Engage Your Touch of Genius

Stay Focused

Stay Focused: Click on the photo, then focus. You’ll start to see the trees. 

You’re smart. You work hard. You’ve got a dream. You have a glimpse of an idea, a way to make a difference in the world. Maybe you don’t know where to start. Maybe you’re making real progress and you want to make more impact. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed and uncertain about the future.

Today ideas and technology change every minute! Check out this infographic about what happens on the internet every 60 seconds.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. — Albert Einstein

So engage your touch of genius.

This January take a time-out instead of writing a long list of all your New Year’s resolutions. Take an hour (or an afternoon) to eliminate the distractions and seriously think about what you really care about.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain

Decide to pick just 3 things for your Dream List. With only 3 things, you’ll be able to remember them and commit to them. Focus. Focus. Focus. (What if you can’t pick just 3, read What to Do With an Avalanche of Choices.)

I have to admit, I had a very hard time narrowing my Dream List to 3. Yet I felt a big sigh of relief after I did. I even surprised myself by eliminating something I thought I “should” do and replacing it with something that is more fun and positive. I’m confident eliminating a “should” will likely make it easier for me to achieve #1 and #2!

My natural inclination is to think about all the connections, possibilities, alternatives, and more. So something simply had to go! I revised my Dream List again and again, trying hard not to be vague. That’s the worst, because vague goals can’t be checked off the list. So unsatisfying. Yes, I need to exercise more, meditate more; but I know that if I’m making progress on what matters to me I’m more likely to accomplish other things that are good for me.

So dare to embrace all the uncertainty and get going. Yes, you need to be smart about it. Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll be successful. You’ll need to manage the risks. By narrowing your focus, you will increase your chances for success — something any management consultant worth their salt will tell you.

Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox… The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow. ― Tony Schwartz

Keep your eye on the prize.

Excellence can be obtained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, expect more than others think is possible. — Unknown
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If your Dream List includes finding a mentor with real-world experience to support you on your way, here are tips to choosing one who’s right for you.

Mentor Planet offers 1-to-1 mentoring relationships for 6-12 months for only $99/year.

January is National Mentoring Month. Considering being a Mentor Planet Mentor and help someone reach their potential.

For more information go to MentorPlanet.com.

Is it crazy to consider a career shift in this economy?

Is now the right time? When would it be a good time? Certainly there are valid reasons not to change. The economy is tough and if you’re earning a decent living it is easy to rationalize staying where you are.  All too often we put this decision off.  We wait for the perfect time or for the perfect opportunity to come to us.

Interestingly enough, many of us are living in limbo. We aren’t fully committed to our current career or to figuring out what might be a better option.  Isn’t life too short to linger in a career that isn’t a good fit anymore?  Why wait — until you’re too locked into your current situation to change, you can’t stand your work situation any longer, or you’ve actually lost your job — before you actively consider a career shift? Exploring options while you’re in your back-up mode — worrying about finances or feeling like you’re living in limbo — isn’t an ideal environment to be open to new possibilities or actively take a risk.  (It can work, but the stress can be stifling.)

Time is life’s real currency. Are you living your life’s currency wisely?

Why not invest in yourself now? Doesn’t it make more sense to do it while you have the energy to thoughtfully evaluate your possibilities?

Time is life’s real currency.  The heart of the question is: Are you living your life’s currency wisely? Many of us start our careers optimistically, without much analysis of our choice.  Out in the real world, we gradually figure out that it was nothing like we had imagined.  Few of us did more than rudimentary skills testing.  Perhaps only a fraction of us found a mentor to help us provide real-world insights to see if we were making a good choice.  Maybe you loved your job for years; only now it has lost the excitement or the meaning it once held.  Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to be quite successful, too well, in fact, so that you don’t even consider what might make you happier — your “best self.”  Let’s hope we don’t sell out for golden handcuffs, especially if the salary isn’t all that great to begin with (or even if it is), because it’s our lives we’re talking about here!

Why not raise the bar? Consider a career change to find one that is more interesting, rewarding, and meaningful — perhaps one that is “more livable” too.  Naturally all careers have trade-offs, but the trouble is that we don’t often take the time to find a better match for ourselves.  We stay where we started just because it seems easier.  On reflection, and once we’ve made the shift, we wonder why we waited so long!  (Some of you may find that this process helps you determine that you’re in the right career; all you needed was a little rejuvenation!)

