Because not all change is individual

The night I quit my job I had a decision to make… wait, or just start. I chose to just start and held a seminar the next day. People in motion tend to stay in motion and people at rest tend to stay at rest. So whatever it is you’ve been waiting to do… just start!

It surprises me how many people I talk to are unhappy with their careers.

They’re disengaged. They don’t enjoy what they do. They’ve found themselves in a situation where their whole day is being spent on something that doesn’t intrinsically motivate them, or that they’re not excited or enthusiastic about.

There’s no passion, and sometimes they’re actively disengaged.

If that’s you, stop. Go pursue your passion. Life is too short not to.

Now, I understand that the reality of charting a trajectory towards a more fulfilling career can take time, and in the meantime, you have financial obligations. But there is a way to find fulfillment right now.

Henery Wadsworth Longfellow in his poem “A psalm of life” wrote:

“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
is our destined end or way,
but to act that each tomorrow
find us farther than today”

He’s talking about the pursuit of mastery.

This is the foundation of personal progress. It’s the secret sauce for happiness and success.

There are 5 things you should know about Mastery.

1. Mastery provides purpose

The pursuit of mastery provides purpose to your endeavors. It provides meaning to what you do.

In all of our careers, and life in general, there are simply mundane things that are required to get us from point A to point B. They’re not exciting, they’re the minutia. But people can get lost in the minutia, lose momentum, and lose sight of their destination.

They flounder and invariably they get stuck there.

But when mastery is your goal then the little things that you do have meaning, even when they’re not very exciting.

And that meaning can fortify you against the momentum draining, vision blurring, motivation killing nature of the menial tasks you’ll inevitably encounter.

2. Mastery provides a filter.

Mastery can be a powerful filter for the things you choose to spend your time on.

When life becomes too full of those things that don’t lead to some sort of meaningful mastery, you find yourself without a sense of drive, motivation, or passion. You become disengaged, discouraged, and often even depressed.

If you find yourself experiencing this you should pause, back up, and ask yourself two questions. First, “what mastery am I currently pursuing?”

If you can’t answer that, then pick something and pursue it. Don’t stress too much about it, it’s not concrete, you can always change it, but pick something that matters to you, that you care about, that you really want to master, and pursue that.

Second, ask yourself “how are my daily tasks leading toward that mastery?”

And if you can’t answer that, then you should reevaluate the activities that consume your time.

3. Mastery focuses you on the journey, not the destination

When you’re actively pursuing mastery and measuring your progress, you naturally experience added vigor in life. It gives you direction, things are clearer, decisions are easier, all because you have a template that’s guiding you. You have a higher cause. You have a clear destination.

It’s like suddenly you find yourself intrinsically motivated to keep moving. It’s actually a self-fulfilling mechanism built into the neurological workings of your mind, which I’ll explain more later.

To understand how mastery works, you first have to understand something about the nature of mastery. It’s what I call the paradox of mastery.

You have to accept from the very beginning that you’ll never, ever get there.

In the marvelously revealing book Drive, which addresses what really motivates people today, the author Daniel H. Pink describes what he calls the mastery asymptote.

Personal Progress and the pursuit of master is key to finding purpose in life

An asymptote is a mathematical or algebraic description of a curve that approaches a line, but never actually reaches it.

He says “Mastery is an asymptote. You can approach it, you can hone in on it, you can get really, really close to it, but you can never reach it. Mastery is impossible to realize fully. The joy is in the pursuit, more than in the realization. And in the end, mastery attracts, precisely because it eludes.”

In other words, the joy is in the pursuit, more than in the realization, because you will never realize mastery. It will always elude you. And when you accept this inescapable nature of mastery, you’ll realize that joy is not in the destination, it’s in the journey.

The joy is in all the little wins, the little discoveries, and the gains you experience along the way.

Curiously, it’s precisely the way our brains are designed.

Whenever we experience success, our brains release dopamine and norepinephrine, two neurochemicals that cause us to crave more success. It creates drive, it creates motivation, it creates the feeling of happiness.

So it’s the incremental rewards, the small wins along the way that cause this biochemical reinforcement that gives us the drive, the motivation to keep moving.

