CAT | Business
I was in a meeting today and one of the attendees is a tax professional. It’s tax season of course, so she was explaining that she will be working until midnight.
Maybe I’m odd, but my first reaction is that I don’t want my taxes to be prepared by someone at midnight. Or 11 PM or 10 PM. In fact, I don’t want my taxes prepard by someone who was up until midnight last night either!
I want my taxes prepared by someone who is fresh and well rested – and on top of their game.
I don’t want my accounting handled by someone at 11 PM.
I don’t want my tech support handled by someone at 10 PM.
I don’t want my surgery to be performed by a doctor in the last two hours of a ten hour shift.
I don’t want my legal documents reviewed by an attorney after ten hours at the office.
Do you see the pattern here? We all see this behavior in others. We know that they have diminishing returns. We don’t want them at their worst. We want them at their best. We don’t want to pay full price for the ninth or tenth or eleventh hour of work.
When you see someone working like this day after day, you know that they are mostly spinning their wheels and becoming less productive every hour. And after several days of overworking, they are becoming less productive every day.
It can be very frustrating when my flight is cancelled because the pilots sat around waiting for delays until the FAA says that they have to go home because they’ve been on duty too long. But the FAA knows a very clear truth: People make more mistakes when they are tired. Mistakes can kill people.
And What About You?
It’s easy to see this behavior in others, but what about yourself? Are you overworking day after day? How productive are you in the last hour of your long work day?
When most of us make mistakes, no one dies. But that doesn’t mean that we are doing good work, or that our clients are getting their money’s worth. Certainly, our families are not getting what they deserve when we are working eleven or twelve hours in a day.
When you collapse at the end of the week and are “useless” to your family, then you really need to re-evaluate why you’re working so hard.
Under-serving your clients (or boss) while under-serving your family is the only long-term result of chronic over-working.
If you’re a thoroughly modern person, you are probably pretty well tethered to your technology. That means you are never far from your email, cell phone, text messages, and social media. Generally speaking, these are good things. But you might be too connected.
If you are too connected, your addiction to these technologies is actually detrimental to your success, detrimental to your peace of mind, and detrimental to your health. Really. More and more research is revealing that constant tethering to technology is resulting in a new kind of neurosis or addiction.
If you can’t ignore email, text messages, and Facebook for two hours with without feeling agitated, you have a problem. This might sound funny – unless you’ve experienced it. From time to time we all legitimately wait for a special email or a special text message. But addiction comes in when you aren’t waiting for anything in particular – you just crave some kind of interaction on your phone that will make your brain produce some neuro-chemicals that give you a little a positive “hit.”
The Pew Research Center reported in 2012 that 44% of respondents said they would experience “a great deal of anxiety” if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week. My guess is that the number is higher today. For many of us, a little beep or tweet from the phone actually causes a chemical reaction in our brains.
Dopamine is a chemical created in your brain. Often called the pleasure-seeking neurotransmitter, it creates and enhances pleasure-seeking impulses. So when you get some little indicator of pleasure, dopamine pumps into the pleasure center of your brain and you go seeking more. Remember Pavlov’s dog? When the bell rings, the dog starts to salivate.
How about you? When your phone beeps, do you start to salivate? Do you rush to see whether it’s a text message or a Tweet or a Facebook alert? Dinging computers, email pop-ups, and instant messages are all the same. A little taste leads to a larger desire.
And what really happens is that one little ding results in fives minutes pleasure seeking. You make sure you’re all caught up on the alerts and emails and other activity. When you’re sure you’ve got it all, you can put your phone down. But for many of us, we start seeking the next electronic-inspired hit of dopamine as soon as we put the phone down.
Whether it’s just a habit or an actual addiction, you can get carried away with being tethered to your technology. Let’s look at how this behavior affects our lives.
On the business front, constant interruptions just make you less productive overall. Really. I’ve written many times about the fact that multi-tasking is a myth. Human beings cannot focus on two things at once. Again, more and more research is demonstrating that the best we can do is to jump between tasks doing each of them less effectively. And interruptions cause us to lose time as we switch gears. We think we’re doing more because we confuse busy-ness with productivity. We might be busier switching tasks all the time, but we are far less productive.
You need to turn off the distractions. You need to silence the alerts. You need to disable the pop-ups and instant messaging. You need to take control of communication and decide when you’ll check those things. Do not be interrupt-driven.
I am not trying to be preachy here. I really take this very seriously. That’s why I can’t ask you to just drop it all at once. If you’re addicted to the BEEP, you need to slowly ween yourself off of it. You need to un-tether, but you need to do it in a way that decreases your anxiety instead of increasing it.
The goal is to be able to ignore your disruptive technology so you can be more productive and more focused. Here’s a plan to do that without guilt, stress, or temptation.
Step One: Believe and Commit
First, you need to accept that the world really is going to be just fine even when you are not monitoring it 24/7. Intellectually, you know that you can watch a movie at home or in the theater and everything will be just fine if you don’t check your text messages during that time. And the same is true with dinner, and with sleeping at night.
So we know in our intelligent brain that we can ignore email, social media, and text messaging for hours at a time. But when we have access to these technologies we tend to turn them on and keep them on – ready to interrupt us at any time.
