Why We Crave Goals

December 23, 2010

As many of you may know, my second book was called “Goal-Free Living.”  Although it was originally going to be a book on how to be more creative, it morphed into a manifesto for a counter-cultural way of living.

In fact, the “goal-free” philosophy will be featured in a major newspaper early next year.  Stay tuned for that.

Someone once asked me why people crave goals.  It is a hard question to answer.  But an interesting point of view was sent to me by Antony Woods from Australia, and I wanted to share it with you…

He quotes a renowned 20th Century Burmese Meditation Master:

“The fourth protection for your psychological benefit is to reflect on the phenomenon of ever-approaching death. Buddhist teachings stress that life is uncertain, but death is certain; life is precarious but death is sure. Life has death as its goal. There is birth, disease, suffering, old age, and eventually, death. These are all aspects of the process of existence.”

From: Practical Vipassana Meditation Exercises by Mahasi Sayadaw

Antony then suggested that “people often set goals for their lives assuming that they won’t die in the foreseeable future. They assume that the New Year will come, tomorrow will come etc. The only thing one knows that is coming is death, but one doesn’t know when. Rather than thinking “death, death, death,” reflection helps one to appreciate the duration of each breath and have a playful, tentative and pragmatic attitude about the future.  I reckon this is what Goal-Free Living is all about.”

Interesting thing to consider as we get ready for New Year’s Eve and the goal-setting ritual known as “resolutions.”

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Take Your Shower in the Bathtub…and other travel fun

December 21, 2010

2010 was one of the busiest travel years for me. In just the last 4 months I was in an airport 30 times. Some of my trips included two weeks on the road, traveling from Boston to San Diego to Miami to Niagara Falls to San Antonio, TX to Boston. If you map it out, it makes nearly a perfect star. Another two-week trip was from Boston to Paris to Venice, Italy to Chicago to Dayton, OH back to Boston. International business travel in the last two months also included Dublin, Ireland and Oslo, Norway. As I write this I am on a trip back from Amsterdam, my last plane ride for the year.

During these travels I have observed a quite a few interesting things.  In this article I have an innovation idea, a question, and an observation.

European Bathrooms

So let’s start with something humorous.  Or at least I found it to be funny…

The picture above is a sign that  in my shower in Amsterdam. The sign says, “we kindly request you take your shower in the bathtub.” I felt cheated, because that morning I had planned to shower in the bedroom. Oh well.

But seriously, showers in Europe share something in common: doors that cover less than half of the shower.  People in Europe must be more talented than I am, because I have yet to leave a bathroom unflooded.

There is something very innovative in most bathrooms in Europe: dual flush toilets. These are now just coming to the United States. The concept is simple. There are two flush buttons: one button is for for liquid waste that uses very little water while flushing, and a second button uses the usual amount of water for solid waste . This is a great water saving technology.

Speaking of innovation…

Air Travel & Security

The week of Thanksgiving, there was a concern that a group of individuals would disrupt the security lines by refusing to go through the scanners, opting for me more time consuming hand pat down.

There is a simple solution to this problem. It is a concept I wrote about in my first book, “24/7 Innovation,” called “process pipelining.”

In a nutshell, process pipelining involves segmenting tasks based on complexity. This wildly simple and efficient concept reduced average queuing times by 90% at an insurance company. The same could be done at airports. If you want to be patted down, you go into a separate line. This way you don’t hold up the masses that are happy to go the more efficient route.

I always say, “Design to handle the exception, not or for the exception.”

A Question

And now for the question…

To save my clients money, I always fly economy. When no one is sitting in the next seat, it can be quite comfortable.

But when you have someone next to you, what is the armrest protocol?

Maybe I am too nice, but I find that 90% of the time, the person next to me hogs the entire armrest, often spilling into my space, bumping me throughout the flight.

I often thought it would be cool for there to be a thin “wall” that could be pulled up from the armrest that would clearly delineate boundaries. But if you want to see a solution that someone designed, check out the picture to the left and read the WSJ article.

But given that new airplane armrest don’t yet exist, Wired magazine had a funny solution to this problem, which involves a strategy for claiming the armrest.

