A New Way to Work

Success and change without burnout by Dr. Geri Puleo

Archive for the category “Creativity”

Paradigm Shifter #1 – Trust your gut

Paradigm Shift

I’ve observed that many of us rely almost exclusively on quantitative evidence, while ignoring or even disparaging our more subjective qualitative insights.

Is this indulgence in data-driven, linear analysis due to our fear of the unknown?

Are we so driven by “hard” data that we are blocking the “soft” insights available only through our gut feelings?

But, are our data-driven and intuitive minds really so diametrically different?  In other words, why is it so common to believe that a linear way of looking at a problem is the only way to look at that problem?

Anyone who has truly mastered a skill has what seems to be an uncanny ability to “see” things that others who are less skilled simply overlook. In fact, someone who has mastered a skill or craft often does not engage in the machinations of “hard” data analysis, but can “see” the solution to the problem or potential outcome quickly.

Should this master’s insights or suggestions be ignored? Hardly, because it often is the result of experience and a finely honed ability to recognize patterns or trends that lead to those insights.

Is our gut instinct based on this same foundation?

Gut instincts nag us to do something – even if it’s not necessarily what we had planned to do.  Often these gut feelings contradict our more linear perception of reality and we don’t heed the advice:

  • Remember that “funny feeling” you had when you accepted a job offer that sounded so good – even though “something” was telling you not to accept it? You only discovered (after much angst) that what the employer told you about the job wasn’t the reality of the job.
  • Or what about the time that “something” told you to get off the plane in which you were traveling? More than likely, you ignored your gut – but then gave yourself a head slap when the plane had to make an emergency landing down a runway filled with firetrucks and responders in hazmat suits. (This actually happened to me!)

In both of these situations, did you question why you didn’t listen to your gut?

So what leads to these gut feelings?

While the specific mechanism of what creates a gut feeling may not be fully understood, it seems that we humans are wired to have them.

In fact, I haven’t met anyone yet who does not acknowledge that they have experienced a gut feeling about a person or situation at least once in their lives.  Although the feeling may have defied logical analysis, the insight ultimately came true.

The sad reality is that gut feelings are often only acknowledged after the fact.  In other words, we recognize or admit to having that gut feeling only in hindsight.

Given the ubiquitous nature of gut feelings, the number of people who actually listen to their gut (anecdotally based upon my observations) is substantially smaller.

The question, of course, is why are we so afraid of acting upon our gut instincts or using them in our decision making? Why is it so challenging to accept these gut feelings before we act – rather than recognizing their wisdom afterward?

Perhaps it is the fear of being wrong or failing that prevents us from accepting the spontaneous insights of our guts. But what if our gut instincts are simply the result of processing information at a much higher speed than our more linear thought processes?

The Brain and the Mind

For lack of a better location, our gut instincts emanate from our brains – and the full capacity and capabilities of this amazing organ have not yet been fully mapped.

I’m sure that you’ve heard the recurring myth that people use only 10% of the total capacity of their brains. However, this assumption from the early 1900s has been debunked by current research.  The reality is that nearly every part of our brain is constantly active:  although only 3% of total body weight, the brain uses 20% of the body’s total energy.

In other words, the brain is constantly active processing, organizing, and storing external and internal information.

Maybe our gut instincts are the result of our brain sensing patterns or similarities with information that it had previously stored – information that would take longer to detect using purely linear thought processes.

So, why not become a little more receptive and accepting of the quicker insights of our gut feelings?

I’m not suggesting that quantitative data be ignored in decision making. Instead, I am suggesting that data be viewed as a tool that needs to be analyzed and interpreted by using both parts of our brains:  the linear quantitative and the creative qualitative.

Our experiences have shown that hindsight is always 20/20. But imagine how our lives would be enhanced if we finally learned to trust those gut feelings when they happen!

Trusting your gut is essentially a commitment to trusting yourself.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a change management/HR expert and passionate advocate for eradicating burnout in the workplace. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, author, blogger, university professor, and researcher, she is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as a popular keynote speaker and corporate trainer. To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. She can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.

 

 

 

Paradigm Shifter #48 – Identify your life’s purpose

Paradigm Shift

You will always leave a legacy – whether you intend to or not. To intentionally leave a legacy, you must identify and act boldly based on your life’s PURPOSE.

This advice is perennial: success requires that you understand why you are here…at this time…in this place…with these specific talents.  Your legacy is, therefore, the result of the interplay between your internal talents and the external circumstances that create the fabric of your life.

It doesn’t matter whether you believe that this unique amalgamation is random or dictated by a higher power. What matters is that you identify for yourself the “why’s” of your life.

But it is often much easier said than done.

Boldly asserting your life’s “purpose” can be frightening:

  • Will I become so focused on a single goal that I miss out on all the other things that life has to offer?
  • Is it egotistical to believe that I am here for an important reason that can impact society – or even a small portion of it?
  • What if I want to achieve this purpose so badly and commit so many resources to it…then don’t achieve it?