Imagine, for instance, if someone were to take you and sit you down on the summit of mount everest… Of course you would enjoy the marvelous vista and the beautiful scenery and the novelty of being there.

But in reality it wouldn’t hold even an iota of the meaning it would if you had gotten there on your very own. If you had trained, sweat, toiled, planned and prepared… It wouldn’t even come close.

Having neglected to invest the effort, you would have forfeited the resulting strength of body and mind and spirit, you’d have cheated the challenge of the journey, and in so doing, robbed yourself of its inherent joys, and pleasures, and lessons.

So what matters as you pursue mastery, is not to put so much stock in the destination that you fail to appreciate the value and joy of the journey.

4. Mastery gives perspective to failure.

This mental paradigm of the mastery asymptote, understanding that it’s something that you’ll work towards, but never quite acquire, prepares you for the failures that will inevitably accompany your pursuits.

Because when you realize that you’re never going to get there, that it’s truly about the journey and not the destination, then you begin to be less negatively impacted during those times when you fall noticeably and perceptibly short.

In fact, you’ll expect it. You’ll realize that it’s just part of the process. You’ll realize that your failures do not define you. The effort and the direction you sustain does.

Concluding…

Back to those people who are unhappy in their careers. If you pick something to master, and identify it clearly, suddenly you’ll find little instances, even in your current position, that enable you to work on whatever it is that you’ve identified.

It will provide purpose and motivation to continue, even in the most unexciting jobs and endeavors.

It’ll give you something to pursue, something to motivate you and keep you moving forward while you pursue a more lastingly fulfilling career.

So in short, to experience the greatest joy, purpose, and fulfillment from life, from your career, or whatever it is, pick something to master, pursue it with vigor, and remember that even though you’ll never get there, the more you try, the more you’ll enjoy it.

Good luck.

(note: click here to see the video of this post, created originally back in 2010).

Related Posts:

Lock-in, why so often we fail to progress in life
The pursuit of mastery and the mastery asymptote
Virtue Mastery: 13 secrets to success and fulfillment

I was talking to a friend today about change, and how exciting it is when life forces it upon you (like when I was laid off for Christmas).

People often feel committed to a particular path, just because it’s what they’re used to, or because they’ve taken it for so long, or invested so much into it that it seems a shame to waste it all.

They’re so driven by the inertia of their past decisions that they neglect change that could greatly enrich their lives.

This is a psychological, decision-making error called “lock-in”.  Companies are guilty of this as well as individuals (if not more so).

That’s where the phrase “don’t throw good money after bad” comes from.  But “money” could be exchanged for “time”.

Wherever you’re at in life pick a destination you care about and chart a trajectory to get there.  Even if it’s a slow plan that will take a lot of time. What matters most is that you make a plan and start changing direction, even if just by degrees.

As you gain momentum, you’ll be happier, find more fulfillment, and be more successful.  Even if it takes a long time. Remember, success, like mastery, is an asymptote. But we should have the courage to free ourselves from our past, to move forward in life.

Rusty

I think we all tend to look at ourselves and see things we want to change.

For you it might be:

A bad habit to break. A good habit to form.  A new approach to something.  A new outlook.  A new perspective.  A new behavior.  A new endeavor.  A new path.  A new way to respond. A new commitment.

For companies it might be:

A new product.  A new market. A new message. A new objective.  Bigger market share.  Better market penetration. Broader market appeal.  Better operational efficiency.  Higher profit margins.

For families it might be:

More discipline.  More fun.  Stronger relationships.  More education.  Better use of free time.  More responsibilities.  Better sharing.  Happier atmosphere.  Better grades.

Whatever it is you want to change, whatever it is you want the system (you, work, family, or whatever) to do differently, most often the place to start is not by trying to change the output directly. But this usually fails, because the output of a system is usually a product of its inputs.

So if you really want to change the output, start by changing the inputs.

We’ve often heard the definition of insanity – doing what you always do and expecting a different result.

Sounds obvious, but when it comes right down to applying it in our lives, we forget about it.  We struggle to change something, and when that fails, we become frustrated, discouraged, even give up.

