Why is it so easy to think like everyone else?

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We have all been in that situation where we are rattling off ideas and nobody seems to notice.  Whether conceived in the moment or over many late nights, it’s always difficult to not receive positive reinforcement for original thought.

Frustration causes us to conform or to stop expressing new ideas.  Conformity has always been dangerous but, in this day in age, understanding and acting on your personal brand and vision is one of the keys to career engagement.  Whether you work as an entrepreneur, in education or in a more traditional environment, new ideas are viable to almost any organization’s success. So, then, if new ideas fuel macro success, why are we so susceptible to conformity?  The answer is simple.  Fallacious thinking makes us believe that:

1)     It’s easier to give in.  Maybe your idea is getting resistance because it needs more polishing.  If you feel like you want to withdraw, either go back to the drawing board or repackage the idea so it’s more appealing.

2)    My ideas don’t fit.  Not so fast.  Concluding that nothing fits is a sure way to slaughter your creativity. If you feel ambivalent, write your ideas down and share them with people that encourage them or that can help you make your ideas better.

3)    It’s the best way to get ahead.  There always seems to be that person that gets ahead because she doesn’t rock the boat.  Alternatively, have you considered that they tactfully know how to rock the boat?  Or, maybe, they like being the same as everyone else?

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“The reward for conformity is that everyone likes you but yourself.” – Rita Mae Brown

Spend time liking yourself and, remember, you have to experience discomfort to grow.

What does change really look like?

We have all been prosperous at some point in our lives.  Some of us actively seek out growth while others try to use past successes to create the formula for their future.  I am sure we have all been in discussions where we said or thought: “This has always worked for me.”

What we often fail to recognize is that our lives are filled with change and we have to adapt to keep up. Everything is constantly changing and what worked for you 10 years ago may not work now.  Change is imperative to grow.  Without change, you have no career, no relationships and no enrichment.

But what does change really look like?  I see the change cycle as a progression of feelings:  Anger, Denial, Distress, Change, Acceptance.

Anger:  The prospect of having to change makes us mad.
Denial:  After experiencing anger, we convince ourselves that we do not need to change.  Many times, the cycle stops here and we end up living live as usual.
Distress: When we start to seriously consider the change, we become distressed.  Our equilibrium seems off.  Instability is imminent; but it does not have to last long if you take action.
Change:  The change occurs when you you take the first action. Then, eventually, the actions become a habit.
Acceptance:  If you can accept the change, then you are in for a even more prosperity than you started with.

The constant challenge is pushing through the uncomfortable parts of this whole cycle.  We have to acknowledge that is usually where we stop but it is also where most of the magic happens.

What kinds of feelings do you experience when you are changing?

Introverts and dreaded small talk experiences

Like many introverts, small talk has  historically been very challenging for me.  There is only so much you can say about the weather or how you once drove through someone’s hometown.  Awkward silence always takes over at some point. 

After reading the book “Quiet”, I have made a concerted effort to improve my conversational acumen.  My conclusions: 

1)  Never ask about the weather.    Even though interest in the weather has spiked since the polar vortex’s premiere, I think that talking about weather is boring and a lazy way to try to connect with others.  Remote conversations are an exception but, if you are face to face, you are bound to enter a dead end, mundane, discussion.

2)  Try to compliment the person.  I have found that compliments really grab a person’s attention and pique interest.  Compliments also can be the perfect segue into a conversation.   I love to compliment eyewear and find that people love to talk about a snazzy pair of glasses.  They want to tell you where they bought them, if they wear contacts, and many times, the discussion transitions into more substantive topics.

3)  Get comfortable with silence.  I used to dread the threat of awkward silence.  What is the other person thinking?  Are they bored?  Probably not but, if they are, disinterest is part of meeting new people.  Everyone is not going to like you or be interested in a prolonged conversation.

4)  Research the person before you meet.  If you have the luxury to do research on someone, you have the ability to completely eliminate small talk.  An abundance of topics await on  LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, Facebook, Pinterest and blogs.

 

How do you navigate small talk?  

2013 Leadership, Work and Life Lessons

I haven’t written in Workplace Wonders since late October!  Wow.  I don’t really have a valid excuse.  In fact, my lack of writing primarily can be attributed to indulging in too many time wasters during the last few months of the year.  In 2014, I am committing to write in this blog at least 3 times a month.  Writing helps clear my mind and enhances my focus.

So, what else did I decide and learn in 2013:

1)  Servant leadership is still relevant, alive and well.  I saw Nelson Mandela speak when I was in junior high school.   I had no idea what it meant at the time.  However, as an adult, I realized that I met one of the best leaders of all time.  He sacrificed his own needs for the betterment of others.

Mandela’s style made me reflect on my own approach.  I constantly have to ask myself am I leading or the betterment of the team or for selfish intentions?  You don’t have to be an activist to be a servant leader.