Whether expressed out loud or just simmering in our subconscious, these fears powerfully sabotage our ability to really achieve success on our own terms.

The fear of “missing out”

I am adamantly against the idea that anyone can “have it all” – but I just as adamantly support that you can have what you want.

Several years ago, I was the keynote speaker at a university’s conference on women. My topic focused on transcending the guilt-inducing societal edict that we can – and should! – “have it all.”  Instead, I recommended that we focus on our personal priorities in order to achieve what’s most important to us.

While many of the women agreed with me, I was astounded at the anger and vehemence of a few of the women. In fact, one attendee said that the topic should have been that “Geri Puleo has it all.”

Why did this well-meant advice create such astonishingly diverse reactions?

Having the courage – and, yes, it takes courage – to proclaim what we want and then act accordingly holds a mirror up to our lives. Our actions reflect our priorities even if we profess something entirely different.

Realizing that we can’t “have it all” but that we can “have what we want” is profoundly life-changing.  It takes away the guilt if we don’t try to do everything…for everybody…but often not for ourselves.

This insight also might lead us to take actions that will upset or hurt other people because we may need to say “no” to their requests in order to say “yes” to what we need to do in order to achieve our life’s purpose.

But when we live our lives based on what we believe is our guiding PURPOSE to be here at this time, in this place, and with our unique talents, then saying “no” becomes much easier.

And the people who truly support us – our “tribe” – will embrace us along our journey.

The so-called “egotism” of a higher calling

When we finally muster the courage to define what we want (our life’s purpose) and decide to go for it, we must also let go of that which does not support that purpose.

And when that involves letting go of (or at least distancing ourselves from) certain people, it is far too common for them to demean us in order to assuage their feelings of rejection.

So they call us egotistical. A dreamer.  Unrealistic.  Even a braggart.

Striving for a higher goal, a noble purpose, is life-affirming – even if those who are currently around us try to belittle our ambitions.

Again, it takes courage to live based on a rock solid belief in the PURPOSE of our lives.  This has the effect of propelling us toward people who also live their lives based on a higher calling.

We generally are not “discarding” the people who are currently in our lives (but don’t necessarily support us). Instead we are shifting our relationships with them on a continuum traversing friends who have moved to the periphery of our relationships to those who are toxic and thus no longer a part of our lives.

But, even more importantly, living our lives based on PURPOSE makes us much more compassionate and empathetic toward others. In fact, we tend to be more open and give more of ourselves to those who also want to make a difference – and the probability of supportive reciprocation is vastly increased.

Defining the difference that we want to make – whether it is on a small familial level or on the greater world stage of society – is the essence of identifying the unique purpose of our individual lives.

And there is no egotism in wanting to achieve something that ultimately helps others.

The fear of failure

I really don’t believe that there is an objective difference between a “winner” and a “loser.” The truth as to who “wins” and who “loses” rests solely in the eye of the beholder.

Life is a journey. Anyone who has achieved greatness has also had the gnawing fear of “what’s next” and “how do I top this?”  You still have a life to live after you achieve the goal that you defined as identifying you as a “winner.”

Because life is a journey, living with PURPOSE creates a better sense of balance. Goals become benchmarks on the path to creating an intentional legacy.  If a particular tactic doesn’t achieve a goal related to the overall purpose of your life, then it is much easier to adapt and shift.

The biggest fear comes from not achieving the scope of your life’s purpose.  Maybe you won’t save the world, but your daily actions aligned with your purpose will undoubtedly create small successes and even joy.

There will be challenges, but your journey toward actualizing your PURPOSE will also be energizing and enjoyable – something that you don’t want to “miss out” on. When your purpose is based on a higher noble goal, it is the antithesis of egotism.  And, finally, recognizing that “failure” is really an opportunity to learn creates curiosity and commitment.

Living in alignment with the PURPOSE of your life transcends the siren call of society’s more mundane definition of “success.” Rather than living with fear and second-guessing, a life lived with purpose is a life well lived and produces a sustainable, intentional legacy.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert whose goal is to eradicate burnout from the workplace. She is the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc. as well as a popular keynote speaker and trainer. To see her “in action,” watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI. She can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.

Forgetting How to Laugh: An Overlooked Sign of Burnout

Smiley laughingEver notice how much better you feel when you laugh out loud?  Scientific studies have shown that your belly laughs play a vital role in your overall health and well-being.

The Mayo Clinic found that laughing has an immediate effect on your stress response by stimulating circulation and relaxing your muscles.

Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air that stimulates your vital organs and triggers your brain to release those “feel good” endorphins throughout your body.  Laughter really is the best medicine.

So why do we “forget” to laugh when we’re burned out?

I first noticed this connection when one of the participants in my research on burnout during organizational change mentioned that one of her first signs of burnout was losing her sense of humor.

