The Alluring Aroma of Freshly Baked Pie Cooling on the Windowsill

Remember back to when you were a kid (for some of you, that’s waay back, so I’m sorry for taxing your memory like that, but I appreciate all the wisdom you bring. Too much?). In some cartoons, there was the common TV trope of a pie resting on a windowsill to cool off. Naturally, one of the characters would walk past said pie and… well, they just couldn’t resist. Hilarity ensued.

In the cartoon, it’s imperative for there to be a pie there cooling off, otherwise, no “hilarity would ensue.” But what about in real life. What about in your life? What about in your organization’s life? Are there pies sitting on the windowsill that might be better to cool off – at a minimum – on a windowsill not within arm’s reach of the sidewalk?

Motivation and incentives are the wheels that move life. I’m thirsty, so I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water. My organization needs an IT expert, so we publish an open competition for an IT specialist. Even with this motivation to do things one way, often times, there’s something in the path that prevents us from getting there. Maybe on my way to the kitchen, I pass by a bottle of ‘cola’ next to an empty cup. Being as though that I’m thirsty, I decide to abort my mission to go to the kitchen for water and instead, drink the pop. (Pop is healthy, isn’t it?) Maybe as my company was looking for an IT expert, someone’s sister was an IT expert, so we just hired her instead. (Nepotism isn’t so bad, is it?)

These examples might seem overly simplistic, so let’s spice it up.

Managers in the federal government perform a yeoman’s task of balancing the needs of directors (i.e. newly minted EX’s who almost certainly want to show their new superiors that they didn’t make the wrong choice in selecting them out of the pool) and the needs of all the people below them (which, depending on the department, can be as few as a handful or as many as a baseball team). The director tells the manager that they need 25 products by the end of the week (because that’s what the client has been promised), so the manager then turns to the team and says, “I need 25 products by Thursday,” even if the team is still recovering from the 25 products from last week.

No matter how good intentioned that manager is, pressure will mount and cause the manager to push the team harder to get the 25 products completed (up to and including, rewriting some or all of the products to ensure that the director thinks the products satisfactory). The scent of the pie on the windowsill is just too strong – the manager needs the products completed, welfare of the team be darned.

How many of you can relate to this example?

I’ve only been in the government a few years, but I’ve come across more people than I’d like to admit who have recounted facsimiles of that very same story. So what can we do?

Well, for starters – MOVE THE DANG PIE!

Sorry about my yelling there. Incentives are a touchy subject for me.

In the cartoon example, it’s really easy to see what’s wrong. The baker/chef should have put the pie somewhere else to cool off. Things start to get a little more complicated when we think about the incentives (intended or unintended) of bureaucracy. I’m of the mind that despite something appearing as though it’s not working, there were probably honest reasons as to why it was made that way in the first place. At the same time, those reasons may have been overtaken by events, so let’s get to work on redesigning things.

So, managers have pressures from above and from below. The pressures from above are tangible (i.e. 25 products by Friday) and the pressures from below are intangible (i.e. my team is overworked and stressed). [NOTE: you could probably argue health as a tangible pressure, but let’s just go with it as intangible for now, shall we?] If we could wave our magic wand and relieve some of the pressures for the manager, I’m sure that would be just lovely. Maybe now, the manager only needs to spit out 10 products a week and they’re able to give their team a break every 3 weeks (i.e. no products due this week – you deserve it, team!). Great. Now we’ve solved this manager’s problems. But what about that newly minted director who still needs to impress his superiors? They’re still looking for 15 more products than what they’re getting. Who’s going to step up?

Anytime you start messing around with incentives at one level of a complex system, it’s going to have a cascading effect on the rest of the system. The bureaucracy that is the Government of Canada is the very definition of a complex system. If we change the incentives for one manager under one director in one team, how will that change affect the system? What if we wanted to alleviate pressure on the director’s boss? How will that have an effect on the boss’s boss? And what about the boss’s boss’s boss? And the Minister? And the Prime Minister? And maybe more importantly, Canadians!?

I got a little carried away there, but the point still stands. We need to do a better job at noticing the pies on the windowsills before we fall prey to them. The first step in any process of change is always awareness. What are some of the ‘pies on the windowsill’ in your area?