2)  Distractions are okay but do not let them hijack your time.  Fantasy football has sucked up too much of my spare time over the last couple of months.  Whenever I had down time, I found myself relentlessly researching players and match-ups.  If I play again next year, I am going to limit the time that I spend on it.  I do think that some distractions are necessary for fun and companionship but, in 2014, I have to more actively consider the law of diminishing returns.

3)  Get involved in your local community.  In September, I enrolled in a Board leadership program.  It has turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done.  The program featured four classroom style learning sessions (Finance, Governance, Law, Fundraising)  and networking sessions with local arts organizations.   I will likely end up joining two boards in Chicago but have already learned so much more about entrepreneurship and the specific challenges that Chicago brings.  I also have been able to spend time with CPS kids and see their talents. I am looking forward to sharing more in 2014 but, for now, I constantly am able to see how big the world really is!

4)  Goals are not as important as vision.  I used to always try to have 3-5 goals that I was working on at any given time. Now, I am starting to live my life based on vision.  Who do I want to be?  How do I want to lead?  What do I want to be known for?  What have I always wanted to do?  Over time, I expect my answers to be consistent and to live a life that supports it.  Goals present too much of a checklist.

I am looking forward to learning more from all of you as well in 2014 and beyond.  Until then, happy holidays and thanks for following my blog!

How about those values?

I read an inspiring commentary about Sriracha, my favorite hot sauce, yesterday.  Some would say that the CEO’s values have been a bottleneck to him becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg but, actually, his story is remarkable. According to Quartz, David Tran’s vision is to “to make enough fresh chili sauce so that everyone who wants Huy Fong can have it. Nothing more.”

That’s it.  Pretty simple.  Tran values sharing the delicious, versatile, sauce with others.  He doesn’t advertise, hasn’t ever raised wholesale prices and still maintains high levels of quality by adding perfectly kept chillies to his secret recipe within 24 hours.  Today Sriracha is one of most contagious and featured brands out there.

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What would your life or business look like if you could stick to your values?  Do you even know what you value?

I know that it’s hard to maintain perfect alignment between values, work and life in every stage of life.  We always hear about the star that is rich and unhappy until she becomes true to herself and values.  Despite lucrative financial rewards, she either may not even know what her values are or is afraid to be true to them.

I have been in situations where I compromised my values for short-term gain and, eventually, I lost sight of my vision.  My product suffered.  I couldn’t change every situation but I could change how I thought about it.  I had to be conscious that my values equilibrium was off.

Tran is a reminder that values work and are the critical ingredient to passion-filled, successful, endeavors.  Yes, that simple concept does still exist and it still works.

Do you really want to be a Type A?

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I was in a conversation at a coffee shop with a former colleague over the weekend.   She was frustrated because she was a self-proclaimed “Type A” and her career was not moving fast enough for her.

The Type A reference instantly propelled me back to my recollections of being a recent college graduate.   In my first job as a receptionist,  my Type A personality was relentless.  I was fiercely unhappy and thought that I was way above answering the phone.  My superiority complex led me to leave the role in 3 months to accept an executive assistant role.  Within 6 months, Plan B quickly failed and so had my Type A personality.  However, the anxiety and power struggle continued.

Fast forward to 2013 and I can say that my Type A label disintegrated several years ago.  I am not sure how or when I had an inadvertent change of heart but a refresher of Type A and B Personality descriptors explained lots.

Type A:  Rigidly organized, status conscious,  impatient, overcommit, often interrupt, obsessed with time.

So, Type As are very obsessive and restless.  Now for Type B:

Type B:  Work hard but steady, enjoy achievement but not stressed when do not achieve, learn from losing, creative, exploratory, reflective.

So, Type B personalities steady but productive.  Type B personalities also will likely gather information before making decisions and may be more likely to think outside the box.  I am sure Type Bs have anxiety but it does not permeate their lives.

The Conclusion:  Have you ever met anyone that you would not call ambitious?  Ambition is a social construct and being a self-proclaimed Type A is not.  So, Type B wins.  What’s more important here though is to remember to consider how others could perceive you before you aspire to be that self-proclaimed uptight person.  

Being Comfortable Being New – An Introvert’s Perspective

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I have been the rookie quite often lately.  In some instances I joined a new team, and in others, I was immersed in an entirely new situation.   I am an introvert (about 60% on the Myers-Briggs) but I am definitely not a recluse.  I am simply more drawn deeper connections and recharge by being alone.  With that said, the constant newness invasion has compromised my comfort zone and forced me into new habits.

Here is what I have learned through reflecting on my new endeavors:

  • Decide what you want to be known for and stick to it.  It’s easy to try to be a “know it all” in a new group.  We all want to establish ourselves.  Remember though that you have limited time in early interactions so use it wisely. Pick your niche, stick with it and allow your role to mature over time.
  • Ask lots of questions.  Asking questions is a great way to build rapport and create engagement.  I have found that many times, I ask what others are afraid to ask.    Try not to make assumptions.
  • Be patient.  You may not know everything about your role in new group right away but it will reveal itself over time.  Don’t force it. Also, explore and observe others in the room by talking less and listening more.
  • Believe that you are not smartest person in the room.  Focus on learning and helping others.  As C.S. Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

It can be overwhelming to be new but being intentional in your approach can go a long way. What have you learned from being new?