Think about the last time that you were stressed out:

  • Did it seem like it was just “too much work” to find the humor in a stressful situation?
  • Did you actually get angry when a coworker or family member kidded or teased you about something?
  • Did you even consciously try to prevent yourself from laughing at something that you would have normally found to be funny?
  • Were you afraid that if you did allow yourself to start laughing…you might end up crying instead?

One of the things that constantly surprises me is how many adults tend to snicker, giggle, or just smile rather than let themselves full out belly laugh. I’m not sure if it’s that laughing out loud is somehow “not cool” – or if we are simply taking ourselves too seriously.

Even worse, what if the lack of laughter or a sense of humor is directly proportionate to the level of burnout that someone is experiencing?

Whatever the reason, when was the last time that you actually laughed out loud?

How Laughter Reduces Stress

Although we intuitively know that we feel better after a good laugh, there has been a growing body of research investigating the physical changes that occur during and after laughter.

In addition to the short-term effects relating to endorphins, laughter stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles. It also specifically targets your body’s stress response by initially increasing your heart rate and blood pressure, then “cooling down” that stress response. Stress and burnout usually manifest in tightened muscles – but a good laugh aids in muscle relaxation. The result: an immediate positive, relaxed feeling.

If you laugh frequently, you will also experience some substantial long-term benefits. Over time, stress compromises your immune system.  The positive feelings associated with laughter release neuropeptides that not only fight the stress, but also protect your body from more serious illnesses. Laughter even produces its own natural pain killers; for people with certain types of muscle disorders, a good laugh can actually break the pain-spasm cycle.

And people who laugh seem to be happier, more personally satisfied, and have better relationships with the people around them.

Learning How to Laugh Again

Laughing is closely linked to happiness – it’s difficult to feel burned out and stay burned out when you are happy and laughing.

But can you make someone laugh? Even master stand-up comics aren’t “funny” to everyone, so telling a joke might not work.

Here are two ways to reduce your stress by laughing – particularly when you’re too stressed out to think that anything is funny.

  • Anticipation…just THINKING about something funny can trigger the beneficial effects of laughter.

In a study conducted at Loma Linda University in California, researchers discovered that seeking out positive experiences that make you laugh can significantly impact your body’s ability to stay well.

Just anticipating “mirthful laughter” releases beta-endorphins (that alleviate depression) and human growth hormone (HGH, which support the immune system). Such anticipation also decreases levels of three important stress hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and dopac).

As your stress levels decrease, your overall wellness increases – and laughter is a great way to reduce stress.

  • Laughing yoga.

Yes, there really is such a practice! Created by an Indian medical doctor, laughter yoga is usually conducted in groups and appears to tap into the joyful inner child that often lies dormant in all of us.

An interesting finding is that the body’s responses to the act of laughing are not based on whether the laughter is real or fake. In other words, simply laughing (even if you might not initially think that there is anything funny) generates the same physiological and psychological benefits.

Can’t laugh if you can’t find anything funny? Think again: have you ever noticed that when you force yourself to laugh…you tend to start finding your laughter funny…and then you laugh even more? If you’re in a group, the more you laugh, the more everyone around you will start laughing, too — and the overall stress levels in the group will decrease.  (My friends and I used to call this a “laugh attack.”)

Little children are great at making laughter contagious: when one starts laughing, suddenly all of them find it hysterically funny and keep on laughing…and laughing…and laughing.

Even though stressed out parents are creating stressed out kids, our innate inner child is curious, joyful, happy, and stress-free. No matter how old we are chronologically, that inner child wants to come out to play and laugh. Laughter can be a great way to tap into the creativity and joy in the child in all of us.

Laughter may truly be the best medicine to reduce the stress in our lives. It’s free, feels good, and has long-lasting benefits.

So, in addition to eating that apple a day to keep the doctor away, let’s all try to have a good belly laugh every day to keep burnout away!  Ho, ho, ho!  🙂

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Can We Be Happy at Work?

Happiness CartoonThe goal of “being happy” is an ingrained human desire – I’d even call it a hard-wired need.  Not only do we want to be happy in our lives, but we also need to be happy.

Yet happiness seems to elude many of us – even if we have the trappings of what others believe create happiness:  a nice home, a nice car, money in the bank, a good job, and (of course) love.

But as we all know, sometimes what we think will create happiness doesn’t necessarily reflect what actually makes us happy.

Even though we all want to be happy, many of us haven’t truly figured out what “happiness” means to us or the best path to achieve our definition of what it means to “be happy.”

Marketing professionals constantly bombard us with the outer, external, and “tangible” products that they promise will make us “happy.”  Whether it is the latest iPhone or the fanciest pair of shoes, the message is that if we buy these items, then we will finally “be happy.”

But it’s not just “stuff” that we’re told will make us happy.

I’ve recently discovered a fascinating phenomenon in companies that provide services to business owners.  Most of them promise that their product or service – no one else’s! – will finally help us to achieve the success (aka “happiness”) that we want – and deserve! – from our businesses.  What they offer is often a turnkey, “one size fits all” model that may actually conflict with what the business owner actually needs to be “happy” in their business.