Sometimes though, it’s the approach that matters more.  A long-jumper doesn’t increase distance just at the jump-line.  Distance increase is a product of a lot of things, some of which have to be worked on independently.  How strong the arms are, the speed of the approach, getting the timing right, the footing, fast-twitch muscle focus, confidence, etc.

If you want to increase your long-jump distance, you have to focus on your inputs.

Whatever it is you’ve been struggling to change, perhaps you should shift your focus to your inputs.

Often the output side of the equation bears a striking resemblance to the input side of the equation.  They’re directly proportional.  You just can’t expect an increase in one, without changing the other.

Sometimes those inputs just need a bit of tweaking.  Sometimes they need a wholesale overhaul.

Whatever it is, remember, it’s the inputs that matter.

Rusty

The following TED talk, given by Simon Sinek, describes how it is that great leaders inspire action, why some people are able to achieve things, when others are not.  He explains the brilliant, biologically based “Golden Circle”, a new way of looking at how people approach what they do.  He also discusses the Law of Diffusion of Innovation, and weaves it all together with several brilliantly told examples, from Apple computer, to the Wright Brothers, to Martin Luther King, Jr.]

Here is the video, with my highest recommendations (it’ll change the way you look at what you do).  Beneath that, the “rough” written transcript.

How do you explain why some people are able to achieve things that seem impossible?

How is it that some companies, like Apple, year after year, always seem to lead innovation? Why is it that Martin Luther King led the civil rights movement? Why is it that the Wright Brothers were the ones that discovered controlled, powered man flight when others were more qualified and better funded?

A few years ago I discovered something that changed my life, a pattern that I found in all the great leaders (individuals and companies). They all think in the same way, and it’s the opposite of everybody else.

It’s probably the world’s simplest idea (all I did was codify it). I call it the “Golden Circle”.

How – in the center, surrounded by “Why”, surrounded by a larger circle, “What”.

Simon Sinek: finding the why behind the what and how, how great leaders inspire action

It explains why some leaders are able to inspire where others aren’t.

Everybody knows “what” they do 100%. Some know how they do it. But very very few people or organizations know WHY they do it.

And I don’t mean to make a profit, that’s the result. It’s the “why”, why do you do it, why do you get out of bed in the morning, and why should people care.

Inspired organizations and people all think, act, and communicate from the inside out.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

The Why, How, What model is actually grounded in biology (not psychology).

If you were to look at a cross section of the brian from top down, you’d see that it corresponds perfectly to the golden circle.

Starting at the top, our “newest” (evolutionary) brain, our Homo-Sapien Brain, called our Neocortex – it’s our what, it’s responsible for all our rational, analytical thought, and language.

The middle two section make up our Limbic brains, which is for feelings, trust, and loyalty, it’s also responsible for all human behavior and decision making. It has no capacity for language.

In other words, when we communicate from the outside in, yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information, features and benefits and facts and figures, it just doesn’t drive behavior.

When we communicate from the inside out. we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior, and then we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do.

This is where gut decisions come from. It’s why you can give someone all the facts and figures and they’ll say that they know what all the facts and the details say, but it just doesn’t ‘feel’ right.

Why would they use that verb?

Because the part of the brain that controls decision making doesn’t control language.

Sometimes we say we’re leading with our heart, or our soul. That’s all happening in your limbic brain.

But if you don’t’ know why you do what you do, then how will you ever get someone to buy into it, and be loyal, or want to be a part of what it is that you do.

After all, the goal is not just to get people to buy that need what you have, but to believe what you believe. The goal is not just to hire people who need a job, but who believe what you believe.

If you hire people who just need a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people that believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.

There’s no better example than with the Wright Brothers.

Nobody knows, anymore, who Samuel Pierpont Langley is.

When you ask why people fail, they always give you some permutation of the same three things.

  1. Undercapitalized
  2. The wrong people
  3. Unfavorable market conditions

Langley was given $50K by the War department to figure out this flying machine. Held seat at Harvard and worked at Smithsonian. He was extremely well connected. He had access to the greatest funds and the greatest minds. He hired the greatest minds available, and the market conditions were fantastic. The NY Times followed him everywhere, everyone was rooting for him. But we’ve never heard of Samuel Pierpont Langley.