You have to accept that ignoring these technologies for longer periods of time is okay and that nothing bad will happen. A big piece of this is that YOU will control the entire process. You will decide when to look at email or check the phone.
Step Two: Plan Out A Morning Routine
The morning is key because it gets you up and going and sets the tone for the day. The biggest change here is that you will not check your phone (or email, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.) first thing when you wake up.
You need to actually wake up, acknowledge the new day, and calmly enter the world before you choose to tether yourself to technology. That means you will want to make sure that the phone is left in the kitchen or the study at night – not in your bedroom. Not next to your head. Not where you can reach over and get your first hit of dopamine before you crawl out of bed.
A good morning routine for everyone includes a gentle start. Wake up. Make coffee or tea. Have a very light meal or snack. Like a small yogurt. Just enough to give you a boost of energy. Then exercise for 30-60 minutes. Of course I recommend quiet time (meditation, prayer, etc.). Then you can shower, have breakfast, and get ready for your day.
THEN you can check your email and phone.
Step Three: Create a Regular Schedule for Email and Phone
I know it sounds drastic, but I encourage you to totally silence your phone and turn off all reminders and alerts for email and social media. In other words, nothing in your environment should be beeping and tweeting and buzzing. YOU will decide when to check these things. They do not have the right to interrupt you.
Whatever you are doing right “now” is absolutely more important than whatever interruption happens to occur. You’ll prove this to yourself in the next step.
For now, set yourself a non-interruption policy. Turn off all the alerts.
Then, set yourself a schedule. For example, let’s say you go through the morning routine above and check the phone, email, and text messages between 7:30 and 8:00 in the morning. If you are heading to work at an office, I highly recommend that you do NOT check email until you get there. The first email session of the morning usually involves filtering through a lot of crap you’re going to delete anyway. The rest of the day, email can usually be handled in 5-10 minute sessions.
What’s your schedule? The best is probably 60 or 90 minutes. That means that you check all of your electronic communications, and then close it out or ignore it for 60-90 minutes. Do not check email every few minutes. Do not have a Twitter (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) feed scrolling on your screen. Do not have pop-ups or audible alerts.
YOU decide to check your email after 60-90 minutes. I think you’ll be amazed that you’ll catch up on everything in 10-15 minutes. Then you can go silent again for 60-90 minutes.
Eventually, you’ll stretch out this time. Maybe you’ll end up checking email at 8:00 am, 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 4:45 pm. That’s much better than twenty times an hour. Really.
Step Four: Keep a Log of Important Communications
One of the lies we tell ourselves about the technology tether is that we’ll miss something important. But the reality is that 99.999% of the time, the phone call that interrupts you is LESS important than whatever you’re doing at the time. Email is even less likely to be more important than what you’re doing. Twitter and Facebook less than that. Instagram less than that. And so forth.
Here’s a sample log format. Simply mark down the time you you check email, etc. and then log the number of emergencies and high priority items that you did not respond to in a timely manner. For example, if someone is stuck on the side of the road in the rain with a flat tire and they decided to call you instead of AAA, did you respond to them quickly enough?
Time Check . . . Emergencies High Priority ----- ----------- ----------- -------------
8:00 AM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
9:30 AM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
11:00 AM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
12:30 PM Voicemail 0 1 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
2:00 PM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
3:30 PM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
5:00 PM Voicemail 0 0 Email 0 0 Social Media 0 0
Note: There’s no need to track Medium and Low Priority items since they can wait 60-90 minutes. They are not, by definition, Emergencies or High Priority.
Keep a log like this for a week. You can track it during the business day or all day from when you get up until you go to bed at night. What you’ll see is self-proof that you don’t need to camp out on your phone waiting for urgent tweets.
. . . Or Do Something Different
This approach might not be right for you. But if you look at your technology tether and decide that you need to be less tethered, please come up with a different plan that does work for you. I don’t know what the future holds regarding technology. But I know this: We will only become more tethered to more technologies as time goes on.
Take control of your communication. Separate the entertainment factor from the work factor and focus on what needs to be done. Focus never happens by itself. You have to choose to focus. Which means you have to choose to un-tether.
Yesterday, my daughter wandered in and asked me if I had a good day. Yes. Yes I did!
“Oh,” she said, “What happened?”
Oddly enough, nothing spectacular. It was a not-too-busy day, but still filled with lots of good little things. No big events. No big projects. No surprises. Nothing spectacular.
But . . .
Wii Fit says I’ve lost a pound and a half in the last month!
I’m moving my latest book from 99.9% complete to 99.99% complete. Just waiting on two tiny things I can’t control.
I had a nice chat with someone who has been a sometimes-competitor and is now developing a new project – and wants me involved.
Then I had a nice long chat with another sometimes-competitor who has realized that we could create some amazing stuff together.
I outlined a new book I hadn’t thought about writing before. It’s now third in line on my list of products to create!
One of the organizations I’m speaking for asked me to make a connection that could lead to a much stronger relationship between two of my favorite clients.
I made a new friend that I’m certain will add fun and intellectual stimulation to the remainder of the year.
And I finished the evening with a meeting of people who get together once a month and are genuinely happy to see each other and share our victories and defeats.