Take the time to imagine what your life would be like if only you could make a shift. According to Civic Ventures, more than 8 million Americans between 44 and 77 are embarking on new careers. We’ve all heard stories, but somehow we can’t see ourselves — our options.  So stimulate your thinking with a few real life examples:

  • An intellectual property consultant switched to his love of the ocean and now sells sailboats.
  • A banker opted out of corporate life; he prefers to work on his own, remodeling houses.
  • A computer programmer went back to school for a degree in nonprofit management; and now works in energy conservation.
  • A beautician went back to school to become a massage therapist.
  • A stockbroker now teaches fitness and relaxation.
  • A photographer’s representative switched to planning travel for touring musicians.
  • A public relations consultant who loves language, is now a teacher (teaching English to French students).
  • A copywriter went back to school to become an acupuncturist.
  • A dancer/actress became a marketing consultant (also farms part-time).
  • A marketing strategist became a stay-at-home dad, web entrepreneur, and real estate investor.

Don’t start exploring career options with the job market.  Start by asking the more important question: “What do I really want?” Career experts often recommend evaluating the future growth in a particular field, researching potential employers, estimating income and advancement options, etc.  That’s vitally important, but that’s actually the easy part — and it shouldn’t be where you start.

External analysis should come AFTER your internal analysis, which is often more challenging. You know yourself better than you did right after college or your first job. All too often, we know what we don’t want rather than what we want.  Knowing what we don’t want helps us cross options off the list, which is good. Getting us out of our routine and into the more exciting, dynamic world of our passions, possibilities, and motivations is what’s key.  Of course, money matters.  But it’s not solely about the money.  As Henry David Thoreau said, “Wealth is the ability to fully experience life.”

According to Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, you’re more likely to be successful when you find a strong convergence between these two factors:

  • a career that taps into your values (meaning), interests, and abilities and
  • a vibrant field with plenty of job options and upward mobility — and one valued by society.

Start exploring career options by expanding your network. One of the biggest barriers is your existing network. Colleagues know you only in your current role — which is a very narrow view of your potential. Schedule informational interviews with people outside of your current circle — people who are open to seeing you in new roles.

The good news is that it is fairly easy to network these days. Even though everyone is busy, most people want to expand their network too.  Make a commitment to yourself to meet at least one new person each week — with the precise intent of helping to identify what you value, your deepest passion, and your strongest interests. Meet in person, over coffee or lunch, so you can truly to get to know one another in a meaningful way. Be sure to help them expand their network too.

Remember to document what you learn from each interview. Keeping track of your efforts will help you feel like you’re making progress.  It’s likely to take time to piece together all the components of a successful career move. Unless you’ve been training as a concert pianist since the 2nd grade, and built up 10,000 hours of practice, chances are you’ll be in the research phase for a while.  If you’re typically used to making quick decisions, try to enjoy the process and allow yourself time to dig past the first good idea.  For people that love thinking about options, find someone that will help keep you on track so you don’t get lost in the options — a colleague, a coach, or mentor.

It’s important to remember that your career isn’t limited by your direct experience. Sure, many employers are looking for someone with a perfect fit.  But more and more, smart business people know that skills can be taught.  What matters more is a person’s ability to learning and adapt.  As the senior editor at Inc Magazine, Norm Brodsky says, companies should “hire for attitude not skills.”

Are you truly committed to your own happiness?

On the surface, the question seems ridiculous. Of course we want to be happy.  Why else would we be working so hard at it — trying to find a better job, the right job, or any job.  Why else would we try so hard to improve our lives — we have a long list of what we think we must do in order to be happy.  We’re smart people; we’ve tried so much, in so many ways. On good days, life seems okay. But there aren’t enough of them, even for many of us that wouldn’t call ourselves unhappy.

But are we making any real progress?  What’s keeping us from being happy? We start with good intentions. We lead such full, hectic lives that we’re often overwhelmed — even depressed at times.  It’s difficult to find time to think about what to do differently — or where to start.  Or we know what we want, but changing feels nearly impossible. How will we find time to do one more thing?  Our careers demand a great deal.  Our personal lives are complicated.  So figuring out what could improve our happiness is illusive.

Our expectations are high. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, many of us are extremely frustrated. “We believe that we can do anything and are profoundly disappointed when reality doesn’t meet or even come close to perfection.” To compound the problem, Lyubomirsky states that our independent culture doesn’t provide the support we need to cope with increasing stress and uncertainty. She uses a “happiness continuum,” a scale that ranges from very, very low to very, very high.  Some people that are ranked on the low side minimize success, explaining it away as merely luck or persistence.  Others are more resilient and find support to adapt to even tough challenges.

Learned Optimism author Martin Seligman has been studying optimists and pessimists for 25 years and the theory of “learned helplessness.” He says that:

  • Pessimists believe that bad events are their fault, will last a long time, and undermine everything. They feel helpless (lacking control) and may become depressed.
  • Optimists believe that defeat is merely a temporary setback or a challenge — it doesn’t knock them down. They have a perspective and mindset to move forward.

Fortunately, there is a great deal we can do to overcome pessimism and increase our happiness — even those of us that might not paint ourselves as pessimists but have some tendencies when life gets more challenging. “Pessimism is escapable,” asserts Seligman. Rather than merely adopting “a positive mental attitude,” he provides practical techniques on his website, Authentic Happiness.