I’ve never been a fan of such “cookie cutter” approaches.

Why?  Because I firmly believe that each of us is unique.  Even though we are all humans, our backgrounds, experiences, values, and preferences create very different expectations of what it means when we really are “happy.”

When it comes to happiness, one size doesn’t fit all.

In my research on burnout, I’ve discovered (not surprisingly) that burned out workers are also very unhappy workers.  In fact, burnout tends to turn off our sense of humor – nothing is funny any more and everything is frustrating.

According to George Sand (as quoted in the cartoon above), “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”  While we can understand and appreciate this in our personal lives, why does this fundamental insight fly out the window when we go to work?

In other words, why do we tend to manage others in a way that doesn’t address our human need to love and be loved?

Obviously I’m not recommending anything that even hints of sexual love in the workplace.  Sexual harassment and discrimination are not only illegal, but they also reflect anger, resentment, and degradation rather than love.

But healthy, nonsexual expressions of “love” can be shown in numerous ways in the workplace:

  • A simple “thank you” or “great job” for others’ efforts.  Genuine expressions and acts of appreciation are closely related to the positive feeling of love, which is closely associated with feelings of happiness.
  • Empathy and understanding for employees’ competing work-life demands.  The ability to understand and empathize with another’s struggles and joys not only creates positive bonds between people, but we also tend to be happier when we believe that we are understood.
  • Asking for someone’s expertise and input during the planning and implementation phases of a project.  Love and happiness cannot exist in a healthy way unless there is respect between the parties.

We spend the vast majority of our time at work, thinking about work, and actually working.  As a result, our work environment and on-the-job experiences play a huge role in our feelings of overall happiness.

Happy people are rarely burned out.  Perhaps this is because they enjoy the work that they do and they do the work in an environment in which they are appreciated, respected, and valued.

Happiness also rarely exists in a vacuum.  Toxic work situations characterized by politicking, mistrust, disrespect, and behaviors that don’t address the very real emotional needs of the workforce are rarely “happy” places to work.  As a result, those unhappy workers won’t be fully engaged and committed in helping the company achieve its goals.

When a star performer is also an unhappy and burned out worker, you can bet that he or she will soon leave the organization.  When they don’t “feel the love,” they’re destined to find it somewhere else – usually with your competitor.

Maybe it’s time that managers and human resources professionals begin to focus on employee happiness rather than on the nebulous and esoteric concept of “job satisfaction.”  After all, you can be technically “satisfied” at work, but still not really be happy to be there.

Happiness at work creates that added “oomph” that transforms and enhances the way in which we do our jobs.

If you want outstanding performance from your workers, then you need to provide a work environment and culture that constantly reinforce that they are appreciated, respected, and valued.  In this way, you can “show the love” for your workers – which is one step closer to helping them achieve the happiness that they want and need at work.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Have We Lost the Ability to Say “NO” at Work?

say-no limited timeOne of the biggest challenges in the modern workplace is work overload.  Too much to do, too little time, not enough resources, not enough energy!

Stress management techniques wisely advise that we need to take back our ability to say “no” when we recognize that we cannot do all that is expected of us.

Tell that to your boss and watch what happens.

We humans have limited supplies of time and energy.  When we have exhausted these reserves, then our interest in related projects also eventually depletes.  We may know this intuitively, but the modern workplace practically demands that we ignore our human limitations and continue to take on more work – or face the consequences.

Throughout my blog posts, I have consistently called for a re-emergence of humanism to find a new (and better) way to work in the modern workplace.  Throughout my career, I have consulted with and coached clients who are frustrated, angry, burned out, and underperforming.  The common thread is the inability, unwillingness, or fear of saying “no.”

Like many of us, I can remember as a young girl that saying “no” to my parents resulted in some form of punishment – or at least “the look” and a very strong reprimand.  Old habits die hard, so I shouldn’t be surprised when we continue to avoid saying “no” in order to avoid displeasing the people in our professional lives.

Although we are not put in “time out” at work, saying “no” to our bosses can lead to some form of direct or indirect reprimand.  Consider what saying “no” to a new assignment can mean to our jobs and careers:

  • We are not viewed as “team players.”
  • Our loyalty to the company is questioned.
  • We are being insubordinate to our bosses – which will not be forgotten in our annual performance reviews.
  • We are being “difficult.”

The tragedy is that saying “yes” to others (especially when we don’t really want to) actually undermines our current and future relationships with that person or organization.  In addition, we are much more likely to experience the negative effects of cognitive dissonance:  we are acting in a way that contradicts how we really feel.  This leads to anger, resentment, and burnout.

Why Saying “No” Can Be a Good Thing

Although saying “no” was grounds for punishment as a child, we are no longer children but adults whose contributions are critical in order for our companies to excel.