So when I say nothing really happened, it was the kind of “nothing” that makes a day perfect.
Now let’s see what today brings.
I’m a big advocate of balance. In work and play and everything else. Ironically enough, you have to WORK at balance: It simply won’t happen by itself.
Part of balance means saying no. Make that “NO!”
Business owners tend to be doers and joiners. When someone drops a request on our laps, we tend to say yes. Whether its a client, a service organization, a church, or even our own business. When the world puts an abandoned puppy on our porch, we take it in.
But we all know that we have a tendency to do too much. We find ourselves on committees and members of clubs, starting new ventures, and joining others. At some point, we simply can’t live up to all of our commitments.
January’s gone and February is upon us! If you haven’t complete a beginning-of-the-year review of your commitments, there’s still time. Just ask yourself whether you might be over-extended.
When you’re over-extended, several things are wrong:
- You’re not living up to your commitments.
- Others are relying on you and you think you might be letting them down.
- Your business may be suffering due to inattention — or attention to the wrong things.
- You feel stress because you “can’t do it all.”
In the big picture, you’re spending time doing the wrong things. You’re energy is bound up trying to figure out what you should be doing — instead of doing something (anything) fruitful!
So why don’t we stop? Why don’t we drop some of these activities? The two primary reasons are guilt and habit.
Horace Mann said “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.”
There’s very little we can do about our habits except to commit ourselves to change. Once committed, we must unravel our existing cable one thread at a time and begin weaving another to take its place.
Guilt is another matter.
Perhaps the best way to deal with guilt is to get some perspective.
Ask yourself: are you really obligated to [this cause/this committee/this organization/etc] simply because you have participated in the past? Probably not. So why do you participate?
Legitimate Reasons to Continue:
- I find it personally fulfilling
- I need a change from the other activities in my life
- I enjoy the people/the project/etc.
- It makes me feel good/important
- It helps me in my business
- People express gratitude for what I do. I’m not taken for granted.
- It makes me happy
- It contributes to my physical or mental health
- It is profitable!
Poor Excuses to Continue:
- Other people expect me to be there
- If I don’t do it, who will?
- I made a commitment at some point
- I started this and now a lot of people are expecting it
- If I quit, I’ll feel like a loser
Notice I added an extra line there?
Above the line are legitimate reasons to continue. Below the line are poor excuses to continue. Most of them involve you believing that the stuff won’t get done without you. Sorry to tell you this, but you’re wrong.
Some time ago I took on the job of program chairman for an organization because the president was over-worked and needed help. Two years later I found that I had taken on too many “outside” activities and needed to cut back. I felt that this one thing needed to be done by me because no one else would step forward.
Then I realized that was stupid. After all, the group existed for many years before I joined and has many members. Any group that relies solely on my participation for it’s existence has a pretty weak foundation.
Some people go through this filtering process once a year. Some more frequently. In January a gave up a number of projects and commitments that just we’re working anymore. Part of me wants to feel guilty about that.
But I know that achieving balance means taking stock from time to time and deciding where to spend my energies. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is arrogant and selfish to think that communities, organizations, and projects can’t survive without you.
When you re-evaluate and re-organize your commitments, you’ll end up with more energy to dedicate to the remaining activities. You’re time and talents will be more keenly focused and your contribution will be more meaningful.
So do yourself a favor: Re-evaluate your commitments. Put it all in perspective.
And have a happier, healthier, more balanced year!
As we prepare for the Christmas vacation in the U.S., my mind wanders to vacations and family gatherings. These are sometimes combined and often separated.
I remembered, as a kid, that traveling to see cousins in another city was just was much fun as driving to see a national park or an old fort. For us these were both chances to go somewhere and do something.
Vacations are opportunities to “get away” and relax. Don’t work. Don’t worry. Just enjoy life.
We all know that we need to do these things to maintain balance. But somehow we feel guilty.
In these days of technology, it is easy to stay in touch with work, keep up on email, and never actually escape while we’re on vacation. Should you feel good about combining work and rest, or should you feel guilty? I, for one, feel very good about it.
I’ve worked very hard to combine my vacation time and work time. For about fifteen years now, I have been traveling a lot. Sometimes as few as five business trips a year. Sometimes ten, fifteen, or even twenty. As a way to create a little balance, I started added days to the beginning and end of my business trips.
So, for example, I travel to the business city a day or two early. Then I have my meeting. I might travel back right away or add another vacation day at the end of the trip. When I’m going from city to city, I might add vacation days in either city, or even in the layover city.
In this way, I accomplish three things. First, I never have a quick fly-in and fly-out that’s 100% business. Second, I always have a more relaxed business trip. I get to take vacation days. I get to visit friends. I get to actually SEE the cities I visit. And, third, I get to have some very relaxed time to catch up on reading, playing, and putting my toes onto sandy beaches.
Don’t get me wrong. I occasionally take a good five day vacation all at once with no business. But I don’t feel like I’ve taken less of a vacation if I take five days off between two business cities.
For example, 2011 started out with me on a plane at 6:30 AM on January 3rd. I went to Charlotte, NC and spent the next day with a friend, visiting sites and wandering into South Carolina for BBQ. Then I had my business meeting. The next day, I flew to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. There, I hung out on the beach, visited friends, sat on the beach, wrote poetry, and had a BLAST for five days.