What is your armrest strategy? What are some of the innovative, humorous or frustrating things you have observed during your travels?

Happy Holidays and happy travels.

P.S. A while back I wrote an article on how to save big on hotel costs.  Since then some more sophisticated ways of using Priceline have emerged, including the “better bidding” site.

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Gifting Cards

December 13, 2010

This is the sixth in a series of videos about Personality Poker. Today I discuss the gifting of cards. This will give you an idea of how others see you and if it is different than how you see yourself. This can have an important impact on your productivity and happiness at work. In the previous video, I discussed the Pygmalion Effect.

The Personality Poker book is now available. Be sure to buy your copy today. Each book comes with a deck of the specially designed poker cards.

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Why Change is Hard

December 9, 2010

I am someone who loves change.  In fact I sometimes change things simply for change sake.

But I recently learned a powerful lesson on why change is difficult, even for someone like me who loves to stir things up.

I bought a MacBook Pro a few weeks ago.  Friends have been prodding me to buy Apple after a number of technical issues with my Windows-based machine.

I have to admit, I really liked my PC.  But for a variety of reasons, it was time for a change.

I was excited.  As I said, I love change.

But what I discovered quickly was that I did not love my Mac.

To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with my Mac.  It is just different than Windows.  I am so used to my old PC that I could do things so quickly with hotkeys.  From my perspective, nearly everything was intuitive on the PC while the Mac just doesn’t make sense to me.

My productivity diminished significantly since the switch.  Last week I seriously considered loading Windows on my Mac via bootcamp.  This would turn my Mac hardware into a PC.  I was finding my new operating system and software too difficult to learn.

And then it dawned on me.  I was resisting change, the way most people do.

It is not that Windows is better.  It’s just different.  The more I use my Mac, the more I get used to it. I am assured by most people that Mac is indeed a better solution.

And this is what happens inside of organizations.  We resist change not because the old way is better.  We resist change because the effort it takes to do things differently is difficult.  It takes time.  It takes patience.  It takes breaking old habits and learning new ones.

The “culture” of an organization is much like the operating system of a computer.  Maybe you have a PC culture today but want a Mac culture.  There are things that everyone will need to learn.  And everyone will have to believe the the switch is valuable enough to justify the effort.

If they don’t see the reason for the change, they will do what I did…revert to old habits and find ways of circumventing the system.  Much like my running Windows on a Mac.

In the end I did not install Windows on my machine.  I decided to really dive in and learn the new operating system.  I am convinced that in the long run, this will be a better solution.

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How To Motivate Innovators

December 7, 2010

Organizations use a variety of tools to motivate employees to participate in their innovation efforts.

Innovation and points systemsThe most common form of motivation involves compensation via a points system.  When you contribute an idea, solution, comment or vote, you get points – much like American Express Membership Rewards points – that can be used to buy a variety of items: company T-shirts, mugs, and other “exciting” things.  For some reason this reminds me of the arcade games like skeeball where you would win tickets that could be exchanged for wonderful items like fake vampire fangs or rubber spiders.

Some companies have taken the concept a bit further and allowed people to accumulate points that can be used in auctions.  Once a month the company holds an auction for a trip to, say, Tahiti.  Anyone with points can join the bidding.  This encourages people to earn and save as many points as possible so that they can have a chance at some really big prizes.  This supposedly stimulates contributions to innovation.

A third model that doesn’t necessarily need a points system involves “priceless” awards.  Remember the Mastercard commercials?  These are items that you can’t buy with money: dinner with the CEO, a prime parking space or an extra week of vacation.  These types of prizes are particularly enticing because no amount of money can buy them

The thing that these three models have in common is that the prize is tangible.  Some might call it an extrinsic form of motivation.  Chip Conley, author of Peak, might point out that these are the lowest rung of motivations on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: food and shelter/safety and security.

There is an opportunity for other, potentially more effective forms of motivation.

At the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy (going back to Conley’s concept), you will find self-actualization.  In the innovation/business world, this is where “the work is its own reward.” The open source software movement was largely built on this model.  Millions of people have helped develop software without any formal extrinsic compensation. Many do it just because it feels good to contribute.  For some, it is about building software that will bring down the “evil empire” (aka Microsoft).