So how can saying “no” to an assignment actually be a good thing?

  • Saying “no” can indicate a significant lack of resources that will eventually undermine the success of the assignment.
  • Saying “no” can reinforce the need to better delegate the workload or increase staffing (temporarily or permanently).
  • Saying “no” can benefit customers by keeping their expectations realistic and then delivering on those expectations.
  • Saying “no” can protect the company from litigation arising from illegal actions by employees.
  • Saying “no” (and having that “no” accepted by management) can increase employee commitment and engagement because we are being heard and respected.
  • Finally, saying “no” can protect the organization from negative “group think” and open the door to future innovation and creative solutions.

Unfortunately, many companies view an employee’s “no” as a sign of disrespect, insubordination, and grounds for future discipline – including termination.

But the fear of saying “no” ultimately does nothing to support the health of either the organization or the individual worker.  Not standing up for something that you believe is wrong ensures that the unrealistic demands, disrespectful treatment, and stressful workplace will continue – for you and others.

How to Say “No” at Work

Learning to say “no” can be a challenge for many workers – as equally challenging as learning how to accept a subordinate’s “no.”

How do you create an environment in which an employee’s “no” is viewed positively?

First, always consider Mehrabian’s three channels for effective interpersonal communication:  55% of meaning comes from nonverbal cues, 38% from tone of voice, and only 7% from the words themselves.  Be sure that all three are in alignment.  In other words, don’t say “no” using a hostile tone or defensive mannerisms.

Second, provide a brief rationale for your “no.” Be sure to include a logical reason why you are refusing the request and the potential benefit to the person making that request.  For example, be clear that taking on the new assignment will undermine your ability to successfully meet the deadline for another important assignment.

Third, offer another option to get the work done.  This may include recommending that the assignment be divided among several employees who are experts in their individual project areas so that the increased workload does not become unmanageable for any one individual.

Fourth, don’t say “no” late in the game.  If the project’s due date is near and you had previously agreed to the deliverable due dates, don’t “suddenly” announce that you can’t finish it.  Keep all stakeholders apprised of progress and don’t be afraid to ask for help if there is any indication that the due date might not be met.  It is better to modify plans, rather than never complete them.

Saying “no” at work is hard and many of our past experiences have supported our belief that we should never say “no” at work.  But when we can’t say “no,” we feel out of control – which is a primary factor in the debilitating downward spiral toward burnout.

Learning to say “no” can be very empowering.  It can enhance our professional relationships as well as increase the levels of mutual respect.  Most importantly, it can be the first step in creating a new, more humane, and more productive way to work. Saying “no” to one thing can be the first step to saying “yes” to something much better.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Curiosity, Thinking Outside the Box…and Noticing

CuriosityIn my consulting practice, keynotes, and training sessions, I have consistently recommended that business professionals need to become more curious.  In fact, I often recommend a megadose of curiosity in order to solve problems and make better informed decisions.

Obviously, curiosity is essential to being creative – which is closely related to the ability to “think outside the box.”

Curious, creative people tend to ask more questions, investigate more thoroughly, and are not afraid to “play” in order to come up with new ideas, innovations, and solutions.

Then why do so many creative people fail to turn their dreams into reality?  Are we focusing on the wrong things?

Recently, I began reading a fascinating book, The Power of Noticing by Max Bazerman.  While we’ve all been encouraged to analyze the internal and external factors that can contribute to the success or failure of any given action, the idea of simply noticing is often overlooked in decision making.

As a university professor, I’m often amazed at how many of my colleagues are fantastic at delving into minute details – but missing the “big picture.”  In academia and business, many people unfortunately remain in their area of expertise and ignore anything that is not related to their field of interest.

In other words, many people “can’t see the forest for the trees.”

Although specialization has long been an important consideration for a job-related promotion, there has been an urgent need for business professionals to also have at least a rudimentary understanding of how their particular job fits in with all the other jobs in the organization.

There is a tendency to become complacent when it is assumed that we already know the key factors in a situation – at least in terms of how they relate to us.  In our minds, it is just logical that we focus on those important elements and ignore the rest – somebody else will focus on them, right?

The current trend is toward harnessing “big data.”  As I’ve noted in many of my blog posts, “big data” is critical in business and can be a powerful tool to help move a company up to the next level – but it is only part of the picture.  Focusing exclusively on the “data” (without noticing any factors outside that data) skews both the information and ultimate decisions arising from that data.

Bazerman’s book addresses these issues head on and challenges us to actively notice what is going on around us.  The book, however, is not a fluffy, “here’s how to heal your relationships” kind of book.  Instead, it looks at major failures that led to loss of revenue, reputation, and, more importantly, loss of life (such as in 9/11 and the Challenger space shuttle disaster).

If we don’t notice, then we are bombarded with “predictable surprises” – situations that we did not expect…but should have if we had only taken the time to notice.  In other words, “hindsight is 20/20.”

