Perfectionism

#NOW: A book review

There is a small sliver of time in which everything happens. It’s that narrow bridge between the past and the future called “now”. Now is the only space of time any of us has. Not what was, not what will be, simply now. Every action happens in the now. We can have hope or anxiety about what will be, fondness or depression about what was, but we experience life right now.

What we did yesterday determined where we are today and what we do today creates the path to the tomorrow. Imagine a Venn diagram with two overlapping rings (or just look at the image of the book cover). The one on the left is the past, the right is the future, and the overlapping middle represents Now. Hold on to that image – it’s about to become important.

Behavioral strategist Max McKeown, Ph.D. has written several notable books on innovation, strategy, adaptability, and operating at our potential. It’s no secret I am a big fan of his writing style and ability to apply academic rigor to complex subjects while making them easy to understand and actionable.  Simply put, I was very excited to receive a review copy of his latest book: #NOW: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now.

#NOW is a fairly quick read yet thorough and well documented. It pulled me in and carried me along, yet is substantial enough to warrant considerable time thinking about each page and sentence. When I first received the book, I initially meant to read the intro and flip through a few pages, but the next thing I knew, a couple of hours had passed and the pages were filled with sticky flags, highlighter marks, and handwritten notes.

“This book argues that for most people, most of the time, it is better to lean towards action rather than inaction… This is a book about the joy of moving. It is a book about motivation, because motivation means to be moved.” ~ from the introduction

#NOW explores the world from the perspectives of two types of people: Nowists and Thenists. The book is not a critique of the Thenist approach, nor is it a self-indulgent dissertation on the author’s approach to life and how everyone should be like him (gag). Instead, it’s an exploration of the two perspectives, the benefits of the Nowist approach, and how any of us can bring more of being a Nowist into our own lives. More than just a book of fluffy, happy platitudes, the concepts are demonstrated through real life examples, case studies, and research.

“The past is what you can’t change. The future is what you can change. #NOW is where everything changes.” ~ from the introduction

So what is a Nowist? They are change hungry doers who thrive on moving forward. They know what they are moving towards, embrace uncertainty, expect good things to happen, use internal measures of happiness, revel in potential, test themselves, and seek to master new skills. Think back to the Venn diagram I mentioned. Nowists build off the past while moving to the future.

Nowists precrastinate (think about that for a bit) and love to keep things rolling forward. They are active within their own lives and “believe that done is better than perfect.” Dave Grohl of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters summed this approach up well when he once said, “I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be bad ass.” He was talking about making authentic music where the unique human imperfections are a strength, but the philosophy applies to living life.

There is an old motocross racing adage that sums up an important part of the Nowist approach: When in doubt, gas it! A healthy dose of throttle does not help in every situation, but it’s amazing how often it will be the saving grace that settles things down and propels you through when the track gets ugly or you lose control. Similarly, the Nowist approach values impulsiveness. Not the reckless, thoughtless, kneejerk impulsiveness of an immature teenager, but the functional impulsivity that comes from analyzing and deciding quickly and then moving forward with full commitment, correcting as you go.

Nowists strive to make decisions that are both accurate and fast. They realize that more time spent on a decision doesn’t necessarily improve accuracy, that moving forward with a good enough decision is better than getting trapped in inaction trying to make a perfect decision. So often, we treat speed and accuracy as mutually exclusive even though they clearly aren’t. It’s just as possible to make a quick, accurate decision as it is to spend a lot of time coming to the wrong decision. Why spend more time than necessary identifying and moving forward with the right solution? Further, action enables us to evaluate and refine our decisions as we go. Movement gives us information that can never be gained from inaction.

“Get moving. Accomplish something small. Do something you enjoy. Embrace what moves you. And start again.” – p. 48

Except… well, often easier said than done. Slow can feel prudent (even when it isn’t) and fast can feel reckless (even when it isn’t). Adding complexity can feel smart (even when it isn’t) and simplifying can feel lazy (even when it isn’t). Overanalyzing and overcomplicating seems like high effort and hard, valuable work (but only when we value the perception of struggle over actual results).