On one of those evenings, I attended a business meeting.
Then I hopped on an airplane and flew to Portland, OR. Almost as far as you can go from one end of the contiguous United States to the other. I did another show and then headed home. I landed back in Sacramento on January 12th. In all I had eleven travel days. And while I had plenty of time meeting with friends and relaxing, I had exactly four true “business” meetings. The rest was travel time and relaxation time.
That wasn’t the norm for the year, but it was sure a great way to start the year!
In all, over the last twelve months, I’ve made 18 trips to various cities. I had a total of 76 travel days and 48 days of vacation. By vacation I mean a whole day off work with no business meeting scheduled.
I’ve seen New York City at Christmas Time. I’ve been to Atlantic ocean beaches on three different vacations, and Pacific ocean beaches on three different vacations. Somewhere in the middle I’ve visited half a dozen lakes. I’ve gone on boat cruises, fishing trips, and family get-togethers.
So, for me, the question of whether I should feel guilty is very simple. I do not feel guilty about checking my email between bar hops in Vegas or after spending the day hiking around Lake Tahoe. Email helps me feel confident that the world keeps spinning and that my businesses are going along fine without me.
It’s not cheating to check in and make sure things are fine.
Stopping the vacation to deal with a problem is different. If you do that, you can’t count it as a vacation day. But you have to keep it in perspective. That job that wants to invade your holiday is probably the same job that makes the vacation possible in the first place. Respect it, but keep it in its place.
Many people are taking off the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For many of us, taking off all that time is nerve-wracking. So don’t feel bad about checking email and tuning in to work once in awhile. The key is balance. Are you on vacation with an occasional email check? If that balance works for you, don’t feel guilty about it!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year to all!
Phones haven’t been phones for awhile now.
Those who use their phones to make phone calls are “quaint” to the technorati that use their phones for buzzing around the world, twittering, Facebooking, searching, browsing, yelping, 4squaring, texting, and . . . well . . . everything but making phone calls.
I used to have a phone that was GREAT at texting and email. Oh, and phone calls. That used to be important.
Then I won a Blackberry at a vendor show. Knowing it was the future, I connected it up to my cell provider and proceeded boldly onward. Then I got addicted. The crackberry, as some call it, is as addictive as a drug. Email shows up amazingly fast, no matter where you are. The camera was great. Texting was fast and easy. It even (accurately) predicted text.
I loved everything about it.
So when it came time to get a new phone, I got a bigger, better, faster, cooler Blackberry. And with the Blackberry Tour I got even more addicted. It’s Facebook app was extremely powerful and flexible. The camera was as good as you could ask for. Texting was even easier.
And after two years with that phone, I had become one of the people who just doesn’t use the phone for phone calls any more.
The only real weakness of the Blackberry was it’s Internet connectivity. Slow. Microscopic. Impossible to use. And all services related to the Internet were also slow and unbearable.
In the meantime, almost all my friends had moved to iPhones and Droids. So when I got the chance to step up to a Droid, I did. Motorola Droid 3. Cool. Faster Internet.
The primary strength of the Droid is the fast Internet and related services. You can Google something, find addresses fast, and map right to a place. Super cool.
But . . . No addictive.
The Droid is clunky compared to the Blackberry. There was no premium placed on design here. Texting is slow and irritating. Voice recognition is cool, but you spend 25% of the time erasing. The interface is not intuitive, even for users of the older Droid systems. Battery life is very short.
Overall, the Droid 3 is poorly designed from an ergonomic perspective. Every time you touch it, you accidentally make something happen that you didn’t intend to.
The camera is “fine” but not great. The Facebook app is terrible.
Not only do I find that I text a LOT less, but I have virtually given up posting to Facebook in real time. These were two addictive features on the Blackberry.
Sometimes I leave my phone in another room, or in the car, for five or six hours.
The addiction is over.
Maybe it’s good. I need a solid, sensible phone that works competently. I don’t need an amazing device that makes me long to hold it and play with it. I need to let the phone be a tool instead of a toy.
I could go back to the blackberry. And I know I’d be totally addicted again.
But the key things that make the Droid great — Internet browsing and applications — are the killer apps of the future. I’m told the next generation of Blackberry will address these. But for technical reasons about how Blackberry works on the back end, I’m convinced that their days are numbered.
So I have given up something I truly love in order to use the technology that will eventually win the day.
And I’ve learned that an addiction can be overcome.
Last week I had a chat with my girlfriend Ronda about some changes to my business.
Like many of us, Ronda leads a busy life and can get caught up in the daily buzz, buzz, buzz. But in this instance, she showed me two very important lessons about important decisions.
I have a tendency to get worked up about an issue, formulate some alternatives in my head, and then ponder them for awhile. But once I make a decision, I stop considering alternatives and I push on towards my chosen path.
Well, last week I took an important decision to my local Mastermind Group. I wanted some feedback and advice. Afterward, Ronda asked me how things went. I started to tell her and she interrupted me: “Actually, let’s talk about that when we’re not in the middle of something else.”
I was a little taken aback. After all, I was pretty excited about the topic, the feedback, and what I think I need to do with my business. Would we really come back to this? After all, I would like to hear her advice.