The goal, of course, is to help our foresight (not just our hindsight) become 20/20.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Noticing Forces Us to Challenge Our Assumptions

We all have blind spots in how we take in and observe information – it’s part of the way our brains are wired.  This short, classic video simply asks you to count the number of passes made by the basketball team in white.

Here’s another example from a “real life” experiment:

If you watched these two videos, then you might have been surprised at something so “obvious” that you didn’t notice.

Thinking inside the box means that we are following the instructions given to us.  We’ve been taught to block out anything that is not related to the subject or object of our focus because it is “irrelevant.”  But this tunnel vision actually skews our ability to see what is really happening.

Noticing, therefore, is more than just observing.  I agree with Bazerman that the ability to really notice is often underrepresented in modern business.  Whether we ignore these insights from ignorance, arrogance, or a focus on the bottom line is debatable.  But what is not debatable is that not noticing can lead to horrific consequences that could have been avoided.

  • How aware are you really of what is going on around you?
  • Do you notice certain things – then dismiss them because you assume that they are not relevant to you?
  • What assumptions are skewing your ability to be curious and notice?
  • Isn’t it time for you to take the notes of the signs that you might have been missing?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Paradigm Shifter #19: Creativity and implementation are NOT mutually exclusive – success requires both

Paradigm ShiftEmployers place a high premium on creativity in their workers.  Learning to “think outside the box” is a critical skill to successfully compete in today’s constantly changing market and workplace.  But it takes more than great ideas to be successful.

Success – today and in the past – requires not only creativity, but also follow-up and implementation to convert an intangible idea into a tangible innovation.

Having owned my own businesses for over 25 years, I’ve found that coming up with new products and services is relatively easy – in fact, it’s downright fun.

However, my experiences have also taught me that it takes analysis, critical thinking, perseverance, determination, risk management, and simple hard work to manifest those ideas into something tangible.

The combined ability to not only create but also to implement requires a new approach to prioritizing, problem solving, and decision-making.  Success in today’s age of unrelenting change requires both.  For example:

  • You’re a key player in major brainstorming sessions regarding new product development – your ideas are great and everyone is inspired. But, when it comes time to do the hard, often monotonous work of actually manufacturing these products, you tend to walk away and delegate that “operational stuff” to the “non-creative types.”  If the products don’t go to market, it’s their fault for not being able to realize your ideas.
  • You’ve earned the reputation of being methodical, diligent, organized, and efficient – but you’re also known to be somewhat change resistant. Trying to incorporate new ideas into your established routines and processes tends to have a ripple effect that (in your mind) creates chaos.  Why try to fix something that isn’t broken (at least not yet)?
  • You’ve decided to really expand your business with several new product lines – all of which are so important that they need to be developed at once. You’re excited and energized, but after several months of trying to juggle wide-scale product development along with your routine tasks, you’re frustrated because you haven’t made significant progress on any of these products.  A year later, none of them is ready to go to market.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

Depending on the culture, some companies bestow kudos on the creative types for their vision and rule-breaking.  The “operational types” and analysts are considered to be less important to the company’s future than the visionaries.  Conversely, other companies rely so heavily on effective operations that they silence the “crazy” ideas from those “creative types.”  Being able to do what we say we can do is more important than “wasting” time trying to innovate within our companies, fields, or industries.

What I have learned is that, while status quo operations can leave us vulnerable and ill-prepared for a constantly changing environment, creativity without disciplined implementation is just a dream that never takes form.

Making the shift from an operational/managerial mindset to one that embraces creativity/leadership –and vice versa – can be a challenge.

The difficulty might be from the necessity of using both sides of our brains in interacting with our environments.  Another cause could be expectations of the organizations in which we have worked.  Yet another cause could be our own histories relating to the types of recognition that we have received.  Finally, society is somewhat intent upon “pigeon-holing” us:  you’re either a creator or a doer.

In today’s era of constant, unrelenting change, learning to feel comfortable with both creativity and implementation is a critical competency to finding a new way to work.  This powerful synergy of creating and doing is hard to duplicate.

Here are just a few tips to help you embrace the synergy of being able to create and implement:

  1. Identify your preferred style: First determine whether you tend to approach problem solving and decision making from a creative, “outside the box” perspective OR a linear, analytical approach.  This is both your starting point and your default style.
  2. If you tend to be more creative: Try to visualize the steps between where you are now and the culmination or realization of this new idea – not just a paper trail, but a colorful movie depicting the journey.  Be curious and use your creativity to peer into all the different routes that you could use to go from “here to there.”
  3. If you tend to be more analytical: Challenge yourself by asking, “what if?”  What would happen if you changed any of the assumptions or individual elements needed to achieve a goal?  Be fearless and use your linear thinking to mitigate risks by preparing for obstacles that are unforeseen on the surface.  Take pride in your ability to uncover those “hidden” obstacles and develop appropriate responses.
  4. Befriend someone who is your opposite: If you are a creative, make an effort to truly understand the thought processes of an analytic – and vice versa.  Remember that one approach is not superior to the other:  in fact, both are necessary to successfully compete in the modern workplace.
  5. Good news: the tools of creativity and implementation can be learned:  Regardless of your preferred style, each perspective can be understood as a set of tools used to prioritize activities, solve problems, and make decisions.  Balancing creativity with implementation results in visualization plus action – perhaps one of the most overlooked secrets to success.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

“What if…” vs. “Why not?”: The Fear vs. Creativity Conundrum

Frightened turtle

There is a major divide occurring in many businesses today.  The battle lines are drawn between the overly cautious risk avoiders and the equally overly optimistic creative visionaries.   The first group solemnly cautions, “What if…?” while the second group trumpets, “Why not?”