This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

Silence Isn’t Golden: Everyone Thinks You Should Speak

matthias-wagner-QrqeusbpFMM-unsplash.jpgYou’re sitting in the weekly management meeting and the senior person at the table is running through the agenda at a fevered pace. Decisions are being made, left, right, and center, and you can barely keep up with what’s going on. Wondering if you’re alone, you look around the table and it seems that most of your colleagues are following along splendidly. All of their body language indicates that they know what’s going on and are in agreement. As you didn’t have time to read the accompanying materials, you think that it’s probably just you.

How many times have you found yourself here? Watching something happen and assuming that you’re the only one that disagrees with the way things are going.

Hopefully, not too often, but my guess is that 100% of the people reading this have, either: a) found themselves in this scenario, or b) know someone who’s found themselves in this scenario. OK, OK – 99% of you.

As it happens, there’s a name for this – pluralistic ignorance. Huh? Yeah, it’s a bit heavy on the jargon – both in its name and often times, its description. In fact, there’s even disagreement from academics about how to describe it. That’s why it’s often best to explain the phenomenon through examples. There’s the one I shared in the opening, but let’s be honest, that was only a few sentences and you probably spaced out reading it [are you back?].

OK. Here’s a quick video example of one I’ve come across that usually helps crystalize the concept for folks.

The video shows a few minutes of Prof. Dan Ariely’s class at Duke. It’s only about 4 minutes, so go ahead and give it a quick watch (I’ll wait).

Seriously, g’head and watch it. [Note: it’s a Vimeo link, so many apologies to any of you unable to watch it because of a firewall/blocked IT.]


Pretty cool, eh? Now, I bet some of you might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, but I would have spoken up and asked the professor what the heck he was talking about.” Sure, maybe you think you would have or maybe you actually would have. The point here is that most people don’t or won’t. This post is supposed to be about change management, after all, so let’s bring it home with something a bit more on-point for all of you.

If you’re reading this, you probably have some experience in change management. Whether you’re a seasoned executive who’s led through countless mergers and acquisitions or a student who’s recently joined the team and are finding yourself super-bored (i.e. you’re on GCconnex/GCcollab reading whatever you can get your hands on), you’ve come into contact with change management. Yes, you have. Depending upon where you are in your career, your examples might be more personal (hello Generation Z!) or professional (hello seasoned executives).

So how does this relate to pluralistic ignorance? Remember that example I shared in the beginning where you found yourself at the decision-making table, but you weren’t quite sure what the heck was going on? That’s exactly the kind of meeting that might happen before a major change. Everyone appears to be in agreement with what’s being said. However, what’s really happening is that most people aren’t in agreement with what’s going on, but think that everyone else is in agreement with what’s going on, so they bite their tongue. Then what happens? Well, then, your group becomes a statistic. And not a good one.

Do you want to become a statistic? Do you want to continue to perpetuate the terrible idea that any change in an organization is doomed to fail more than half the time? I sure as heck don’t. So what can we do? Well, we can speak up. We can       prove ‘pluralistic ignorance’ wrong by raising our hand in the management meeting. We can speak up when we don’t understand what’s happening or don’t believe we’re headed in the right direction or think that our decisions aren’t based on foundational data.

This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

Have You Ever Wanted to Talk to Yourself in the Past?

harli-marten-M9jrKDXOQoU-unsplash.jpgMost of what I’ve written about in the last few months has focused on change management from a macro-perspective, which is completely natural given my inclination to try and change the “whole” of the system, rather than one piece of it. However, today I’d like to focus on the micro-perspective of change management – the individual.

In 1959, a geologist put a message in a bottle and buried it in the Arctic. The note and a companion note nearby explained that they were buried a specific distance to the edge of a nearby glacier. The note(s) then asked the person who found them to measure the current distance to the glacier and then mail that information to researchers at Ohio State University.

The notes weren’t found until… 50+ years after written. [Spoiler, but not really a spoiler: the glacier had retreated over 200 feet in that timespan.]

There have been so many technological advances since 1959, so we don’t necessarily need to look to put our memories on paper and bury them in a time capsule to be opened 60 years from now. Instead, we have tools that have reduced the legwork (to essentially zero) allowing you to use the very same device on which you’re reading this to write yourself a letter and have it sent to you on a date of your choosing. Pardon?

