Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Let the paint dry layer by layer

Well, here we are, heading into a brand new year, a fresh and bright, sparkling clean future all before us. A fresh canvas. Some recent research shows that humans like new starts as an opportunity for change: hence, the New Year’s resolution. But we also do the same at birthdays and other ‘beginnings’. Unfortunately, the success rate of New Year’s resolution is pretty poor, but we’ll ignore that inconvenient truth for now. It’s the spirit of the idea that matters. Humans find it rather difficult to change and it takes extraordinary motivation to take us out of our habits, the familiar. One of the many reasons for this is that we are often really preoccupied with so many things that we find it hard to focus, to concentrate hard enough to do what may be required. Some brains find this easier than others and this is mainly due to the availability of two important chemicals called dopamine and norepinephrine.

One of the joys of our holiday time is that grand children escape their parents for a bit and get spoiled by the grand folk. Little Miss 7 comes out with some beauties: she’s a very bright spark. Yesterday we were doing some rock painting: a great activity that I do in some of my workshops, from time to time. She sat back with a heavy sigh and said, ‘I’ll just have to be patient now because I have to wait for one layer of paint to dry before I paint the next bit. I think I’ll just think more about what I’ll do next. Waiting is a good thing isn’t it?’

Her little piece of wisdom struck a chord. The days of many people I meet, particularly managers, are so frenetic that they seem to have no time to think, let along plan. When they encounter problems, the stress rises further and, inevitably, either the issue is managed badly, the situation is ignored, or there is a drift into helplessness. Either way the outcome is poor in a world where results are everything. As the treadmill speeds up more and more, they are inevitably going to get spun off and look rather ungainly.

If you don’t have time for anything, are constantly rushed, feel out of control, work overlong hours, feel stressed all the time, or people tell you how hard you are to pin down, then you are likely to be frenetic sufferer.

I often wish I could take the batteries out of these little bunnies and give them a moment for some reflection. I’d like them to review the evidence that: working more frenetically does not lead to better results; longer hours are counterproductive and result in poor decisions; stress is actually bad for you; being frenetic and having no time does not lead to better employee engagement-it leads to less; and being constantly busy is not being a good role model to employees. Moreover, the key to good results is strategy.

And for good strategy you need to be thinking like little Miss 7 when she is painting. That is, there are layers and you need to work on each layer, sit back and think a bit before applying the next. A carefully thought out plan for all the layers is not that useful in this rapid changing world. Rather a general idea of what the picture will look like and the capacity to change the layers as they are applied and as you see the outcome of the previous one.

Successful people, those who get results, do strategy really well.

So, happy rock painting this year folks. I’ll leave you with Einstein’s famous quip, which I think applies well to frenetic people:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.