Friday, July 26, 2013

book review -- Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath

Making decisions – good decisions – is challenging, especially when the stakes are high. Chip and Dan Heath have put together a book that really helps to make the process easier and more likely to produce good results.

Their acronym, WRAP, reminds us of facets of good decision making that often go overlooked.

W: Widen your options
Our thinking is incredibly limited when making an “either-or” decision – do I stay in this relationship or not? Do I take the promotion or not? One of the ways in which to widen your options (and ensure better decision making) is to include at least a third option. The best way to generate that third option is to imagine that your original two options are impossible. (“Ok, so I can’t stay in this relationship, and I can’t get out of it, either. What are my other options?”) This causes us to be creative and not to get stuck in our preconceived, binary notions.

Another idea that helps to widen your options is to find someone else who has already solved your problem. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to go to the Grand Canyon, find someone else who has gone there. (Like me!)

A third point the authors make in this first section is that we approach problems with a “promotion” or “prevention” mindset. The promotion mindset is all about solving problems and seeking positive outcomes, whereas the prevention mindset is all about keeping bad things from happening. Promotion is more freeing, more creative. Prevention is more fear-based, more restrictive. When facing a difficult decision, try to look at it from both angles instead of just one or the other.

R: Reality Test Your Assumptions
Once you’ve got more options (thanks, step one!), it’s worth taking a look at them from some different angles. Zoom in – see what the details of what life with that promotion would look like on a day-to-day basis. And zoom out – get an overview of what would be different if you stayed in that relationship from a big picture perspective.

Another idea the Heaths throw out there is to deliberately make a “mistake.” I do this a lot, especially in dating – going into a situation that I know could be a flop, just to see what happens. 90% of the time, it’s a flop. But every now and then I surprise myself.

And a third idea from this section is one they call “ooching.” It’s kind of a cross between an inch and a scootch, and basically means trying something out in a little way before applying it in a big way. Ooch before you leap. This could mean volunteering or interning in the field you’re considering changing to before getting a graduate degree in it. (I hear this happens a lot with law school. People like the idea of being a lawyer a lot more than the actual practice of it. Working at a law firm can show you what you’re getting yourself into before you acquire years of debt to pay off.)

A: Attain Distance Before Deciding
Short-term emotion is a powerful thing. We see it often in relationships – more easily, however, in others’ than in our own. A friend of mine met a woman a while ago who, when they first met, was The Perfect Woman. She was funny, smart, and could do no wrong. A few months in, however, he found out she was an alcoholic and a cold hearted bitch. So… finding a way to get some distance from the powerful emotion of the moment is very helpful in making effective decisions.

The same holds true for new jobs. The Heaths tell a story about a woman who had a terrific job interview that would create all kinds of wonderful opportunities for her and scratch all the itches her current job was creating. However, after attaining some distance, this woman was able to see that the new job wasn't going to solve all her problems, and would, in fact, create some new ones that were potentially worse than her current ones. How did she decide? She went back to her core values.

Core values are something I talk about a lot with my clients, and I’m glad to see them reflected in a book about decision-making.

A key point the authors make in this section is that we are generally better at giving advice to others than we are at giving it to ourselves, for a variety of reasons (most of which are due to our own biases). If you’re in an emotionally-charged decision spot, a great question to ask yourself is “what would I tell a friend to do now?” Usually that’s pretty good advice.

P: Prepare to be Wrong
One problem most decision-makers face is overconfidence. We don’t expect our decisions to turn out badly, and so once we make a decision, we turn on autopilot and just cruise along. The Heaths recommend creating a tripwire – a condition that will alert us to the failure (or potential failure) of our decision. The example they give in the book is excellent – it’s about David Lee Roth’s insistence on having no brown m&ms backstage.

Back in the day, Van Halen traveled with a lot of equipment and had very complex setups. So they sent ahead a list of things that needed to be done in each venue to make sure that the show would be adequately set up and safe. Buried deep in the middle of that list was a specification that there be no brown m&ms in the dressing room. If David Lee Roth walked into the dressing room and saw brown m&ms, he knew that the venue had not carefully read the list of safety protocols and that the safety team would have to do a thorough walk-through. If there were no brown m&ms, that review could be more cursory. The m&ms became their tripwire.

If you’re facing a decision, what would be your tripwire? If you take that new job in hopes that it will allow you more time with your family, maybe hitting 70 hours a week at work is your tripwire. Identifying it in advance will allow you to go into autopilot without going too far down the wrong road.

There are a ton of great stories in this book, and really useful, directly applicable advice. It’s written in a fun, chatty tone, and has a decent sense of humor for a book about decision-making.

From the book: “Being decisive is itself a choice. Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right, but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret. Our decisions will never be perfect, but they can be better. Bolder. Wiser. The right process can steer us toward the right choice.”

You can read more about the book here, and register on their website to get all kinds of helpful resources, like a book group study guide or a copy of the first chapter (so you can ooch your way into it).

Monday, July 22, 2013

are rolls and funks self-perpetuating?