Have you ever wanted to send yourself an email weeks or months into the future? Well, as it happens, you now can à

The interface is relatively simple. You begin writing yourself a letter and then you can choose when you want it to be sent to you. They prompt the user with 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years, but you can also choose the specific date (so if you want 2 weeks, 6 months, 18 months, etc.). Then, you decide whether you want to keep your letter private or release it to the public (anonymously). Lastly, you enter your email address, press send, and reap the benefits of knowing that you ‘put something out into the universe’ that you’ll be receiving at a later date.

There’s a lot of potential uses for this kind of a service, but I’m going to focus on the micro. As a person reading this, there’s a good chance that you have (at least one) goal for yourself. These goals probably involve some degree of change, most notably, within you. Maybe you want to learn how to code in Python. Maybe you want to learn how to be better with budgets. Maybe you want to expand your network.

Beyond the surefire way to make change (cue, reward, routine), it also helps to hold yourself accountable for that change. To aid in helping you make progress in this regard, you could send yourself a letter at some of the different times into the future. Maybe at the 4-week mark, your email to yourself details some of the reasons why you’re trying to make the change (and to maybe re-motivate you?). Maybe at the 6-month mark, the email talks about all the things you think you’ll be doing with this newfound skill/ability. When you see the 6-month email, you might have fallen short of where you thought you’d be, or maybe you’ll be on a different track altogether.

This exercise can be aspirational, but it can also be semi-reflective. Meaning, maybe you want to put your thoughts down “now,” but be able to review those thoughts 10 weeks from now. For instance, have you ever made a decision and then many weeks later, wondered what it was you were thinking when you made that decision? This tool gives you that opportunity to bare your soul (to yourself) and here’s the important part – without any confirmation or hindsight bias!

So, take a chance and give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Write your (future) self a letter.

This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

Ohh, You Betta Recognize!

mark-adriane-muS2RraYRuQ-unsplash.jpgThe other day I was feeling particularly spry. There was a jump in my step and I went about my day with great jubilance. You could argue for any number of things that contributed to this feeling, but in reflecting back on it, I’d argue strongly that there was a direct link to my being recognized. Recognized you say? Yes, recognized.

What does it mean to be recognized. Well, for one, it means that you’re doing good work (which is always a good thing). Two, it means that someone saw you doing the good work. And most importantly, three, that someone saw fit to tell you (or someone else) about the good work that they saw you doing.

It sounds so simple when I lay it out like that, but I know it won’t surprise any of you when I saw that following through on recognition is a lot harder than it seems. Reviewing the proverbial ‘tape’ shows that, according to public servants, there’s still a lot left to be desired when it comes to recognition for a job well done (since 2011, 2 out of every 5 public servants feel like they don’t receive meaningful recognition for a job well done).

So – what can we do to fix this (aside from the obvious, i.e. recognize them!)?

Well, it turns out that recognition isn’t as simple as all that. There’s more to it than simply “going through the motions.” I expect you probably already knew that, so let’s get right to it.

Frequency. How often do you think recognition should happen? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? Yearly? How about… bi-weekly! It might sound trite, but you might find it useful to keep a ‘scorecard’ of recognition (say, within an Excel file?), so that you can be sure that you’re making the proverbial rounds.

Organizational values. So, if you’re praising folks bi-weekly, what are you praising them for, exactly? Well, one school of thought would have the praise be directly tied into the organization’s values (i.e. culture). This is the perfect way to perpetuate the behaviours within the organization that one wants to see.

Matching. This is one of my pet peeves. Many years ago when I was a resident assistant, it was common for my resident director to hand out ‘recognition’ in the form of gift cards to a local restaurant – no matter what it was that we were doing in our jobs. We might have prevented one of our residents from committing dying by suicide or we could have made sure all of our residents had passed their “clean room check” – we still got that gift card. Ironically, this recognition sometimes had the opposite effect – it was demotivating. If you’re doling out recognition, make sure the recognition matches what’s being recognized.