If you’re not a natural born Nowist, how do you make the switch? Newton’s First Law of Motion tells us a body at rest stays at rest unless acted upon. Habits and mindet hold us in place. How do you let go of the inertia of inaction?

Although the Nowist approach is contrasted with Thenist, it’s not either or. No matter where we are currently on the spectrum, we can all shift and adopt a more Nowist approach. We can start using the behaviors and mindset and create the joy of possibility and action and creating new in our lives.

Across and throughout 230 pages, #NOW provides the ideas, actions, and tools to make the shift. I fear my summary of the Nowist approach sounds a bit idealist and esoteric. The book is very focused on the practical application of the research behind the ideas.

For me, #NOW provided a fresh perspective on important ideas and served as a much needed reminder and inspiration to keep moving forward, to emphasize action as much as analysis, and seek joy in the process.

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check the box and move on

checkboxThe other day I heard someone say, “It’s better to do the right thing poorly than the wrong thing well.” This made me stop. Do something poorly? Blasphemy! Yet…

So many of the things we measure in business (and in life) make no distinction on whether our actions are focused on the right or the wrong things. Only: 1) whether or not we’ve accomplished them; and 2) how well we accomplished them.

Check the box and move on. Don’t bother to consider whether the actions helped or hurt, moved us forward or held us back. Focus on quality, not usefulness. Check the box and move on regardless of whether there was a different action – a better action – we could have taken.

Check, check, check.

People ask us how our day was. We say, “Busy.” We don’t say, “Productive” or “Effective” or “It was bumpy but we’ve made some good strides in the right direction.”

It makes me wonder how much time we spend focused on doing the wrong thing well. Measuring whether something is done is so much easier than measuring if it was right or the best thing to do. So we don’t worry about it.

Nope. Just check the damn box and move on.

presenting and playing bigger

Would you do it again?

I had just finished my second presentation in two days. In a rare moment of down time at the recent Illinois State SHRM Conference (#ILSHRM13), my friend and fellow presenter Doug Shaw (@dougshaw1) was asking if I’d ever again pitch two brand new presentations for one conference.

Sitting there with both presentations finished, I was in a bit of a post-event daze. The past several weeks had been a huge push by me and my co-presenter to have both presentations ready. In truth, they’d been ready to go weeks before but I couldn’t get happy with them and kept making significant changes right up until it was time to present. That perfectionist streak plus personal issues, work issues, and an ever-present desire to play bigger took their toll and left me drained. Even though I was extremely pleased with the participants’ responses, energy, and feedback, my initial thought was, “No, it’s too much effort.” But I know better. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and I’d relish the challenge. The tiredness I was feeling was the good exhaustion that comes from giving your all.

Most of my inspiration as a presenter comes from athletes and musicians. Both fields require tremendous mental and physical preparation. There is a Hollywood myth that the truly talented just show up and are naturally great because of their heart and desire. Reality plays out different. Legendary motorcycle racer Bob Hannah once said something to the effect of: “On race day it doesn’t matter who wants to win more. Everyone wants to win. What matters is who wanted to win most six months ago.” Results go to those who gutted out the prep work and practice far away from the glitz and glory.

Several months ago I had the chance to see the Swedish metal band Sabaton and I wrote a bit about the show in rock and roll presentation skills. They are a relatively unknown in the US but big enough to play at and headline festivals in Europe. They’ve performed to audiences of thousands and thousands, yet I saw them in a large bar with maybe 100 or so attending. Rather than being discouraged or thinking it was beneath them, they played like it was the most important show in their careers. Dripping sweat three songs in, there was an enthusiastic, bombastic joy to their playing and an amazing connection with the audience. Big crowd, small crowd, it didn’t matter, they held nothing back. Since then, that performance has been my inspiration when I’m preparing to speak.