I'm in a lucky spot right now:  I'm on a roll.  My job is great, my clients are amazing, and things in my social/dating life are going well.  I feel like I'm putting good vibes out there and the universe is responding with gusto by introducing me to interesting people and giving me good learning experiences.  It's pretty awesome.

This morning, though, I talked to a friend who is in the opposite spot.  She's in a funk.  (And it may just be a bad enough funk to be a phunk.  Or, perhaps the ever-dreaded pfunk.)  She's worried about where her life is going and how she's going to get there.  She's gone down a rabbit hole of doubt and fear, and is worried that not only will the pfunk remain, but maybe the judging voices in her head are right.

From the outside, I can see absolutely nothing wrong with my friend's life right now -- she's just facing some professional challenges and feeling some fear.  But it got me thinking:  what's the difference between where she is (pfunk) and where I am (roll)?  I think it's all about perspective.  I think my life is going well and it feels like the universe is rewarding me with this roll.  She thinks her life isn't going well, and the universe feels like it's rewarding her with a pfunk.

I'm not trying to say that we create our own realities (though I may be kindasortakinda implying that), but on the extreme edges (funks/rolls) I've personally experienced a strong mind-reality connection.  When I want to see crap, I can always find it.  And when all I'm seeing is good, life is sweet.

The challenge for me (and for many people, I think) is that it's hard to flip the switch from funk to roll.  It's kind of a chicken and egg scenario -- at this point, the outside world has to give me some indication that I'm doing well before I can feel like I'm on a roll.  What I'm hoping I might be able to get to is the opposite -- that by thinking I'm on a roll I can start to get out of a funk.

It's a matter of faith in myself and my abilities despite what I'm seeing in the outside world.  And at the moment, that feels like a big stretch.  But I'm willing to take my roll and see just how long I can get it to last.  And maybe that's the first step.

Monday, July 15, 2013

the relationship with your boss

(I write some articles for work, and this is borrowed and/or adapted from one of them. Enjoy!)

Every relationship has its challenges, and the relationship with your boss is no different. You have the power – and the responsibility – to make it the best relationship you can.

Any time there are two people working together, there are all kinds of opportunities to see things differently. Your boss may think you’re not skilled enough for a task you believe yourself to be. Your boss may have opinions about how you should dress or behave that you think he/she should keep private. Or your boss may prefer meeting in person when you think an email will suffice.

The good news is that taking responsibility in relationships means acknowledging that the only person you can change is you. Sure, your boss may do or say things that drive you crazy, but you can’t change him or her, and trying will only frustrate you! You don’t have to love your boss – you don’t even have to like him or her very much. But you do have to do your part.

This is where the basics from stress management come in. Apply the 3A’s – alter the situation, avoid the situation, or accept the situation and alter your response to it.

First is altering – what can you change in the world around you so that your boss’s behavior doesn't impact you so much? If your boss thinks you’re not skilled enough for a task, for example, can you alter the way you demonstrate your skills? Provide a weekly recap of all the things you did that prove you’re up for the task.

Second is avoiding – how can you reduce your exposure to the things that drive you crazy? This does not mean avoiding your boss completely! But it does mean that if the conversation finds its way to your boss’s opinions about your personal life, you can adeptly steer it in another direction. You don’t avoid your boss, you avoid the topics that cause the most stress.

And third is accepting the situation and altering your response to it – what do you need to think or do differently so that your boss’s behavior doesn't make you nuts? If your boss prefers meeting when an email will suffice, accept that there are going to be times you’ll have to spend an extra ten or twenty minutes when you’d rather be doing something else. If you change your expectations from “why doesn't she just email?” to “she prefers meeting, I can live with it” you may find yourself feeling less stressed about the relationship.

This last principle is the most important in avoiding stress in general, and I can see it all the time on the subway. When there are delays, you can’t alter the circumstances. (Unless, of course, you know how to drive a train.) You can’t avoid the situation; you’re smack in the middle of it. And so all you can do is accept the situation and alter your response to it. Instead of thinking (or, perhaps vocalizing, as New Yorkers tend to do) that this train needs to move or I’m going to be really late, you can accept that you’ll be stuck here for a minute or two and you can use the time to start thinking about what you’ll need to do next to mitigate the impacts of the delay.

I heard a great quote which covers this fairly well: if you can do something about it, why worry? And if you can’t do something about it, why worry?

All of this ties back to your responsibility to the relationship with your boss – or with anyone. Are you taking care of you? Are you bringing your best self to the relationship? Or are you blaming it all on your boss and hoping that, magically, he or she will a) know what exactly needs to change, and b) be able to do it?

Monday, July 8, 2013

building your self-run business

A few weeks ago, I went to a presentation by Joanne Killmeyer, a professional executive coach, about things you can do to build your coaching business.  I was asked by the group (ASTD -- the American Society for Training & Development) to write it up for their blog, and I did.

You can see it here.  If you run your own business (or want to), there are some good ideas to be had.