A few hours later (I think over dinner. Maybe over drinks.), Ronda picked up where we left off. “Okay. So tell me about your big discuss with the Mastermind Group.” I then proceeded to lay out my thinking over the last month, what I brought to the group, their feedback, and where I think I need to go next.
But I was keenly aware of what Ronda had done. First, she took my needs very seriously. She didn’t let me jump into a frenzied report when she wasn’t in a position to absorb the information and listen to me attentively. While it felt like being put off, it was really a respectful expression of her desire to give meaningful feedback. If she let me jabber on when she wasn’t able to focus, then she couldn’t possibly give me as much focus and attention as she would like.
Second, whether she realized it or not, Ronda had given me time to organize my thoughts and present them in some kind of meaningful order. Allowing me time to relax a bit and organize my thoughts allowed me to present my ideas with a little more perspective and precision than I would have been able to provide immediately after the group adjourned.
And then something else happened.
I proposed my rough idea of where I wanted to go with my company, and what the first few steps looked like. Ronda asked a few questions, gave some opinions, but didn’t endorse a course of action. A few days later, in a casual conversation, she said something to the effect of “You were so excited, I didn’t want to encourage you until you calmed down and had time to think about it.”
Ronda realized something I didn’t: When I get excited, I have a tendency to start moving in that direction. I really need to follow my own advice and slow down. After all, when we’re excited about something, we tend to overlook or rationalize the downside. We haven’t looked at the finances. We haven’t considered “what else” can come into play. We haven’t considered the down side of the decisions we are about to make.
It’s funny. When we jump on a new idea, we have this tendency to get excited and want to rush toward it. But just when we’re most excited is the moment we most need to slow down and take our time.
A true friend won’t give you advice for a day or two. After you’ve had time to Chill Out, Cool Down, and consider the big picture.
As the author of a book and blog called Relax Focus Succeed®, I sort of set myself up for a certain criticism. People see me running around the country talking to various groups and they say “You seem to be very busy for someone who should be relaxing more.”
Let me offer two points of clarification on this matter.
First, I *AM* relaxed. When some people travel, they rush around from one city to another, never stopping or enjoying the city they’re in. The worst part is that they stay in a bland, boring, hotel and eat fast food. So they get a sense for the “real” city and its culture.
When I travel, I add at least one day before or after each event to hang out in a city and enjoy it. This week my travels took me to Charlotte, NC and Fort Lauderdale, FL. Next week I’m off for two separate events in Portland. I took an extra day in Charlotte, saw some old friends, and got treated to a nice drive through the country (and into South Carolina).
Now I’m in Florida. And rather than flying home Friday and then off to Portland on Monday, I’m just staying here. It was 81 degrees (F) yesterday! Why not stay here? I got a hotel room on the beach and I’m going to hang out and write for five days while in Florida. Then I’ll spend four days in Portland.
Last month I needed to be in New York City for a three-hour show. I took four days . . . because it was New York City, I knew it would be dolled up for Christmas, and I had the opportunity to connect with some friends. It was relaxing and enjoyable.
I take this leisurely pace in order to enjoy myself more, connect with friends, and enjoy my life. If my includes travel, I might as well see the places I’m traveling to!
Second, I want to make sure that folks understand that the “relax” component in Relax Focus Succeed® does NOT mean that there’s no work involved. I think you should work hard if you want to achieve something. But you should also work smart. Focus like a laser beam and get things done. Build relaxation into your day, week, and month. But don’t think you’ll get away without hard work.
Focus will allow you to accomplish amazing things in a short amount of time. But you also need the relaxation component to make that work.
Here’s a strange thing to ponder: Do ideas have value?
We (humans) are intellectual beings. We think. Most of us think a lot. So even if we’re driving down the road or mowing the lawn, our brains are busy cranking away on something.
We take that for granted. But not all creature are this way. I recently drove nine hours through the middle of California. Of course, along the way, I saw cattle, sheep, and horses in the fields. Not to put down our furry friends, but they don’t have a lot of ideas. Cows ruminate (They are ruminants, after all), but they don’t really think the way we do. And even horses, which are pretty smart, just stand in one spot for hours.
I don’t expect these animals to design hospital equipment or anything like that. But clearly they don’t have brains filled with new ideas all the time.
No, ideas are a very human thing.
And we tend to place high value on ideas. It is not uncommon for someone to utter, “That’s a GREAT idea!” We cheer each other on when we share good ideas. Someone else’s good idea can make your brain start clicking away. That’s what “brainstorming” is all about.
I am lucky to have lots of ideas all the time. And even luckier to hang around people who have lots of good ideas all the time. I love living the world of “what if” and “Hey, why not.”
But sometimes people get frustrated with me.
“When are you going to do that great thing you talked about?”
“I’m waiting for my . . . [insert great idea reference]!”
And I do the same thing.
“If you don’t hurry up and do that, I will!”
My friend Allen Fahden has developed a model for how our creative minds work. He argues that most people have a very strong “Creator” element in their make-up.
I believe that’s true. But it leads to a startling conclusion: If creativity is available everywhere in large quantities, then it might not be very valuable!