Although this is an incredibly effective motivator for many, this is difficult to put into practice inside of a “typical” organization.  Ok, when I worked for a Formula 1 team, people there truly love their work because they were fans of the sport.  But this is usually the exception, not the rule.  At least from my experience.

Between food & shelter and self-actualization lies the most under-utilized form of motivation: peer recognition.  This can be extremely effective, especially inside of organizations where “intelligence” is highly valued.  Pharmaceutical companies, R&D departments, and NASA come to mind off the top of my head.

For some individuals, being recognized by their peers is the highest form of motivation.  In come circles, being published in a peer reviewed journal is an incredible honor.

Therefore find ways of recognizing people, especially when it involves peer recognition.

One way to do this if you use a points system like the ones described above, is to create a leader board.  This creates a friendly competition and helps individuals stand out from the crowd based on their contributions.

Another approach, of course, is to develop a good recognition program as part of your communication plans.  Many companies do this, but they rarely do it well.  Here’s the real opportunity…

Stop recognizing people for doing their job. When you hire someone to work for you, it should be expected that they are competent.  When you recognize people for doing what they are hired to do, it reinforces a “culture” where the status quo is good enough.

Instead, recognize (and reward) people for going beyond their job; for doing things that are unexpected.

If you want to encourage open innovation or cross-business unit collaboration, then recognize people for that.  If you want employees to take risks, make a big deal out of individuals who do that.  If you want to let people know that failure is ok – when done the right way – then promote situations where something didn’t work as planned yet powerful lessons were learned and risk was mitigated risk.

Define what your organization values and then reward on that.

Culture is sometimes defined as “a network of conversations.” What they say to each other and what they think to themselves.  Shift the conversations and you begin to shift the culture.  These types of programs are a great opportunity to create an environment of innovation and promote the values/conversations you want to instill.

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The Pygmailion Effect and You

December 6, 2010

The Personality Poker book is now available. Be sure to buy your copy today. Each book comes with a deck of the specially designed poker cards. And no, you do not need to know anything about poker to play! The only way you can lose is if you don’t have a personality.

This is the fifth in a series of videos about Personality Poker. Today I discuss something known as the Pygmalion effect: how others perceive you impacts your behaviors.

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Do You Know Why You Are Successful…or Not?

December 3, 2010

I just gave a presentation on “Happiness at Work” in Norway.  I started with the following question:

“True or false – People with more money are happier.”

100% of the audience believed that the statement was false.

In reality, the statement is true.  Researchers have shown that people with more money are happier.

When people hear this, they immediate assume that money makes people happy.  That is NOT true.

The researchers found that money did not make people happy.  Instead, happy people attracted wealth into their lives.

I was on a radio show recently and a woman cited a study that said:

“Women who wear lipstick make 80% more money than women who don’t.”

She used this as an example of why women should wear lipstick.  She seemed to imply that if you wear lipstick, you will make more money.

But again, I am confident that the causation is backwards.  Lipstick does not create wealth.  Wealthy women are more naturally inclined to wear lipstick for a variety of reasons.

In business, it is equally important to differentiate correlation from causation.

Understanding what causes success – or failure – will help you in the future.  Avoid making assumptions.

Did your marketing efforts truly increase sales?  Did your 19th reorganization really improve performance?  Did that consultant you hired really help you grow?

The next time an innovation consultant tells you that their clients increased revenues/improved performance after hiring them, be a bit skeptical.  Maybe the consultant didn’t improve the business.  Maybe businesses that can afford to hire high priced consultants are already better positioned for growth and would have improved anyway.

Hmmm…if my innovation consulting business drops off in the near future, I will simply assume that this article was the cause.

P.S. The happiness study is this: Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychologist at U Cal Riverside, who looked at the correlation between happiness and success. She observed that, “Happy people were not necessarily happier after their success than they were before, but they tended to be happier than others who were less successful.” Her conclusion? “Success is related to happiness – but as a consequence, not a cause, of mood…happy people have other personality traits that facilitate success.”

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