Personalize. Maybe more importantly than matching is ensuring that recognition is personalized to the individual. Meaning, maybe some folks would eat up the gift cards for the local eatery (pun intended!). Maybe other folks just want to have a simple “thank you.” Other folks might thrive on being lauded for their achievements in a public setting. The point is that it’s incumbent upon you to figure out what it is your employees want when it comes to recognition, so that when it comes time to recognize them, you do so in a way that encourages them to continue doing things worthy of recognition.

EDIT: Big thank you to @Darlene.Marion for catching the language slip up re: “dying by suicide.”

This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

Making Decisions Under Pressure: Return to Equanimity

cynthia-magana-GMLNhaBkCiE-unsplashI spend quite a bit of time in the car commuting to and fro. As a way of maximizing my use of time, I’m almost always listening to a podcast. These podcasts are on my phone and I prefer to have my headphones in (one headphone, if you must know). Since I use my headphones with such regularity, I always put them in the same place (so I’ll know where to find them when I want them). They’re in a central location in the house, but not in a place where one of the kids can grab them and move them. [Can you guess where this is going yet?]

In getting ready to go this morning, thing were going right on cue. I slipped on my shoes, buckled in one of the kids in the back, and was about to start the engine, until I realized… my headphones!? They’re not in the car. Assuming I must have just overlooked them from their place this morning, I doubled-back and… they weren’t there! Great Scott! OK. Don’t panic, I thought.

I used them on the weekend. Maybe I must have taken them off somewhere and forgot to put them back. I checked the closet, the laundry room, my office, my wife’s office, but no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find them. My wife’s car, the closet again, my wife’s office again, inside drawers, in the pantry, the kitchen counter, the living room, one of the kid’s rooms, the bookshelf… I mowed the lawn this weekend! That must be where they are, near the riding mower. Nope, not near the riding mower. Checked the laundry room again, checked the office again, checked the kitchen again…

While all of this is going on, I’ve got one of the kids buckled into a carseat in the car. In the past, they’ve not been a fan of being in the car, buckled in, by themselves, so I’m starting to feel pretty stressed throughout this process. And doubling-back to the same spot and not finding the headphones isn’t doing anything positive for my stress, either. Where are they!?

Did I mention that I was on my way to drop off one of my kids at camp and I have a thing about being punctual (not to mention, it’ll give the kid more time to play with their friends!). Have you seen my headphones, please help!?

After a few more circuits of checking all the same places, (maybe magically, they’ll be in the spot I’ve already checked!?), I acquiesce. I give up. I’m not going to find them. They’re gone to eternity. No more head phones. Dejected, I return to the car and begin the drive into town.

As you might expect, my mind wasn’t ready to give up, or at least part of it wasn’t ready to give up. What the heck was I doing yesterday with my headphones? I replayed Friday and I replayed Saturday. All the images I could already come up with when I was racing around the house. I could see where I put the headphones in those scenarios. I began replaying Sunday (mowing the lawn), yup, I knew where the headphones were and checked. Errands in town. Yup, I checked those spots, too. And then…

Of course! I remembered. Sunday afternoon was a bit anomalous in that I had run errands and then picked up one of the kids to take them home for a nap. They were overdue for a nap. So, when we get home, I didn’t empty the car like I normally would. I took in the fridge/freezer stuff and then took the kid upstairs ASAP to get them to sleep. When I came back downstairs, I hurriedly emptied the car because I wanted to use the time during the nap to begin setting up my course for the Fall semester (it starts next week — eep!).

In my haste doing that (i.e. I took too much stuff in in one trip), I shoved my headphones into my pocket and when I finished putting stuff away in the kitchen, I hurriedly changed my clothes and headed for the office. Because my mind was so focused on getting a jumpstart on the course, I wasn’t thinking about emptying my pockets (as it happens, my debit card was in one of the pockets, too!).

So, why am I sharing this story that I’m sure everyone can relate to?

In that time where I was racing around the house, checking all the same locations, I had an ‘artificial’ deadline. I was meant to already be on my way driving. This time pressure was, no doubt, affecting my ability to be still for a few minutes, and properly recount my steps from the previous day. Remember, in the car on the way into town, my mind did just this. So, why didn’t I do it before?

Well, I was too focused on all the negative outcomes. I’m not gonna be able to listen to my podcasts. I’m not going to be able to insulate myself from sound at work or the coffee shop. I’m going to fall behind on my podcasts. I won’t be able to practice French. I’m going to have to buy new headphones! Negative, negative, negative. While all of those things might have been true. I didn’t give myself the space to use my faculties. I didn’t give myself the time to possibly be right. To find the positive outcome. I was so keyed in on all the bad things.