Learning new skills help you take action, accomplish more and start feeling better — happier.  Lyubomirsky agrees; she says that 50% of our happiness factor is due to genetics, which we can’t do anything about.  Another 10% is based on circumstances, which come and go.  But a large percentage, 40%, is influenced by what we do and what we think.  This means there is a great deal we can to impact our own happiness. But it isn’t easy.  She cautions, “Aiming for greater happiness is no small endeavor…(it) requires effort and commitment.”

So what does it take for us to change, to actually commit to our own happiness? Let’s start with a little myth busting from FastCo:

What Doesn’t Work

  • Fear doesn’t work — it instills denial.
  • Crisis doesn’t work — perhaps for the same reason fear doesn’t.
  • Facts don’t work — if they don’t match our perceptions, they won’t make sense.
  • Small, gradual change doesn’t work — it takes too long to see results.

What Works

  • Positive visions motivate.
  • Emotional appeals inspire.
  • Radical change to generate quick results.

While Seligman and Lyubomirsky offer proven techniques to help improve your happiness, reading a book about behavior change might not be inspiring enough — or produce quick results. So here’s a tip from that unconventional short-cutter, fast-tracker Tim Ferris (Mr. 4-hour Work Week) who stated in a recent blog: “To learn a skill, I often look — not for the best in the world — but for people who’ve made the greatest progress in the shortest period of time.”

That’s what I’d call a good combination of positive vision and quick results. When changing behavior, momentum matters and milestones matter. Ferris’s blog featured Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, who believes:  “The only way you’ll form long-lasting habits is by…focusing on one habit at a time, one month at a time…focus all your energy on that one habit.” He says changing simple basic habits are the “force multiplier” for long-lasting success.  Here’s his easy, 4-step approach:

  1. Select one habit to focus on this month. Pick whatever you think will have the biggest impact on your life right now.  Example: If stress is your number one issue, choose to exercise.
  2. Write down your plan — state your specific goal for each day.  Example: Exercise 30 minutes every morning at 6:30 a.m.
  3. Select a “trigger” that signals it is time to act. Example: Select “brushing your teeth” as an action that reminds you its time to start exercising.
  4. Post your goal publicly and tell as many people as possible.  Example: Tell all your family and friends or set up a chat group and keep them posted.  (Okay, this idea didn’t appeal to me.  Perhaps Leo would say I wasn’t that committed. For me, I wouldn’t want to bother most people with my daily exercise routine.  But I would select several of close friends to support me and motivate me to succeed — and not let me off the hook!  This helps overcome the lone cowboy mentality and help us get the support we need while we’re trying something new.)

Alternatives to Exercising: Before you get out of bed each morning, journal for 30 minutes.  Every day at noon, take a 30-minute break to unplug and relax.  As soon as dinner is over, take 30 minutes to create art.  As soon as you get home from work, care for your garden for 30 minutes.  Every night at 9:30, meditate for 30-minutes. The key is do it DAILY for a SET amount of time — and focus on fun rather than a chore. (If you hate gardening, then let the weeds grow and focus on something else!).

This routine might not sound like fun, or significant; but I’ll bet doing it everyday produces results!  Persistence isn’t pretty, but the results prove to you that once you set your mind to something you can do it. Once accomplished, you gain confidence in your commitment to yourself; you believe you can make progress on tougher challenges next month, next time.  Success breeds success.

Interestingly enough, this idea of focus matches management guru Peter Drucker’s thinking: “You can only have one number one priority.” “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

Okay, so having one priority sounds ridiculous, impossible. Drucker and Babauta aren’t suggesting that you don’t do other things — only that you seriously focus on just one activity.  Your endless list of projects and responsibilities won’t go away.  But you can take control over something, one thing.

But how do you decide what to do first?

Drucker explains, “It’s so easy to do what’s familiar, comfortable, or fun. It’s so difficult, sometimes, to tackle the highest priority. And sometimes it’s difficult to even know your top priorities. We get lost in options, opportunities, and choices.” “If you can’t establish clear career priorities by yourself, use friends and business acquaintances as a sounding board. They will want to help. Ask them to help you determine your first things and second things. Or seek an outside coach or advisor to help you focus. Because if you don’t know what your first things are, you simply can’t do them first.”

So what’s your focus this month — pick just one thing! Appeal to your emotions; pick one thing that will inspire you.  Pick something that you think will give you quick results. Don’t tackle the most difficult or complicated. Don’t do something too reckless. Don’t use this particular exercise to start searching for your dream job, finding your soul mate, or learning French, not yet.  Start with something fun, that you can do on your own, that will make you feel a bit happier.  No it won’t change everything, but it might just kick-start your enthusiasm — and your commitment to your own happiness.