Understanding where your company falls between these two groups is essential for success in today’s constantly changing market and workplace.

On the one side, risk management is commonly and wisely accepted as a critical part of effective strategic management.  To understand the changes that could alter the environment, assumptions, processes, workflow, customers, etc. requires the creation of hypothetical situations that answer, “What if…?”

Paradoxically, another highly recommended business strategy is to boldly explore, innovate, and leap into new markets and product lines.  To identify and challenge the outdated assumptions in order to release such “outside the box” thinking requires answering the question, “Why not?”

But can these two vastly different approaches co-exist – or could the “what if” scenarios of risk management go too far?  In other words, are our fears of what might happen in the future destroying our creative spirit today?

Corporations are nothing more than financial and legal entities – they do not exist without their human workers.  Balancing the “why not” of creativity with the “what if” of risk management essentially requires an understanding of the true nature of what it means to be a human at work.  The balance between the two is the degree of fear (expressed or unexpressed) in the workplace.

How Fear Impacts the Workplace

Throughout modern business, we have been encouraged to leave our emotions at the doors of our offices.  In particular, the very real human emotion of fear has generally been avoided in business.  To be effective business leaders, we are advised to ignore our emotions and move forward solely on logic and reason.

Our gut instincts must be thoroughly tested and analyzed prior to using them to solve problems or develop strategy.  If our instincts aren’t supported by irrefutable facts, then they are often ignored.  After all, logic and reason are the sole means to avoid fearful circumstances and outcomes.

The psychology of being human, however, inherently includes emotions, feelings, values, perspectives, flashes of insight, creativity, and fear.  To attempt to ignore these powerful forces is (ironically) illogical.

But, even though fear is pervasive, no one likes to admit feeling it.  We’re advised to keep a “stiff upper lip” or “suck it up” in order to do what is necessary.  In addition, we human beings have a natural instinct to avoid situations that trigger our fears – whether real or imagined.

Despite the ubiquitous reality of fear, our reactions to fear vary widely.  Depending on our experience and perceptions,

  • We can choose to blindly ignore our fears by staunchly insisting that “nothing’s wrong.”  This can be seen when we fail to conduct thorough due diligence prior to making a decision.  In change initiatives, we label employees who question the changes as “change resistors” (which usually indicates that they are the “wrong people on the bus” and need to be replaced).
  • We can hedge the potential negative outcomes that we fear by engaging in extensive, protracted analysis.  Although it’s important to analyze both the internal and external factors that can potentially thwart our goals, “paralysis by analysis” can stymie an organization’s ability to quickly adapt to a constantly changing environment.
  • We can (consciously or unconsciously) exaggerate our fears into insurmountable obstacles.  Because we view the potential negative outcomes as so terrifying, we try to assuage our fears by rationalizing that we can never overcome them…that it doesn’t matter how hard we try…that it’s “inevitable” that our efforts will fail…so we quit without even trying.
  • We can act boldly at first,…but then second guess our decisions.  Inevitably, this leads to inefficient and ineffective processes due to the constant need to stop what we’re doing in order to replace it with something that we think might make the feared outcomes less likely.

No matter how the fear is perceived or expressed, its inevitable result is the loss of creativity and the courage to try something new.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Balancing the “What If’s” and the “Why Not’s”

Because “what if…” questions are fear-based, they tend to focus primarily on the potential bad things that can happen.  In sharp contrast, the “why not…” questions are inherently visionary and tend to evoke more boundless, blue ocean thinking.

It is not, however, a question of whether “what if…” is better or worse than “why not…”  However, it is a question of the balance between these two very different thought processes.

Fear stifles creativity, yet both fear and creativity are universal human experiences.  Due to this age of constant, unrelenting change, fears must be faced so that creativity can blossom.  The inability to innovate and adapt can be a death knell.