Because we all love creativity and great ideas, this just seems wrong. How can an abundance of ideas be without value? Is there a supply and demand equation for creativity?
Let me add one more element to the mix: Good ideas vs. Great ideas.
We have often heard it said that the best design doesn’t always win, the best system is not the best-selling system, the best “whatever” is not necessarily the most commercially successful.
That is often true. And here’s why: Ideas are necessary but not sufficient for success.
To be successful, an idea requires two key actions. First, it requires execution. Second, it requires a plan of action.
Execution is the most important element in success. In fact, it is more important than a great idea! Why is that? Because great ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is rare. Millions . . . Billions of ideas die every day because no action is taken. Ideas are cheap. Ideas that are acted on have potential.
An idea without action is completely worthless, no matter how great the idea is.
A Plan of Action is also critical because doing “something” may not guarantee success. Actually creating a plan to move things in the right direction takes a lot of time, effort, and energy. It takes a different kind of creativity. And it takes sitting your butt in a chair with a pencil and piece of paper.
Creating a plan of action is part of execution. I separate them because you can also get stuck at the planning stage and still never actually do the thing you say you want to do.
People who execute are critical to your success.
People who create plans are critical to your success.
People who create ideas are also critical … but they’re easily replaced!
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By the way, Al is a member of my Mastermind Group. What a wonderful group of people. We can create more ideas in an hour than the population of North American can execute in year. Luckily, we also hold each other accountable for taking action and making things happen.
In college-level psychology courses, one of the fun things you get to do is train mice. In addition to being easy, training mice helps you learn a lot about behavior generally and rewards and punishments specifically.
For example, we can create a maze and put Miss Mouse at the entrance. Let’s say we want to teach her to always go right as the first move when entering a maze. We’ll reward her when she goes right. If she goes left, there is no reward, we pick her up and start over. Eventually we would expect Miss Mouse to always start out going to the right. That’s where the rewards are.
In the field of “Game Theory,” we can model learning without touching mice or spending money on cheese. In the example above, we divide the mouse’s behavior into two categories: Go Right and Go Left.
Now let’s say that a basic store-bought, untrained mouse is equally likely to go left or right. So the probability left = 50% and the probability right = 50%. Let’s also say that each reward will increase the probability of repeating the rewarded activate by 10%.
Here’s how the mouse learns: Chance of going right = 50%.
|Event 1:||Mouse goes left||No reward||Chance of
|Event 2:||Mouse goes right||Eats cheese||55% (50 X 110%)|
|Event 3:||Mouse goes right||Eats cheese||60.5% (55 X 110%)|
|Event 4:||Mouse goes left||No reward||60.5% (no change)|
|Event 5:||Mouse goes right||Eats cheese||66.5% (60.5 X 110%)|
|Event 6:||Mouse goes left||No reward||66.5% (no change)|
|Event 7:||Mouse goes left||No reward||66.5% (no change)|
|Event 8:||Mouse goes right||Eats cheese||73.2% (66.5 X 110%)|
|Event 9:||Mouse goes right||Eats cheese||80.5% (73.2 X 110%)|
|Event 10:||Mouse goes right||Eats cheese||88.6% (80.5 X 110%)|
|Event 11:||Mouse goes left||No reward||88.6% (no change)|
|Event 12:||Mouse goes right||Eats cheese||97.4% (88.6 X 110%)|
In this example we see that after 12 trips into the maze, the mouse is likely to go right 97% at the time! Notice also that the mouse went the wrong way five times and the right way seven times.
All you home psychologists should know that the reward must be given right away.
Notice that rewarding the behavior you want has a dramatic impact on future behavior.
Rewarding the behavior you want
has a dramatic impact on future behavior.
Reward and believe:
That was fun, but we’re spending too much money on cheese. We can’t give a reward every time. The next experiment would be to give a reward with every second correct move rather than every time.
The result is that learning is a bit slower, but still quite dramatic. After seven correct turns, the mouse is likely to go right almost 75% of the time.
So, we know that rewards work. What about punishment? Since we don’t want to physically harm our mouse, let’s say we stick to psychological damage. We’ll reward every second correct choice, but this time we’ll also have a mild punishment for incorrect choices. For punishment we’ll play ten seconds at Jethro Tull at very high volume. Again, the punishment must be administered right away to be effective.
Because this is a mild punishment, let’s say the effect is to decrease the chance at going left by 10%.
We start out with chance Right = 50% and chance Left = 50%
|Event 1:||goes left||Punish||Chance of
|Event 2:||goes right||Reward||39.5%||60.5%|
|Event 3:||goes left||Punish||35.5%||64.5%|
|Event 4:||goes right||No Reward||35.5%||64.5%|
|Event 5:||goes right||Reward||29.1%||70.9%|
|Event 6:||goes left||Punish||26.2%||73.8%|
|Event 7:||goes right||No Reward||26.2%||73.8%|
|Event 8:||goes right||Reward||18.8%||81.2%|
|Event 9:||goes left||Punish||16.9%||83.1%|
|Event 10:||goes right||No Reward||16.9%||83.1%|
|Event 11:||goes right||Reward||8.6%||91.4%|
|Event 12:||goes left||Pushish||7.7%||92.3%|
As you can see, you don’t need to give a reward every time, but a combination of rewards and mild punishments is very effective. You can also summarize from the math that greater rewards and greater punishment would result in more dramatic changes and behavior.
