself. And while I am sure I will make a very good employee and do everything needed, be on time and whatever else the “rule book” says, I will never be able to do the things that really matter in such a situation. I can learn how to “talk the talk” with customers, but inside, I would never “walk the walk”. I will never truly enjoy such an engagement with strangers. It is not in my character or personality. But others can. It doesn’t say anything bad about me or them. It just the wonderful differences between us.

A manager’s job is to make these connections between roles and people and in a way that contributes to the employee’s sense of self and to the goals of the business. It starts by choosing good people but it continues into listening to them, talking to them, asking the right questions and helping them find their strengths and flow.

Do that and the customers will follow.

Elad

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Play time!

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Another great quote from Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (see the first one here):

Penelope assumed that somewhere out there was someone who was already perfect. Relationship expert Daniel Wile says that choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems. There are no problem-free candidates. The trick is to acknowledge each other’s limitations, and build from there.

Are there any perfect teammates? Perfect workers? Perfect bosses?

Probably not.

The question is: what are you going to do about it? Wish they were perfect or put an effort and start actually working on using the strengths of the individuals to overcome their “limitations”.

We have a choice every day.

As I mention in my e-book, In Randy Pausch ‘s last lecture he said: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand“.

When are you going to stop complaining and start playing?

Elad

What’s working?

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We often hear people say that they need to work on their weaknesses. Today in class, I heard someone say that he sees the positive feedback he receives as pat on the back, but he really wants people to focus on his areas of improvement.  The problem is, our weaknesses are not only hard to fix, fixing them will lead (at best) to marginal improvement in results. The more effective way to improve our performance is to focus on what we are good at and think of ways to do more of that! I love David Rendall ‘s approach to this issue:

Fact #5: There is nothing wrong with you

How does a sundial work? What does it require? It tells time by casting a shadow on the appropriate hour. It needs to be in the sun. What happens when you put a sundial in the shade? Does it work? Of course not. But is it broken? Is something wrong with it? No, it isn’t broken and nothing is wrong with it. Then what is the problem? The problem is that the sundial is in the shade. It is in the wrong spot. The sundial doesn’t need to be fixed; it needs to be moved.

It is the same in our lives and our work. When things go bad, it is not because something is wrong with us. It is because we are in the wrong spot. The job or the relationship didn’t work out because it was the wrong fit.

Instead of fixing our weaknesses, we need to look for the right fit. We need to find situations that match our strengths, highlight our abilities, and bring out the best in us. We need to get out of the shade and into the sun.

It is a mindset that is relevant both in the personal and the professional level. We spend too much of our lives worrying about what is not working. About how to fix or change things that are broken. Negativity is contagious and when you spend all your time thinking in negative terms, it affects you well-being and performance. But positivity is also contiguous. What will happen if instead we focused on what is working? A few months back I quoted the Heath brothers from What Matters:

We’re wired to focus on what’s not working. But Murphy asked, “What IS working, today, and how can we do more of it?”

You’re probably trying to change things at home or at work. Stop agonizing about what’s not working. Instead, ask yourself, “What’s working well, right now, and how can I do more of it?”

So, what’s working for you?

Elad

The star system – bad news for teamwork?

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Bob Sutton writes in his blog about Boris Groysberg’s Research on star employees – Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth:

The results of this research are interesting because, while some leaders might think that there is no such thing as having too many stars, Boris and his colleagues found a curvilinear relationship between the number of stars in a group and overall performance — so, having a few stars help, have a few more doesn’t hurt (but doesn’t help), but groups reach a tipping point where too many stars seem to dampen performance. Groysberg and his colleagues suggest that the “too many cooks” problem happens partly because, when a group is filled with individual stars, the dynamics degenerate because people devote excessive attention to the internal status game and competition and hesitate to share information that may help the group as a whole, but will threaten their standing in the group. In other words, when there are too many stars, people focus on what is best for themselves, see other top performers as people who are in the way rather than people they should help, and the overall performance of the team seems less important.

Now, I haven’t read the article (it hasn’t been published yet), but I have a general problem with the basic assumption, as it is described in the blog post, about stars and their importance in teamwork. Sutton writes: “leaders might think that there is no such thing as having too many stars”. The whole notion of looking at people as stars is in my opinion, misplaced. For me, this represents a common misunderstanding about what teamwork really is. I am not surprised this research was conducted in Wall Street, where this kind of thinking is probably common place and where individuality is put on a pedestal and adored as a pagan god. Teamwork is about differences.

Because if you think about stars in a team it implies that all team members are equal or do the same thing and thus, one can outshine the other. It also implies that performance is the result of individual effort and not of a team effort – the interaction between the unique strengths and talents that each team member brings to the table.

The importance of individuality and stars in teamwork might be a conventional wisdom and an underlying assumption that is unfit for the world we now live in and the challenges modern business face. In a fascinating article called “Are smart people overrated?” that appears in his book What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell writes:

The broader failing of McKinsey and its acolytes at Enron is their assumption that an organization’s intelligence is simply a function of the intelligence of its employees. They believe in stars, because they don’t believe in systems. In a way, that’s understandable, because our lives are so obviously enriched by individual brilliance. Groups don’t write great novels, and a committee didn’t come up with the theory of relativity. But companies work by different rules. They don’t just create; they execute and compete and coordinate the efforts of many different people, and the organizations that are most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star.

When a team or system is the star there is an understanding that individual performance and ability are important, but just in the way it aligns with the bigger scheme of things. There is an understanding that each member of the team or system has an important role that he or she has to perform to best of their abilities and that the final outcome is dependent on each individual contribution. It is based on the assumption that each member is indispensible in his or her contribution to the team effort, because he brings something special that the rest of the team cannot do. It is a synergy between different individuals with different strengths and talents that could not be a threat to each other or be in competition with each other, because each and every one of them is unique in the contribution to the team.

What do you think about the star terminology?

Elad

Just because you are successful, doesn’t mean you need to be a manager

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Two similar ideas by two different people, both espousing an idea I really like: not everybody needs to be a manager; Even though we all think we do.

In this short TED talk, Richard St. John, says, about 1:30 minutes into the talk, the following sentence:

And reaching success, I always did what I loved. But then I got into stuff that I didn’t love, like management. I am the world’s worst manager. But I figured I should be doing it. Because I was, after all, the president of the company.

And then, about 2:40 minutes into the talk, this:

Well, it didn’t take long for business to drop like a rock. My partner and I, Thom, we had to let all our employees go. It was down to just the two of us, and we were about to go under. And that was great. Because with no employees, there was nobody for me to manage. So I went back to doing the projects I loved. I had fun again. I worked harder. And to cut a long story short: did all the things that took me back up to success. But it wasn’t a quick trip. It took seven years.

On the same idea from a different perspective, Allan Bacon writes:

Here’s my radical suggestion for creating more time and flexibility in your job: give yourself a demotion from management to a position where you can directly make a strategic contribution. I call this “strategic downshifting”.

Just like downshifting in a car, this gives you more power and control. It also makes your engine rev higher and gives you faster acceleration. That is to say, you can create a place where you can be excited about your work again.

I already wrote a few weeks ago about the dangers in our misguided self-perceptions. The myth that success in business means becoming a manager is a just what it is – a myth. Don’t let yourself be disillusioned by it.

It is time to find and focus on your strengths. To find and focus on your comparative advantage. To find and focus on how you can make a difference and how you can create change.

It is time we strive for excellence.

Are you in the best role you could be or do you need a downshift?

Elad