A few hundred miles away in Dayton Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright, who had none of this “recipe for success”. They paid for it all from the proceeds of their humble bicycle shop.

not a single person on the Wright Brothers team had a college education. Not even Orville or Wilber. And the NY Times ignored them.

But they were driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it would change the course of the world.

Samuel Peirpont Langley was different. He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be famous.

He was in pursuit of the result, of the riches.

In the end, the people who believed in the dream, worked with blood and sweat and tears, the others, just for the paycheck.

Every time the Wright brothers would go out, they would have to take 5 sets of parts, because that’s how many times they would crash before they came home for supper.

Eventually on dec 17th of 1903, they took flight. And no one was there to even experience it. We found out later.

To prove that Langley wasn’t in it for the right thing, the day he found out that they had beat him to it, he quit. He could have said “that’s an amazing discovery, and I will improve upon it”.

But he wasn’t first, he didn’t get rich, he didn’t get famous, and so he quit.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. If you talk about what you believe, you will attract those who believe what you believe.

microsoft sells the “what”, and sometimes the “how”, but Apple sells the “why”.

Which is important because the “law of diffusion of innovation.”

The law of diffusion of innovation: simon sinek - how leaders inspire action

The lay of diffusion of innovation, shows that the adoption curve (a typical bell curve) can be segmented out into the following sections.

Of all our population:

  1. 2.5% innovators
  2. 13.5% early adopters
  3. 34% early majority
  4. 34% late majority
  5. 16% laggards

We all sit at various places at various times along this scale.

If you want mass market appeal, mass market success or acceptance of an idea (the two 34% sides), you cannot have it until you have achieve this tipping point, between 15% and 18% market penetration.

I love to ask businesses, what is your conversion, and they respond proudly 10%. Well you can trip over 10%. There’s always 10% who will just “get it”, in fact, that’s how we describe them.

The problem is what 10%.

It’s this 13% that matters, as Jeffery Moore describes in “Crossing the Chasm”.

The early majority will not try something, until somebody else tries it first.

These early guys are comfortable doing that, living intuitively, based on what they BELIEVE about the world (the why), not just what’s available (the what).

These are those who stand in line for 6 hours to buy an iPhone.

people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. In fact what you do, simply proves what you blieve (belief pyramid, also why judged by works, our works, or our “what” is the clearest manifestation of our strongest beliefs).

People will do the things that prove what they believe. They wanted to show that they would be first, because that spoke to a value that they believed about themselves. People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Famous failure about the principle of the Diffusion of Innovation.

Tivo. We said before that the recipe for success is the right money, the right people, and the right market conditions. They were the first, they were the best, they were extremely well funded, the market conditions were perfect, it became a verb. But they’re a commercial failure. They’ve never made money. And when they went IPO, their stock was about 30-40 and since then it’s never been above 10, usually below 6.

Tivo’s marketing strategy was “we let you pause live TV, rewind live TV, and we watch your viewing habits and adjust without you having to do anything”. It was all about what. And market skeptics said we’re not interested.

What if they would have said “if you’re the type of person that likes to have total control over your life, we have a product for you.”

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and what you do is simply the proof, of what you believe.

In summer of 1963, 250K people showed up to hear Dr. King speak. There were no invitations, there was no website to check the date. He wasn’t the only great orator, he wasn’t the only person to have these ideas, and some of his ideas were even bad. But what he did, was to go around and simply talk about what he believed. “I believe…”

And people who believed what he believed took his cause and told more people. To the point where 250k showed up on the right day to hear him speak.

How many people showed up for him? None. They showed up for themselves. it’s what they believed about America that got them to drive 8 hours on a bus to stand in the sun to Washington DC in the middle of August. it’s what they believed. It wasn’t black vs. white. 25% audience were white.

He believed that there were two kinds of laws in this world, those that are made by a higher power, and those that are made by man. And it’s not until those that are made by man are consistent with the laws that are made by the higher power that we will live in a just world. It just so happened that the civil rights movement was the perfect thing to help him bring his cause to life. He gave the “I have a dream” speech, not the “I have a plan” speech.