And that’s why the subtitle of today’s post is “return to equanimity.” When it’s time to make a decision, even a low-impact decision, if you don’t return to a state of balance, a state of neutrality, a state of equanimity — you run the risk of making poor decisions even if the right decision is right there under the surface!

Top-Down, Bottom-Up, Over Sideways and Under

In case you hadn’t noticed, culture change is top of mind seemingly everywhere. The Auditor General of Canada had some, oh, shall we say harsh (?), words last week [Emphasis Added]:

“…little has been said about the culture that fosters incomprehensible failures.”

There were rather hearty discussions on GCconnex and on Twitter and those were just the bits I came across online. I’m sure there are many others I missed, not to mention the discussions around the proverbial water coolers and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make its way onto a couple of agendas for meetings in the last few days. The proverbial “what’s” and “so what’s” appear to have been answered. The question that remains, however – now what?

Well, now, presumably, we change the culture, right? Easy peasy. I’ll just plug in “culture change” to the old Google machine and… *gasps* 1.5 billion results. So, culture change is a big deal, eh? Yes, yes it is.


If you know anything about culture change you know that there’s more than one way to do it and even if you didn’t know before reading this sentence, we can all be pretty sure of that fact based (in part) on the 1.5 billion results from Google. Some think you should adhere to strict principles. Some think that it requires a movement (rather than a mandate). And others still, think you shouldn’t even mention culture change when trying to do just that.

Given the amorphous nature of culture, my experience teaching management for the last several years, and reading a lot (!) about the anecdotal successes and failures of change initiatives, I’m inclined to think that there isn’t one way to do it. Rather, a kitchen-sink approach can be most successful. What do I mean by that? Top-down, bottom-up, over sideways and under!

Some folks advocate that culture change has to cascade down from the top of an organization. Yes, that’s true. But it’s also false. If we just have the C-suite (er, DM and ADMs) trying to push the culture change, it’s likely to fall flat. So, what about the bottom-up approach. Sure, that’s a wonderful idea. Except, the decision-makers still “hold the power,” so if we can’t get them onboard the culture train, the change is doomed to fail. I’ve also seem some folks advocate for the middle-out approach, which, admittedly, is somewhat new to me – I haven’t seen much research in this domain.

I almost feel sheepish falling back on my management consulting laurels, but the change initiatives that I’ve seen be the most successful contain elements of the “four building blocks of change” (from McKinsey):

The key here is that it’s not just a top-down or bottom-up approach. Instead, the system – the incentives! – are changing. Of course, it’s not just the system. There still needs to be a showcase element (i.e. demonstrating to folks how we’re meant to behave) and an educational component (i.e. explaining to folks what the new culture looks like and how we’re meant to behave). Naturally, both of these fall to the wayside if folks don’t understand what’s being asked of them and more importantly, if congruence is absent. There needs to be a clear line of sight and understanding of the “why” we’re doing things a certain way. This inspirational piece can, theoretically, even help people to inspire themselves!

This whole discussion reminds me of what should be the northern star in all our actions as public servants – serving Canadians. Can you say that what you’ve done so far today has been in the service of Canadians?

PS: Yes, like my last post, there’s a hat tip in the title of the post. Anyone catch the subtle aspiration there? wink


This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

Have You Had Your Culture Change Today?

In 2008, the “neighbourhood coffee shop” closed its doors across the US at precisely 5:30p for three hours to retrain its employees on everything from the sound the milk should make when it’s being heated to the particulars of the colour of espresso shots. Fast-forward ten years and the “neighbourhood coffee shop” is at it again, but for much different reasons this time. While there is lots to be said about what happened earlier this year that motivated Starbucks to take action (and what should/could happen next), I’m more interested in the approach employed by Starbucks of closing its doors, in an effort to get all of its employees to ‘swim in the same direction.’

