Play The Game

Play The Game

(Source: Flickr)

I recently had a conversation with a friend who is studying a PhD here in Oxford.

She is originally from China, and her intelligence is only exceeded by her work ethic and desire to make her PhD supervisor happy.

She confessed to me with a look a mild despair on her face, “I am making slow progress. I send emails but people don’t respond. I think they are ignoring me.”

Intrigued, I wanted to find out more, and asked a few questions to see what might be the matter.

“Have you called the person?” “No.”

“Have you been to see them in person?” “I spoke to him once, but I almost felt like crying.”

“And what did he say?” “He asked me to provide a detailed plan before I can run the experiment?”

“And have you created the plan?” “No. That’s the strange thing. I haven’t.”

Hmm, I seemed to be getting closer to the heart of the problem.

How could it be that a competent, motivated and well meaning individual (an Oxford student no less) could be stopped dead in her tracks by a seemingly surmountable obstacle?

Some would say that it’s simply a matter of emotional intelligence and having the maturity to deal with people.

That’s certainly part of it, but I think the problem is slightly more interesting and complex than that. In fact, this is not the first time I have experienced this situation. I have actually confronted it myself.

If you come from a culture or a family that has taught you not to assert yourself (which I believe is influencing my friend’s situation), then being assertive in the workplace is likely to be near on impossible, even if you are otherwise quite emotionally intelligent and pretty mature.

If you have a personal belief or way of acting that has been reinforced over time, so much so that you no longer see it as a matter of choice, then how can you possibly overcome it?

How can you overcome something that has become a part of you?

Luckily, as it happens, I believe there is a simple solution.

Role playing.

People seem to have no trouble taking on new and different personas when they believe they are playing a game.  And being at work is just another game. There are rules to follow, goals to achieve, and prizes to be won for good performance.

You may not be assertive by nature. But that needn’t stand in your way. You just need to play the game.

Shifting Time

THE wonderful thing about humans is our ability to move through time and space, without going anywhere at all.

The ability to think about the past allows us to reflect on experiences, our own or those of others, and to learn from them.

Your author used to wonder at length during his high school history classes about the value of studying history. This was perhaps due to the long lists of dates that he was forced to remember, which were meaningless then and have now been permanently forgotten.

History has nothing to do with memorising dates, and instead has everything to do with the experiences of other people, and the lessons we can learn from them. Easier to remember, much more important, but less often taught.

History is a kind of memory that doesn’t die when people do.

This is pretty remarkable, and if our ability to remember and reflect on the past was the extent of our powers then it would probably be amazing enough. But it goes further.

We can also travel forwards in time.

Our ability to imagine the future allows us to think of things that could happen, and act accordingly. If we foresee disaster, we can prepare in advance. If we imagine being the CEO, the market leader in the industry, or the world’s leading CD distributor, then we can set out to achieve it.

But there is a catch (and you might have guess it).

If shifting through time is our super power, our Kryptonite is that we sometimes get stuck there.

Hatred and anger can lead us to constantly replay a past event. Not because we are trying to find the lesson, but because we are simply stuck in time. Stuck in time. Stuck in time.

While getting stuck in the past is counterproductive, it can be even more disasterous to hold on to an impossible future.

Why would anybody do this you ask?

We’re not sure, but it happens all the time. An example from the early Internet days is Napster and the record industry. By its very existence, Napster proved that peer-to-peer file sharing was possible, and not just possible but popular with consumers.

This changed everything.

The future that many firms had imagined evaporated, but many held on to it. In fact, instead of changing their view of the future, many firms launched law suits to try and protect their CD distribution business.

A few years later, Apple launched the iTunes Music Store, and the rest, as they say, is history.

3 Steps for Greater Focus

Accept what you have, visualise what you want, and orient yourself in the right direction

DO you ever feel like ‘success’ eludes you? Like you should be achieving more? Like you’re not making progress with your studies, career, or business?

There are 3 steps you can use to achieve greater focus:

  1. Acceptance: understand where you are now. What are your skills, talents, tools, and resources?
  2. Vision: be crystal clear about what you want. Visualise the future and create a plan for getting there. Find people who have already achieved your goal, or who are further along the path to success. Your journey will be much easier if you can find people who are willing and able to help you navigate the path.
  3. Orientation: ensure you are making progress and heading in the right direction. Consider your lifestyle, friends, habits, and personal priorities. Orient your life so that it is aligned with your goals for the future.

How to Achieve Your Audacious Goals

Hint: taking audacious action is not the answer

THERE are many things worth having. What do you want?  You may want to work for McKinsey, start your own firm, or fly to the moon. Be specific. What exactly is your audacious goal?

If nothing comes to mind, then don’t worry. The reason that most people have never achieved an audacious goal is because they have never set one. The first step to achieving your audacious goals is to set them. To help you think about goal setting, you may want to review the post on Setting SMART Goals.