Listen to politicians now with their 12 point plans, they’re not inspiring anybody.

There are leaders, and there are those who lead.

Leaders are those who hold a position of power or authority. But those who lead are those who inspire us. Wether within organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. Not for them, but for ourselves.

And it’s those who start with why, who have the ability to inspire those around them or find others to inspire them.

Simon Sinek - TED talk: How great leaders inspire action, and the Golden Circle

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

 

(This post is part of a “fulfillment” series about finding fulfillment in life and work that will be going on all week.  See the introduction to the series here).

Let’s face it, not everybody can have their dream job right?  Not everybody can wake up in the morning and be genuinely excited for work. Not everybody can find something that pays the bills AND keeps them feeling happy, fulfilled, and engaged.  Right?

Wrong.

I’m not unsympathetic as to why some people may think this way.  As corrosive as it is, it’s a concept that has been drilled into our cognitive connections by society and peers, and then reinforced by traditional education our whole entire life (a point that we’ll get into in a later post – the negative impact of traditional education on today’s worker, and how to overcome it).

But the truth is that it’s wrong, so let’s discuss why, and what you can do about it.

But first, we’re stuck with another reality.  The reality that you don’t like what you do today.  Right now.  That you wake up in the morning and dread going to work.  That you’re unengaged, unfulfilled, and stuck.

You feel stuck because you have to put food on the table.  You have to provide.  You have to make money.

You feel stuck because the work you do is work you’ve chosen to do (like it or not).  It’s what you’ve been trained to do.  It’s a career reinforced on your resume, and now you’re held hostage by it.  Stuck within the gravitational pull of past choices.

You feel stuck because a significant career change will take time, and you’re unhappy NOW.

But I have good news, there is something you can do now that will help.

Keep in mind, it’s not the full solution.  It’s not some magic wand that will make all your troubles disappear. But it is a valid technique that has been shown to infuse your current path with a certain degree of fulfillment.  It’s been shown to increase the level of happiness and engagement in people.

It’s called, the pursuit of mastery.

Pursuing mastery at something that matters to you long term, is the quickest way to infuse meaning into both life and work in the short term.  Now watch the following video…

(note: click here for a full transcript of this video in an updated post)

This notion of Mastery is explained in far greater detail in this post:

The pursuit of mastery and the mastery asymptote

The pursuit of mastery and the Mastery Asymptote

Believe me, it works.  By focusing on an attribute or skill that you want to accomplish, and then pursing it with vigor, you’ll find greater fulfillment in what you’re doing now.  It’s like taking a style guide for your future, and overlaying it on top of your current pursuits.

By doing that, your current pursuits are put into new perspective, and you start building skills or attributes that will help as we move into the next steps in the process, which we’ll discuss over the next couple of days.

Good luck, and remember to come back for the remaining steps.

Rusty

Note:  Thank you for being here. If you know of anyone else who is going through a difficult time with their career, please share this post series with them, and invite them to join in the journey.

It amazes me how many people I talk to, even those well into advanced, seemingly rewarding careers, are actually not happy. Just within the past 4 weeks I’ve had a number of my closest friends communicate this to me, these are people who are years into outstanding careers, who have advanced degrees, people who I respect and admire for their accomplishments in life, and the success they’ve had in their careers.

But still, they’re just not happy.

Most often this is derived from a decoupling of your pursuits, from your personality. This is happening with painful frequency, and is extremely expensive.

It’s expensive to the world in terms of lost productivity, and it comes at great cost to you personally, in terms of diminished happiness lost opportunities, and the fact that you just won’t reach peak performance until you’re doing something you love to do.

Is this you? Have you found yourself thinking recently about how much you’d rather be doing something else? Do you know someone recently who is going through this?

I’m dedicating the week to this topic, and longer if necessary.

We’ll be deconstructing the problem as we would an engineering problem. We’ll analyze the constraints. We’ll discuss the principles and methods you can use to chart a new trajectory. A trajectory that moves you towards something vastly more fulfilling, towards a future where you’re pursuits are perfectly aligned with your personality.