Some Words of Caution
In our example we use a mild punishment. Strong punishments are generally to be avoided. In addition to electrocuting our mouse, we want to avoid instilling too much fear.
Punishment works by increasing fear. A punishment that is too strong can leave the subject (e.g. Miss Mouse) nervous about making a wrong move. This can result in slow, cautious, halting behavior. See the note on consistency below.
You must also be careful with rewards. Once a behavior is learned you can cut the rewards way back. Even sporadic rewards can maintain a well learned behavior.
We won’t go through the math necessary to demonstrate diminishing motivation, but you should know that the chances of correct behavior will decrease as the time between rewards increases. Dropping all rewards altogether will have no immediate effect. However, over time even well-learned behaviors will drift back to the probabilities we saw in the untrained mouse. One big reward all at once has almost no effect. If we give Miss Mouse a huge chunk of cheese the first time she goes right, but no rewards after that, she’ll think she just stumbled on some cheese. Smaller, regular rewards are much more effective.
The most important factor in using rewards and punishments is consistency. Close behind that is timeliness.
If you give a reward or punishment it must be administered immediately after the behavior. Think about training your dog: Doggie brings you the newspaper, goes outside for no apparent reason, comes back inside, gets a drink of water, then lies down to take a nap.
If you then praise the dog for bringing you the newspaper, he won’t connect the two. He will think he is being praised for lying down. It’s my personal theory that this is the reason dogs spend so much time lying down–they’re trying to make you happy.
Timeliness and consistency go hand in hand. You want to reward (or punish) behavior right away to have the greatest impact. Timeliness connects the reward (or punishment) to the behavior. Consistency provides reinforcement. If a mouse is rewarded sometimes for going left and sometimes for going right, she won’t see a connection between behavior and reward. Even worse, if she is punished sometimes for a left turn and sometimes for a right turn, she will avoid both behaviors.
Let’s go back to the lab for an illustration. The classic example of arbitrary rewards is the pigeon who gets fed a food pellet at random intervals. If the pigeon happens to be cleaning his wing when this happens, he might try cleaning his wing again to see if there’s another reward. And if there just happens to be a reward at the time he is cleaning his wing, he thinks he has learned a connection.
The same happens for scratching the floor, nodding his head, etc. With no connection between behavior and rewards, the pigeon will “learn” things that result in reward. So, after a few days we have a pigeon who spends all his time scratching and squawking and strutting around trying to “learn” a reward. Inconsistent, arbitrary rewards create and encourage a pattern of behavior, but not necessarily the behavior you want.
There is also the classic pigeon example of arbitrary punishment. When researchers randomly administer punishments, pigeons “learn” to avoid various behaviors. So, over time, we have a bird that doesn’t clean, doesn’t scratch, doesn’t walk in circles, doesn’t walk in a line. Eventually, the bird stands in one place afraid to take any action at all.
Inconsistent, arbitrary punishments lead to a fear of doing anything. You actually train the pigeon to do nothing.
In general, I believe rewards are a better teaching tool than punishments. Based on a worst case scenario of inconsistent, powerful rewards, you will have a subject who is constantly trying to do what it takes to get the reward. This subject is highly motivated and easily trained in the correct behavior: as you adopt a consistent reward procedure (even with small rewards), the subject will learn the new behavior quickly. And as rewards disappear for the old, arbitrary behavior, the old habits will fade away.
The worst-care scenario for inconsistent, powerful punishments is a subject who is paralyzed by fear. Adopting a consistent policy of rewards and punishments is very difficult in this case. First, you have to teach the subject that it’s okay to do something. There you have to coax it to overcome specific fears in order to try the behaviors that will now be rewarded.
As you can imagine, the quickest way to overcome fear and train new behavior in this case is with timely, frequent rewards; rewards powerful enough to overcome fear of punishment.
Does all of this really translate to human beings? Remember the mantra “Rewarding the behavior you want has a dramatic impact on future behavior.”
People absolutely respond to reward and punishment. If you don’t believe me, raise a child!
I am over-educated. I have used a few simple rules for raising my daughter.
1) No physical punishment.
2) She knows what the rules are.
3) She is consistently punished for incorrect behavior.
4) She is consistently rewarded for good behavior
I’m not perfect and my daughter is not perfect,* but my daughter knows she’s loved and she’s very well behaved. She never begs for toys or candy at the store. I never go through the routine of some parents who say “no-no-no-no-no” until they finally say “yes, but this is the last time.”
Children are extremely smart. They are all naturally lawyers. They want to pick apart your answer for clarity and consistency. They compare the current answer to all past similar behavior. They are willing to negotiate and compromise until they get something out of the deal. It is very difficult in change a policy without a good reason. If you show any weakness, they’ll take advantage of it.
Children are also delightful to work with because humans are intelligent enough that we can talk about punishments and rewards and create punishments and rewards through the use of speech.
For example, you can create rewards by agreeing that a hug is a reward, or staying up on extra five minutes, or helping to cook the soup, or putting a gold star on the calendar.