After all this, I’m inspired to pick my monthly focus.

Now, what about you?  Don’t know where to start? We’ll talk about that next time.

What stimulates innovation more: caring or crisis?

Perhaps that is another proverbial chicken or egg question.  But it is important for us to think about.

As each day of the BP oil spill goes by without any real progress, I wonder how it affects the American psyche.  Is the crisis motivating action or fueling hopelessness? In a recent article, Philippe Cousteau, makes a strong statement: How U.S. responds to spill reflects the soul of this country.

In any tough situation, how we respond matters. Take the financial crisis.  It shook things up for all of us. And it’s continuing to shake things up for businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits.  How do we respond as the uncertainty continues, (Wells Fargo: The Moderate Recovery Continues, but Is It Sustainable?)

To find out how the financial crisis is affecting Health and Human Services Organizations, I attended a conference, United Front: Advancing the Common Good in the New Normal. Here’s what I learned:

  1. More people need more services — caused by the financial crisis.
  2. Significantly less funding is available — from government (state/federal) and foundations.
  3. State and federal budget deficits look bleak for a long time ($55 trillion US federal deficit).
  4. The worst of the recession may be over — but recovery won’t be easy.
  5. Jobs lost won’t be recovered until 2013 — 8.4 million jobs in the US.
  6. Wages fell — significantly — for the first time in 40 years.
  7. Aging boomers will choke the healthcare system with end-of-life expenses.

Gloomy indeed.  Will this stimulate action and innovation? According to economist, Dr. Tom Stinson, that’s precisely what we need to do.  We can’t keep doing the same things the way we’ve always done them — or get by trying to work harder with less.  We need to significantly improve productivity through what Stinson referred to as disruptive innovation.

The good news is that while most people don’t think of themselves as innovators, they do consider themselves to be problem solvers. So think of disruptive innovation as problem solving on steroids — or problem solving with passion.

Apparently disruptive innovation is just what’s needed to reform healthcare according to a Business Week article by disruptive innovation expert Clayton Christensen.  He recommends… “moving the simplest procedures now performed in expensive hospitals to outpatient clinics, retail clinics, and patients’ homes. Costs will drop as more of the tasks performed only by doctors shift to nurses and physicians’ assistants. Hoping that our hospitals and doctors will become cheap won’t make health care more affordable and accessible, but a move toward lower-cost venues and lower-cost caregivers will.”  Conference speaker, Mary Brainerd, President and CEO of Health Partners, is doing that, locating retail clinics in neighborhoods and sharing expensive technology.  Michael Porter, Harvard Business School professor, spoke last week at the World Innovation Foundation conference, where he recommended focusing on increasing healthy outcomes rather than just cost savings.  Others might argue that disruptive innovation in healthcare can only be achieved through improved nutrition, exercise, and alternative healthcare.

Whether you believe in any of these healthcare solutions doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we get more people involved solving problems they truly care about. We can’t leave innovation to just a few people at the top, in a special job, or task group.

How do we foster thoughtful innovation? There are no easy answers.  Taking risks is ever easy — with or without a crisis.  How can you get motivated if you’re worried about making a mistake, being criticized, or losing our job?  It’s hard enough when funding is tight and where new initiatives are rare.  It’s even harder if an innovative idea failed; institutional memory is long where failure is involved.  If you’ve never participated in anything you consider innovative, how do you know where to start? If we care about our work, we need to find ways to motivate ourselves.  We take risks everyday; we just don’t always see it that way.  As management guru Peter F. Druker points out: “People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.  People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”

I suggest that to increase your comfort level and likelihood for success, talk to people who are doing it right now.   Seek out someone who’s willing to support you as you test the waters on your idea.  Find a mentor.  Find ways to gain insights and the confidence you need to be more innovative.

Look for innovative ideas that inspire you. While they might not have anything to do with what you’re doing right now, perhaps you’ll start to think differently.  I’m inspired by the enormity of innovative projects streaming my way everyday.  What appeals to me are practical examples, what people are accomplishing today even while the financial crisis continues. A lot is happening as the lines between business, nonprofits and government agencies are evolving.  The concepts of social enterprise, triple bottom line, and corporate social responsibility are forging new collaborations, new possibilities, and higher expectations.  Here’s a great example: A seemingly unlikely collaboration, Coke and Greenpeace partnered to reduce the beverage company’s biggest carbon footprint caused by 10 million vending machines.

Links to Innovators

Whatever you’re passionate about, I hope you won’t wait for a crisis to motivate you. Innovate because you care — be a proactive problem solver with a passion. And seek out the support you need to help you be more successful when you do.

Kick-start Innovation: Are you looking for a fun, easy way to get people thinking and exploring new ideas?  The Creative Whack Pack is something I’ve been using to help start the conversation for decades.

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