After you have set your goal, move towards it. Do not be discouraged if your progress is slow, the important thing is to keep moving. A gentle wind that blows consistently in the same direction will eventually disperse storm clouds.  Whereas, a wind that continually changes direction, even a very powerful one, will disperse nothing, only stirring up the sky. In the same way, you need to have perseverance with your goals. High levels of energy and enthusiasm will not compensate for a lack of perseverance with your goals.

Put aggressive or audacious actions to one side. Although it is possible to achieve temporary results by these means, you are likely to block your own progress. When ambitious desires lead you to act improperly, or to aggressively pursue your own interests at the expense of others, then people are likely to react against you, and anyone with the power to help you will be unlikely to do so.

Through gentle perseverance, you can achieve your audacious goals.

Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

Sometimes all you need is a little nudge

ARE you holding off on pursuing a new initiative because you’re in your comfort zone?

Do you have a friend whose potential is obvious but they spend all of their time talking big, partying and generally goofing around?

Sometimes all you need is the smallest nudge to get out of your comfort zone to where the magic happens.

Keep pushing, encourage others, you’re closer than you think.

Set SMART Goals

Whether your goals are personal or professional, setting SMART goals is the first step to actually achieving them

Set SMART Goals

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”
~ Zig Ziglar

1. Background

ALTHOUGH its origins are unclear, SMART goal setting appears to have been first used by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book “The Practice of Management”.

2. Relevance

Where ever you are right now, you most likely have bright dreams for the future. You may want to publish a book, get your dream job in consulting, boost company profits by 50%, or take a much deserved luxury holiday to the Maldives. The future is a bright beacon of hope where your imagination is the limit and anything is possible; but how do you get there?

3. Importance

The only way to make your dreams for the future become a reality is to set clear goals and to achieve them: each day, each month and each year. Whether your goals are personal or professional, setting SMART goals is the first step to actually achieving them.

4. SMART Goals

Your goals should be SMART:

Relevant, and

4.1 Specific

Your goal should be specific. Goals must be clearly defined and describe what will happen in as much detail as possible. Clearly defined goals are helpful because they allow you to focus on taking action rather than trying to define and understand the goal. For example, a goal to “increase company profits” could be replaced by a more specific goal to “increase profits in each division of the company by at least 5% with 12 months.” Vague goals are no good because it is not be possible to measure progress or to know whether the goal has been achieved.

If your goal is specific, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What is the goal? Write the goal down so that you have a record and use action words like “build, organise, complete, create, coordinate, make, develop, plan”. What actions will need to be taken to achieve the goal?
  • Who is involved? Who is responsible for each action that will need to be taken? It may help to write in the active voice, for example “John will organise the web-design…” and not “the web-design will be organised…”
  • Where will this all happen?
  • When will the goal be achieved?
  • How high are you aiming? Be specific. For example, are you aiming for 7% profit growth, or is 4% okay?

4.2 Measurable

Your goal should be measurable so that you can track your progress, hold people accountable for their performance, and so that you know when the goal has been achieved. Make sure that you have established criteria for measuring progress toward the goal. Measuring your progress is important because it will help you stay motivated and on track. If you are behind schedule this would be good to know because it gives you the opportunity to re-double your efforts and make up for lost time.

To determine if your goal is measurable, ask questions such as:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will we know when the goal has been achieved?

4.3 Achievable

Your goal should be achievable with the resources available. Your resources include assets such as cash, real property, equipment, intellectual property, the skills of the people involved, and the time available. If your goal is not achievable with the resources available then you will need to create a sub-goal “get more resources!” and achieve that sub-goal before returning to the primary goal.

Your goal can be ambitious but should also be realistic. If you set the goal too high or too low then the goal will not be meaningful and people will lose motivation.
To determine whether the goal is achievable, ask questions such as:

  • Can we get it done in the proposed timeframe?
  • Do we understand our limitations and constraints?
  • Can we do this with the resources available?
  • Has anyone else done this successfully?
  • Is this possible?

4.4 Relevant

Your goal should be relevant in the sense that it should be consistent with your core values and broader mission. Achieving your goal should move you forwards, not bump you sideways or push you backwards. If your goal is relevant and you are willing to make it a priority then this will help you take ownership of the goal and increase your chances of success.

To determine whether the goal is relevant, ask questions such as:

  • Why is the goal important?
  • Have we achieved similar goals in the past?
  • If the goal is achieved, how will we benefit?
  • Is this a priority?

4.5 Time-Bound

You should set a date by which the goal will be achieved. Setting an end point for the goal will allow you to determine whether you are making good progress. In order to meet a fixed deadline you will need to focus your efforts and work efficiently, there is no time to waste. Go. Hurry.

To determine whether the goal is time-bound, ask questions such as:

  • When will the goal be achieved?
  • Is there a deadline?

[For more information on consulting concepts and frameworks, please download “The Little Blue Consulting Handbook“.]