What if…

Perspective flip: think of people you avoid; now imagine they are fundamental to you in some way. What would you do differently with them?

What if the boss you gossip about at lunch and make fun of had some secret knowledge that could help you get the thing you desire the most?

What if the young, shy intern with his feet up on the desk eating Doritos has an idea that will leave the competition in the dust?

What if that woman in the cubicle down the hall with the loud, annoying telephone voice has 10 years experience in exactly what you’re under pressure to get done right now?

What if you are staying away from the very people who you need?

How will you find out?

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Ageism – The Last Acceptable form of Discrimination

Because I’ve been focusing on coaching for Millennial managers, I have been wading into the seamy side of intergenerational issues.

There was an iconic saying of the 60’s, “never trust anyone over 30”. Today, the very generation that coined that phrase is long past the age they once distrusted. They are in the position of managing, evaluating, promoting, hiring and firing those under 30, sometimes called the Millennial generation. So, should Millennials trust anyone over 30?

Though there are significant cultural differences between generations in the workforce today, a topic many writers have tackled already, the question is really not about age. Imagine for a minute that you were at work and someone said, “he speaks a different language, so his opinions aren’t important to listen to.” Or, “Her skin is a different colour than ours, so she’s not going to the training session.” Perhaps this does happen in your workplace – but if it does, I bet there is an HR policy or at the very least a workplace law that gives you recourse to fight it.

But what about when you hear someone say, “he’s only 26 years old. He’s not ready for that position.” “He hasn’t had enough experience yet, he’s so young.” Or more likely, “young people today don’t have what it takes to…” or “that generation is etc.” It goes the other way, too: “he’s too old to understand.” “she’ll never go for this new technology – she’s too stuck in the old ways of doing things.” We are even reinforcing Ageism through media – newspapers doing op-ed pieces on the failures of the Millennial Generation, and Blogs railing about the Boomer Generation.

I call this Ageism, the last acceptable form of discrimination in our culture. It flows through our thoughts like water, acceptable, reasonable, justified. We pass it on, ironically, from generation to generation like learning how to tie your shoes.

So, here’s an experiment to try to see how deeply Ageism goes in you:

Imagine that all other forms of discrimination we now abhor once felt just as acceptable and reasonable to the people who held them. Armed with this disturbing perspective, the next time you are working with someone of a different age, either older or younger, ask yourself what assumptions you hold about this person – listen to the statements that go through your head about them and that will tell you what your assumptions are. Listen especially closely for age-related or generation-related assumptions.

Then play the game of assuming the complete opposite.

Now, behave as if that opposite perspective is just as true as the assumptions you started out with true just to see what happens.

If you assume the person is too young to understand how to manage a team, or too old to have ideas about personal branding on the internet, assume the opposite and see what happens.

More importantly, start from an assumption that any person, regardless of his or her age, is smart and capable. Once you’re in that perspective everything else will probably be related to lack of confidence, technical knowledge or opportunity. Those can all be fixed if your intent is right. And more importantly, you now have access to the ideas and energy and help of a significantly higher number of smart, capable people than you allowed yourself to have before.

Is this an easy or difficult experiment for you? Can you give up Ageism? It’s important that you try, because changing all our minds starts with you.

Quitting to succeed

Seth Godin, author of Tribes and Small is the New Big, has another book out – The Dip.

An important and audacious premise of The Dip is that quitting is sometimes the very best action to take to get what we want. Godin says, “we fail when we get distracted by tasks we don’t have the guts to quit”.

I see this in business often – the distraction of failing work. The project that started off as a good idea and has become a death march but no one will pull the plug because $2M has already been spent.  The job you stay in because you can’t imagine starting again despite knowing in your heart that it will only get worse and suck every last ounce of energy out of you for the rest of your career.

It happens at home too: The marriage that is being held together “for the kids”, thought the kids are miserable watching their parents slowly give up living. The children’s sports that parents keep the kids in even when the kids no longer love it, just because “we’ve invested so much already”.

Godin says in some situations no amount of work will lead to success, or there may be a light at the end of the tunnel but you’ll be almost out of oxygen by the time you get there.  The trick is to know when you’re at the decision point, when it’s time to throw one more log on the fire or move on to a better place.

His premise clicks nicely with reading I’ve been doing on Strengths, particularly the work of Marcus Buckingham in Now Discover Your Strengths. The premise there is to replace the painful and limiting improvement of weaknesses to a subjective level of “normal”, with the recognition of and improvement of natural Strengths. In the Improving Weaknesses model, you start at D or C- and get to B.  In the Strengths model you start at B+ and get to A++ with significantly more fun and less wasted energy.

Both approaches nicely work for clients in Adaptive Coaching – notice where you are in your journey and connect with others about the potential for success and how your strengths will help you get there.  Then take action to either quit and start something new based on your strengths and current resources, or keep going.  Based on the result, learn, adapt and start again.

10 Strategies Science Tells Us Make Us Happy

I’ve been reading some of the books in the canon of Positive Psychology lately to find out what science has to say about what we can do to get happy:

 The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

 What You Can Change . . . and What You Can’t*: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement  by Martin Seligman

and Finding Flow  by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
The main themes point to the gap between what we as a society, and as businesspeople, have generally valued in the past 20 years, and what actually makes humans happy. The things that make us happy over time do not include more money, smaller waistlines or bigger houses. The values we have put on competition, climbing the corporate ladder and conspicuous consumption in business are, at least from a happiness perspective, unsupportable.  While those things may give us a temporary boost, we will always return to our set point again, to the same level of happiness we had before. And asking people to multitask, to pursue goals either far above or below their skillset, and to be “individual achievers” will limit their opportunities to get great results.  And that will affect the bottom line.  

So how can we be happier and get great results, too?

Scientists have found that there are specific activities that can reliably increase our happiness and sense of wellbeing including:

  • Avoiding comparisons to others
  • Taking initiative at work
  • Putting money low on the list
  • Smiling even when we don’t feel like it

Additionally, in a business context, the following are important:

  • Sharing tasks with others and asking for help
  • The chance to match skills to challenges
  • Having time to immerse oneself in an activity without distraction

I found The How of Happiness to be particularly useful, since it includes many activites for each of 10 strategies, and recognizes that each person will benefit from a different set of activities.
For a great 11X17 poster of the 10 Happiness strategies to hang on the office wall, go to Yes Magazine