The same is true of punishments. Sitting on the floor for five minutes is a punishment. In fact, this may be the most consistently successful punishment we’ve ever used. My daughter was told that this is a punishment and it became one.
Okay, but what about adults?
Adults have one major disadvantage: they have experienced a wide variety of rewards and punishments that are outside your relationship with them. Thus, they’ve learned about a world of rewards and punishments that is completely unknown to you.
Confused about punishment? See Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manger series. Full citations are in the left-hand column.
Very often we adults are a jumbled mess of mixed-up, inconsistent motivations and fears. This is great for psychologists but makes team management difficult. Adults also have some advantages: they tend to be motivated to do well and they have excellent reasoning ability.
This reasoning ability gives us the power to lay out reward systems without a lot of “trial and error.” We can also agree before-hand on rewards and punishments. And, best of all, rewards do not have to consist of instant gratification.
So, rather than having to instantly reward people as we see the correct behavior, we can agree on incentive programs, weekly meetings, and quarterly reports.
Here are some guidelines . . . But, don’t forget what we’ve learned:
Why rewards and punishment, don’t work.
If this is all so simple, why does it seem to not work in your business? Well, as with so many simple truths, we humans don’t have enough faith and we don’t follow the formula. We sabotage over own efforts.
In the Big Picture, a motivational program should work like this:
1) Set goals – short, intermediate, long.
2) Establish rewards and punishments
3) Evaluate performance
4) Administer rewards and punishments (consistently, fairly, honestly)
1) Revise goals periodically
2) Revise Rewards and Punishments periodically
3) Continue to Evaluate
4) Continue to administer
A simple 4-step process, repeated continuously. So why does it fail? It fails because we don’t do one or more of the steps. And 99% of the time, it’s the bosses fault. His excuse is usually “I don’t have enough time.” Goals are not set.
As a result, there is no structure for success. The manager doesn’t have time to tell people what she wants. So they do what they think they should do, whether its what the boss wants or not. In fact, the boss doesn’t even set her own goals.
Stop. Be your own boss for ten minutes.
What are three things you want to accomplish today?
What are three things you want to accomplish this week?
Why don’t you take ten minutes every day to decide what’s important today?
Be honest, you do have time.
We . . . the vast majority of bosses and workers . . . don’t set goals. We don’t have a clear idea at what we’re going to do today that will help us advance toward the bigger goals.
Goal-setting should not be a huge scary task that requires retreat time or offsite meetings or long arguments.
Make a habit every day of jotting down your goals. Look at them everyday, and adjust them as needed. This ten-minute habit will change your life. It will bring focus.
The second reason motivational plans fail is lack of integrity. Bosses promise rewards and fail to deliver. Or they are inconsistent with rewards and punishments.
People learn very quickly and they remember negative experiences for a long time.
I have the great good fortune of seeing how different businesses operate. As a result I see motivational plans come and go. I also see successful reward structures that last for a long time.
Overwhelmingly, the lasting techniques are those that are:
1) Clearly understood by everyone.
2) Consistently followed–both rewards and punishments.
3) Perceived as fair.
I berate bosses for being stingy with rewards. Some bosses are even stingy with small rewards. Bosses are rarely stingy with punishments. If you have a system of large rewards–such as $1000 bonuses or trips to Maui–you had better be prepared to pay up.
But don’t forget that small rewards can be even more powerful. Five weeks into the quarter, some people know they’re not going to win the trip. What’s their motivation?
With small rewards there is a flurry of activity around the rewards. People get regular feedback and compete to get their name in the “star performance” chart, or try to collect the most T-shirts, squeezy toys, pencils, or whatever.
Every day and every week they can see their success. And their success is visible to themselves and others. Finally, competitions evolve as people display these little rewards as measures of their success.
It is beyond my capacity to understand why a boss would be stingy in this process. Remember that, as humans, we create a reward by agreeing that something is a reward. When we say, for example, that a company T-shirt is a reward, then it has become more than a T-shirt.
If someone meets the criteria, give him the T-shirt! Stinginess with a ten dollar piece of clothing can destroy your motivational program.
First, you lack integrity. If you’re not fair on this little thing, how can your employees trust you on larger things?
Second, you turn a “performer” into a disgruntled employee.
Third, this kind of stinginess will become widely known in very short order.
So you see, bosses can sabotage their own motivational programs when they are stingy.
These discussions of the behavioral sciences are not meant to replace a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology. I encourage you to learn more about rewards and punishments in the workplace.
As a worker, consider what motivates you and talk to your boss about it. But don’t start with $1000 reward and trips to Hawaii. Start with an examination of your daily and weekly activates. What would be an appropriate, small reward for reaching the next performance level each week?
If you’re a boss, consider the two or three basic “building blocks” of your success. What are the measures of your success? These could be increasing sales, productivity, or timeliness; or reducing mistakes, injuries, or sick days.
Find measurable indicators of your success. Begin measuring them and consider what kind of small rewards you can dole out each work for improved performance.
Then have the integrity to present the rewards as promised.
There are lots of good books on reward systems and building motivation in your workplace. You (workers and bosses) need to find a system that works for your job.
As usual, I encourage you to read lots of ideas on this topic and then come up with your own plan.
*Note: My daughter is perfect.