We’ll discuss the various obstacles you will certainly face, and how to overcome them. We’ll put together a step by step guide to finding meaning and reward.

I hope you’ll join us. If you know of anyone who is in a similar stage of life, please invite them to join in the journey and participate in the discussions.

Rusty

Note:  Thank you for being here.  Remember, you matter, and you can make a difference.  Please share this post with someone else, and come back for more.

Image from Joseph

First, you’ll find the video version, and beneath that, the text version, if you so prefer.  It’s a bit more refined.  Give it a moment for Youtube to process.  It’ll also get sharper after processing.

The Havilland Comet. It was the worlds first commercial jet airliner in production, and first flew back in 1949. It was known as a landmark in British aeronautical design. It was one of a kind.

The chief test pilot John Cunningham, who was a famous wartime fighter pilot, commented “I assumed that it would change aviation”. And change aviation it did, although not in the way he expected.

The plane began to crash, repeatedly. More than once totally disintegrating over the ocean, killing all passengers on board.

After each crash the plane wreckage was investigated, while the engineers floundered to find out what was wrong. Each time, they failed to pin down what was causing these crashes, and inevitably, the plane would fly again, and soon there would be another crash.

Finally, in 1954, upon experiencing another crash, engineers submerged the entire airframe from one of these planes in the water, and then subjected it to repeated pressurization and over pressurization, upon which they found the culprit.

Catastrophic metal fatigue. But it wasn’t so much a manufacturing flaw, as it was a design flaw. You see, the Comet had square windows.

The window corners compromised the structural integrity of the plane, and when under the enormous pressure found in high-altitude performance, cracks would form at these window edges, eventually causing the whole structure to disintegrate.

Indeed, the Comet did change aviation history – now all jetliners have rounded windows and doors.

There are three important take-away’s from this.

1. The importance of structural integrity

Often, in our pursuit of what matters most (or just life in general), we are often subjected to extraordinarily high pressures, especially at times of peak performance. These are the times when everything seems to happen at once, when you’re the very busiest, when it matters the most, these are the times when the pressure is on.

If we find ourselves in these times, even the smallest design flaw, or error in planning, can compromise our structural integrity, or our ability to hold up under pressure.

It is imperative, for anyone who wants to do something meaningful, that you pay close attention to your own structural integrity BEFORE you find yourself in a position of peak performance pressure.

That leads us to the second point…

2. The importance of the Microcosm approach to accomplishment

Explained more fully here (The power of microcosms, Microcosms make you stronger, and Controlled failure, how to fail on your terms), the idea of a microcosm is simple. It’s a smaller-scale representation of something larger.

The microcosm approach to accomplishment suggests that the best way to perform well under high pressure, is to deconstruct your larger objective into a series of smaller skills, methods, and objectives, and then to work on perfecting these slowly, one at a time.

When I decided to run a marathon, I didn’t just go run 26 miles. I started small. When I set the goal to shoulder press 300 pounds, I didn’t just go load up the plates and try it out, that would have been suicide.

In physical performance, this model makes sense, but we tend to ignore it when it comes to other areas of accomplishment. If you want to win big, start by winning small first.

3. The importance of performance simulation

The final lesson to learn from this is the importance of creating simulated environments where we can test our ability to synthesize all the skills, abilities, and methods we perfected in the microcosm stage, but in a controlled environment where there’s less risk.

I didn’t say no risk, but less risk. In marketing you can do this by test marketing a product before pushing it out to the masses – you market a product first to a subset of the market to see how it is accepted.

This is done with brands and messaging by trying several different ads and gauging performance on each before settling on the one you use long term, to everyone.

Product managers do this by beta testing a product (allowing a few users to use it first) before releasing it to everybody.

Parents can do this with their kids by creating environments for them to succeed, but that allow them to test the principles of life, on a smaller scale, in a controlled setting (don’t forget to let them fail, that’s part of the process).

Whatever it is you are doing, there’s power in simulation. Had the Comet adequately simulated the rapid-scale re-pressurization their fuselages would have to go through during high-altitude performance BEFORE flight, dozens of lives would have been saved.