The telltale sign of fear is any iteration of “What if…?”  So, any time that you find yourself asking some variation of a “What if…” question, shift your focus to answer these four questions instead:

  1. What am I assuming will happen?  By giving your fear a name, you now have a target upon which to focus.
  2. Why is this potential outcome so frightening to me?  Am I afraid of losing something?  Am I afraid that I won’t be able to change?  Am I afraid of what other people will say?  The trick is to be specific BUT non-judgmental.  Just like the monster under your childhood bed, fears tend to subside once you clearly look at them.  Accept that the fear exists, then choose to move through it.
  3. What have I been putting off doing because of this fear?  One of fear’s greatest allies is procrastination – which is a form of self-sabotage that can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  4. What’s the worst that could happen?  Once you have confronted your fear, you can begin to take the steps to move through it.  Nearly all fears are exaggerations of projected outcomes.  In other words, the reality is much less frightening than the potentiality.  (Remember:  There never was a monster under your childhood bed.)

The process of overcoming fear is a cathartic tool that helps you to harness not only your natural creativity, but also your insights into the real potential outcomes of an action.  Why not start now?

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI

Are We Too Afraid to Think Outside the Box?

Think outside box tic-tac-toe

Are we destroying the environment that created visionaries like Steve Jobs?

In an era of constant and often unforeseeable change, why do businesses predominantly focus on linear, quantitatively-driven logic to solve problems – even if these old ideas are what contributed to the problems in the first place?

In this age of “big data,” have the numbers become the goal – the “box” in which creativity and innovation are rigidly confined?

Where is the creativity – that elusive, non-quantifiable, intangible quality – that catapulted the U.S. into the role of a world leader?

Why are we so afraid to think outside the box?

No one would argue that the world has become much more complicated as conflicting demands compete for our time.  Nothing is certain and the risk for “failure” is always looming.

Circumstances change in an instant, destroying well-crafted plans in their wake.  Publicly traded corporations live and die by their quarterly earnings statements.  Technology controls us with a 24/7 e-leash that confuses the tool with its master.

Creative thinkers may be threatened with job loss not only if their new idea fails, but often if they innocently question the prevailing corporate wisdom.

In this fear-ridden environment that is the 21st century workplace, pragmatism trumps creativity nearly every time.  Rather than developing something new, employees believe that it is safer to take baby steps rather than boldly lead others into an unknown future.

Yet creativity and innovation are the de facto precursors of success in today’s global economy.

Pragmatism v. Creativity:  You Decide  

Pragmatism might appear to be safe, but it neither inspires nor motivates.  Pragmatism creates the walls that confine us within the status quo.

In contrast, creativity requires letting go of past assumptions.  Creativity speaks directly to that undefinable spark that makes us human.  Creativity expands the self-imposed walls, allowing us to explore ideas from vastly different perspectives.

While prevailing wisdom says that it is “better to be safe than sorry,” the allure of creativity reminds us that “no guts, no glory.”

But it takes courage to be creative.  Creative innovators are often ridiculed by respected leaders in their fields.

It also takes a thick skin to be creative.  It is much easier to acquiesce to peer pressure than defend one’s ideas.

It takes confidence to be creative.  Negative labels of being “cocky” or “arrogant” teach us to either fly under the radar or flee to another more accepting environment.

Finally, it takes a human to be creative – but creativity can only exist when the humanity of the workforce is consistently nurtured and respected.

Puleo’s Pointers:  Creativity Is Innately Human

It is foolhardy and dangerous to focus primarily on “big data” as the source of creative problem-solving and decision-making.  While big data effectively shows what is happening, only humans are hardwired to creatively connect and make sense of the data points.  Unlike technology, humans can more easily make the leap of faith that leads to understanding not only why something is happening but also how to respond to it.

The level of creativity in the workplace is directly related to the level of humanism in its corporate culture.  When workers feel like drones, the probability of creative outcomes is negligible.

The 21st century business environment is fraught with dangers; only the courageously creative will survive.  Fear is the enemy of creativity.  When a company’s single-minded obsession is on “mitigating risk,” pragmatism reigns – but the human fire of creativity dies.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  

The Paradigm Shifters for a New Way to Work in 2015

Paradigm NewI admit it:  I’m somewhat addicted to the TV show, NCIS.  In watching a multi-day marathon over New Year’s, I started thinking about Gibbs’ Rules:  basic paradigms on how to avoid the common pitfalls of being a special agent.

Since inspiration can come from unlikely and unanticipated sources, I reflected on my own hypotheses to create a new, more enjoyable way to work in this hyperactive, hypercompetitive 2015 work environment.

Beginning in 2015, I’ll be posting weekly Paradigm Shifters to help you to accomplish more and enjoy your work and create and enjoy your life outside of work.

(FYI:  Just like Gibbs, the Paradigm Shifters will be posted in a random order – so they don’t have to be “followed” in any particular sequence.)

Watch for my Paradigm Shifters at www.a-new-way-to-work.com every Friday in 2015.  Feel free to share, comment, or even add some of your own insights to enjoy your work and your life!

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is a change management/HR expert and the President of Change Management Solutions, Inc.  A popular speaker at regional and national conferences, she can be reached at gpuleo@ChangeWithoutBurnout.com.  You can watch her TEDx Talk on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFkI69zJzLI.  

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