I love presenting. Love as in I want to be among the best, yet I’m so far from it that the gap hurts. Love as in it is painful to not yet be able to write and deliver the presentations I see in my mind – I know the beauty of where it could be and I see where it is and get frustrated at the space between the two. Love as in I’m perpetually on an emotional pendulum swinging between the cockiness of thinking I’m pretty good at it and the despair of thinking I’ll never be good enough. Love as in I enjoy that pain, frustration, and heartbreak because I know it’s pushing me to be better.

Although I’ve been a facilitator for years and lead classes in six countries, I’d never really spoken much at conferences. Facilitating and presenting are similar, but different and this has been an amazing year so far. Huge thanks and appreciation to the folks at Louisiana SHRM, Illinois SHRM, Voice of the Customer (VoC) Fusion, and Central Texas HR Management Association for the opportunities to speak, share ideas, learn, and be a part of moving HR and business forward.

I’m excited for the opportunities 2014 will bring. My co-presenter and I both have day jobs so our participation is voluntary and has to be balanced against all of our regular responsibilities. But that’s no reason not to play bigger. In my dream world, we will return to all the conferences above plus some, do a keynote or two, and speak outside the States.

But enough about me. What’s your love? What are you needing, wanting, desiring to do that you may never get paid for doing, yet tickles at your brain? What pushes, drives, burns, torments, and taunts you to be better and play bigger?

good enough vs good enough isn’t

If the 80/20 Rule holds up, 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Seems accurate enough. Getting something to 80% good takes much less time than the final 20%. And that final bit can easily take 80% of the total time spent.

Take the 80/20 Rule to heart and two distinct philosophies emerge:

1. Get it to good enough and move on. Focus on getting things to 80%. It’s good enough and frees up a tremendous amount of time, allowing you to get more done. Get it rolling and correct as you go. This gets to the heart of the idea that imperfect action beats perfect inaction. However, there is a fine line between “good enough” and “not good enough”. End up on the wrong side of that line and you’re sunk because you’d have been better off not doing it at all than spending just enough time and effort to make it useless, incorrect, or wrong.

2. Good enough isn’t. Cranking out mediocrity more and faster is hardly a win because it’s the final 20% that really sets your product or service apart. The risk is that the final 20% causes delays, isn’t valued by the end user, or prevents focusing on higher priority work.

Of course, real life isn’t either/or simple. Sometimes good enough is good enough. Sometimes good enough isn’t. The trick is knowing the difference.

What thinks you?

success secret? (not really)

There are all sorts of books and blogs about the “Secrets of $uccess”. Sadly, they tend to overcomplicate things or make it sound like success is outside the reach of most people, or attainable only through the authors 10 step program. Yet, as I look around, one thing that really sets people apart in their careers (and lives) is an insistence on doing things right. Very few set out to do things wrong, but most seem to strive to do “just kinda ok enough” (that’s a technical term). The number of people striving to do things right is so small that they immediately stand out. Be that person.

To be clear… Right isn’t a moral term. Right doesn’t mean perfect. Right isn’t “my way”. Right is not a generational issue. Right has nothing to do with position in the organization.

Doing things right means:

  • Holding yourself to a higher standard. It’s making decisions and taking actions with the intention of exceed the standards given versus doing just enough to not get fired.
  • Correcting things as soon as you notice they are incorrect or below standard. Mistakes happen, things get overlooked, and sometimes it just doesn’t work out like you expected. That’s a given to living on planet Earth. The bigger question is do you fix it?
  • Making decisions. There is such a difference in outcomes between making a conscious decision based on understanding and weighing the pros and cons of a situation and a “decision” made by not doing anything until it’s too late. It’s one thing to intentionally choose to do something at a bare minimum standard because you decide to focus your time and energy on higher priority items and quite another when do something at a bare minimum standard because you’re lazy or simply don’t care.
  • Accepting (embracing) responsibility for your outcomes. People striving to do things right rarely get caught up in playing the victim, blaming others, or using convenient or glib excuses. This rarely works in the long term and often does nothing more than damage your reputation.
  • Asking questions, seeking feedback, and finding ways to improve.