Rusty

I’m a huge fan of bnet.com. They have some marvelous content, and I read nearly every new post of theirs.

They’ve got a new post called “It’s a job interview, not a beauty pageant“, where they have some good advice on interviewing for a job. I recommend reading the full article, as well as the comments.

Here’s a snippet though, of some questions you should consider asking in an interview that I wholeheartedly agree with.  They will not only give you vital information about the company, the job, and your would-be peers, but also help make you look like you know what you’re doing.

Is this a new or existing position?

If existing, why did the previous person leave? If the person was promoted, great. If the person was fired, why? If the person left for a new position, why?

If new, are the responsibilities new or being taken from other people?

How do the people whose responsibilities you will be taking over feel about this? Will you be walking into a tension filled situation or will people be thrilled. If the responsibilities are new, does the position have adequate support to be successful?

What is the hiring manager’s management style?

If you are an independent, “I’ll call you if I have a problem, otherwise leave me alone” worker, having a manager who likes giving out checklists and following up all the time would be painful. Does the manager give regular feedback? Are you okay with that? Are you okay with receiving no feedback?

What type of people tend to succeed in this company?

What type fail? If you are a status quo loving person and the company is constantly reinventing itself there will be trouble. On the other hand, if you are a new idea producer and they don’t like new, it won’t be a success.

If you will be supervising others, can you meet with these people before accepting an offer?

Your relationship with them will probably be more critical then the relationship with your direct manager, likewise your peers. You will be working with an entire team, not just a direct manager. You need to know these people as well.

How often do “crises” arise?

What is the usual cause? Are crises due to lack of planning in other departments? Lack of resources? Whims of senior management? Clients? You need to know how things really function.

Rusty

Image from VogueMarie2010

As human beings, we tend to fall victim to the “all of a sudden” syndrome.

All of a sudden I’m out of shape.
All of a sudden my finances are a wreck.
All of a sudden my product is late.
All of a sudden a relationship is broken.
All of a sudden I’m addicted.
All of a sudden the year is gone.
All of a sudden my business has failed.
All of a sudden my kids are grown.

But things rarely happen “all of a sudden”. They happen incrementally, by degrees, slowly, over time.

The problem is, we usually don’t see them happening, until “all of a sudden” it’s too late.

The changes are so small, so gradual, that they don’t register on our warning screen. They’re usually too minute to be caught by whatever measurement mechanisms we have in place (see “Do you measure yourself?”), until all of a sudden the change is so great, we can’t NOT notice.

This is called “change blindness”, when we’re so focused on the scene as a whole that we fail to see small (and sometimes not-so-small), but important things that change within the scene.

This happens all of the time in every aspect of our lives. It’s also known as entropy (here).

But this “all of a sudden” effect works both ways. The guy that climbs everest? That didn’t happen all of a sudden. Successful products don’t just appear out of nowhere. Companies don’t just all of a sudden become successful.

When I run a marathon, I don’t just all of a sudden wake up and run 26 miles. If I’m going to hit my goal of bench pressing 400 pounds, I won’t just all of a sudden go in and load up the bar and try it. I’d kill myself.

If you have a large goal (and you should – see “Are you failing on a regular basis”), then you won’t get there all of a sudden. You’ll get there in stages, through a sustained series of gradual, incremental achievements.

“Through small and simple means are great things brought to pass”.

So don’t hold yourself to unrealistic expectations, or all you’ll get are disappointments. Rather commit yourself to moving forward, just a little, every day.

Henry Wadsworth Longellow wisely penned the following, in his motivational poem, “A Psalm of Life”:

Not enjoyment, and not sorry,
is our destined end, or way.
But to act, that each tomorrow,
find us farther, than today.

They key to avoiding the negative “all of a sudden” experiences, and increasing the positive ones, is to reduce the scale of your measurement.

You’ve got to be aware of not just milestones, but DIRECTION. It’s the direction that is the key. It is the direction of your momentum that determines your destination. Because things are always evolving, either for the better, or for the worse.

What you have to do, as an individual, organization, parent, or whatever, is to ask yourself regularly what direction your evolution is taking you.

And be honest in your answers.

Rusty