Work-Life Balance is Dead

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Work-life balance is one of the biggest buzz phrases of the decade.  Basically, people woke up one day and decided that they did not want to sacrifice joys in life to get ahead at work. There are different schools of thought.  One is to strictly work during allocated hours, resisting the temptation to check e-mail at night or on weekends.  Another is to flexibly integrate work and life.

Early in my career, I let work become my identity.  Yes, I actively chose it and let it be everything because I figured that was the only way to get ahead.  However, the opposite happened.  I found myself burnt out and constantly stressed.  Both work and my personal life suffered.

10 years later, I have adopted the school of thought that allows an integration of work and life.  Sometimes I work all night and, other times, I shut down my e-mail and do not think about it until the next day.  I have found this method has made me much more creative, relaxed and content.  I have included the following practices in my life:

1)  Writing – Whether it’s blogging or journaling, writing helps me create clarity in my experiences and to use them as building blocks for growth.

2)  Exercise – My favorites are running, yoga and interval training.  I try to do it at least 4 days a week.

3)  Time with family and friends – I try to make this quality, uninterrupted time.  My goal is to turn off the cell phone and to be fully attentive with them.

4)  Meditation and Spirituality – All you need is 5 minutes when you can squeeze it in!  Start small. You can define your own spirituality.  It may be yoga, mediation, services or volunteering.

5)  Time wasters (JUST ADDED) – Right now, it’s fantasy football and (I am ashamed to admit this) an undisclosed Netflix series.  I think that this has been a good addition because it’s basically brain candy and, actually, sometimes my ideas mutate during the viewing time.  Warning:  Time wasters are great and all but be sure to limit them.

Through all of this, I have finally opened myself up to an integrated life.  I lump community leadership, continuing education, reading and studying industry trends in the work category.

What’s your secret to an integrated life?

Could you survive in a bossless organization?

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The “bossless office” seems to be a new trend.  Some notable organizations are abolishing top down practices in favor of relying on teams to make critical decisions (i.e. pay raises, hiring and strategic direction just to name a few). Cutthroat behaviors, individual slacking and spotty communication have no place in bossless environments.

Bossless procedures are fascinating but may not be for every organization.  However, bossless values can be applied to all of our lives and careers.  Some bossless values that can be helpful in your own life:

1)  Continuously focus on building and maintaining all relationships:  Don’t just try to get closer to those that seem important.  Recognize the little gals and guys along the way as well.  You never know how and when your paths will cross again.

2)  Recognize and accept others’ strengths and opportunities for improvement:  Everyone is not going to like you or be your best friend.  Developing “bossless” values means transcending beyond like vs. dislike and entering the world of strengths vs. opportunities.

3)  Acknowledge how your decisions impact others:  While very critical, it’s not exclusively about the boss, customer or authority.  Think about how your behavior affects others in your personal life, your organization and on your team.

4)  Appreciate those around you:  Recognize others even when you feel it’s not reciprocated.

5)  Communicate honestly and directly:  Communicate directly while also practicing 1-4.

6)  Freely share your ideas with others:  My last post was about ideas.  Basically, they are just thoughts until they are shared.  Share them.  Cross them off your list.  Share more.

You don’t have to work in bossless office to have a bossless mindset.  Bossless values are needed for a fulfilling life and career.  What do you think about the bossless mindset?

Is That Idea Really Worth Something?

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About a year ago, I thought I had a novel idea.  It seemed lucrative and promising.  After reading several blogs and ebooks, I decided to convert the idea into a business plan.

Initially, writing a business plan was affirming and engaging. I enjoyed defining my product and identifying target customer segments.  I ran into problems when I had to determine how I would make money.  I learned that would not be able to raise money without committing to an adequate match from my own pocket.  To make matters worse, the idea of reporting to investors was not appealing to me.  I would be giving up so much power to create value for someone else.  I soon decided that I would need to refine my approach.

I am sure many of you have faced the same dilemma.  Generating creative options is important but we can’t invest in everything.  So, throughout my studies, I compiled a list of questions to consider when I have a new impression:

1)  If the idea is expanding on something I already like doing, am I willing to accept that that my interest may decline?  For example, if I like working out and then become a trainer, am I able to acknowledge that it may no longer be as fun?

2)  Am I willing to put my money/name/time on the line for the idea?

3)  Have I considered execution?  (Sometimes, execution can be tedious and boring).

4)  Is there a market for my idea?  Did I test it with potential customers?

I know this approach takes the fun out of our thought process but, on the bright side,  it adds structure to our cognitions.  Keep in mind that very few companies, projects and/or life changes are born exclusively from a good idea.

How do you evaluate new ideas?

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