In short, “right” is simply caring about the outcome. There’s no secret to it. Nothing mystical, esoteric, or complicated. No system or program. Just caring.

Ken Blanchard said it so well: “There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.

i don’t want to be perfect

Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame says it best: “I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be badass.” Love it.

Perfection is a trap. Perfection prevents doing. Perfection removes the human uniqueness that makes things memorable, wonderful, and worth seeking out. Perfection, ironically, makes things unremarkable.

Badass brings the noise, static, and rough edges. It turns the humanity up rather than muting it away. It’s excellence enhanced by the individual thumbprint. When we do perfect, it all looks the same. Badass allows my excellence and your excellence to look completely different and both be desirable and worthy. Where perfection slows, badass accelerates; where perfection is a shield to hide behind, badass thrusts us forward into the fray; where perfection is an excuse, badass is a catalyst.

Steve Jobs famously said: “Real artists ship.” Imperfect action beats perfect inaction. I can stall out over perfection or I can deliver my own unique excellence.

It’s a tougher choice than it sounds.

What thinks you?

fair warning

“To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful.” ~ Carl Jung

“Anybody who courts the mainstream deserves everything they get.” ~ Hugh MacLeod

flashback friday: quick thought on perfection

Imperfect action will beat perfect inaction any day of the week. It’s easy to get caught up in planning every detail perfectly and not moving forward until everything is meticulously thought through. And if you fall for that trap, you’ll get crushed by someone who was able to immediately execute a pretty good plan.

[this was originally posted on June 16, 2011]

flashback friday: good enough isn’t, but great enough is

[This was originally posted on October 14, 2011]

I’m a big believer in the concept that good enough isn’t. Hitting the bare minimums isn’t success, it’s temporary survival. Sadly, most companies seem to struggle to reach even the level of good enough. They shoot for good enough customer service, good enough prices, good enough hiring policies, good enough management development, good enough training, etc. The problem is that, at the very theoretical best, it will only be good enough. In the real world, a bunch of attempts at good enough added together tends to equal not good enough. Aiming for “good enough” seems to get us to “doesn’t completely suck”.

In fact, I’d like to propose a real world rating scale. Feel free to use it for performance appraisals, evaluating processes, due diligence for investments, whatever you need a rating scale for. Here it is:

  1. Sucks
  2. Doesn’t completely suck
  3. Good enough
  4. Great enough
  5. Phenomenal, but exceeds the point of diminishing returns
On this scale, there is only one rating worth hitting: “Great enough.” Although “Phenomenal” sounds like a good thing, there comes a point in any quality improvement where the costs/effort/resources required for additional improvement become an exponential curve while improvements move along a very flat linear curve. In other words, you’re spending tons of resources for ounces of improvement. This is perfectionism getting in it’s own way.
But, “great enough”… Getting to great enough requires a completely different set of questions, decisions, actions than it takes to be merely good enough. Consider this: getting your life to good enough is easy. You’re probably already there. But what would having a great enough life look like and what would it take to get it there?
How freakin’ cool would it be to work for a company that focused on doing everything great enough? How incredible would it be to know that all your efforts at work were consistently great enough? Who wouldn’t sing the praises of a company that only hired people who were great enough?
I’ll give you tonight to mull it over. Tomorrow morning, what are you going to do to start kicking butt and creating great enough relationships with your friends and family? What are you going to do to create great enough health? To start getting your finances into great enough shape? Come Monday morning, what are you going to do to take your team to great enough? If you’re in HR, what are you going to do to create great enough selection and onboarding processes? To help the managers you serve to become great enough leaders? To create a great enough company culture?
Great enough. Love it!