The cynic in me screams that this is more likely a PR stunt than it is an effort to shift the culture, especially when considering that Starbucks stands to lose approximately $20 million in sales by closing its doors for the afternoon (out of $14 billion in sales annually). But, when was the last time Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, or Tim Hortons closed its doors for the same purpose? I think we can all agree that Starbucks has done pretty well since it first employed this tactic of closing its doors for training in the winter of 2008 (FYI – stock price in February 2008, approximately $8, stock price in February 2012; approximately $22; stock price in February 2016, approximately $56).

While we, as public servants, don’t measure value in the same way as a publicly traded corporation like Starbucks, the question still remains: is there a takeaway in there for the Public Service?

Every year, each of us attend all-staffs at varying levels – branch, directorate, division, etc. Depending upon the size of the department/agency, some may even be lucky (?) enough to attend an event for which the intended purpose is to gather the entire department/agency. [Side note: can you imagine trying to get all the folks who work at the CRA, DND, or ESDC, each with greater than 20,000 employees across Canada, in the same place at the same time? I don’t advise attempting to calculate the cost of those meetings via @Sean.Boots‘ meeting cost calculator.] These all-staff meetings are supposed to (emphasis on supposed to) bring the various parts of the organization together to realign and refocus itself on a shared purpose. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t work.


I wonder… if you suspend your disbelief for a moment, can you imagine what it would be like if the Public Service were to “close its doors” for a few hours from coast-to-coast-to-coast in a similar fashion to what Starbucks has done (and is about to do again)? What if the Public Service were, proverbially, “shutdown” for two or three hours in the afternoon (Eastern Time, to accommodate the west coast folks, too!)? What would it be like to be part of something so clearly bigger than ourselves? What do you think the message of the Clerk might be to shift the culture within the Public Service? Would that message filter on down through the DM’s (etc.) and have an impact on the way you operate on a day-to-day basis? Maybe more importantly, can you imagine a world where this serves as enough of a jolt to arrest the machinery from moving forward in a way that continues to leave 35% (!) of public servants wondering what the vision, mission, or goals of its department/agency are… annually since 2011!?

PS: For those with a keen eye, yes, the title of this post was meant to be an ode to the McDonald’s ad from the 1990’s – “have you had your break today?”


This post originally appeared on GCconnex/GCcollab.

Success Is Not Always What You See

bd1698xrbdf31Contrary to our hopes and wishes, success does not happen overnight. I repeat, success does not happen overnight. Now, when someone hits it big, when something successful happens for someone else, it might appear that they’re an “overnight” sensation. It might appear that they went to bed one day and woke up the next with fame and fortune. Disagree.

You weren’t with them in the days, weeks, months, and often times, years, that preceded that one moment where it appeared that success came for them all at once. You weren’t with them during the dozen times that they were ready to give up. Those times where it was just too hard and they wanted to pack it in. And you most certainly weren’t there when they decided, through their own will or encouragement from someone else, to remain steadfast. To keep going. To key in on their goal and maintain its course, regardless of how many times they get knocked down along the way.

No, success doesn’t happen overnight.

It happens from putting the work in everyday. It happens from persisting. It happens from dedication. How do you build a house? One brick at a time. How do you walk from Vancouver to Toronto? One step at a time. How do you write a book? One page at a time.


Today’s image and title really drive home this point. Success, and the act of being successful — it’s not always visible. In fact, often times, it’s not. It reminds me of a similar analogy I heard many years ago along these same lines.

Let’s say you want a beautiful organic garden. You want fruits and vegetables to flourish and give you a bounty. The idea of being able to stroll down to your garden and pick fresh raspberries or strawberries in the summer or harvest the delicious carrots or green beans in the fall — yum! For this lovely picture to come to life, you’ve got to plant the seeds when it’s time. Plant the seeds in the spring when the soil is ripe. In your excitement for the vision of fresh carrots, would you dig into the ground a week after planting to see how the carrots are doing? NO! You absolutely wouldn’t do that. You’d continue to tend to the garden in the way that you know — watering, weeding, etc. The “what” of what’s happening underneath the surface is the byproduct of the hardwork you put in at the beginning to get the garden started and all the hardwork that you’ve continued to do along the way.

Your “success” is in that initial push to start a new habit. Your success is in buying the gym membership and committing to go everyday for the next month and then following through on that commitment. Your success is the initial push to start a website and then committing to write something every workday. Your success is in downloading Duolingo and then committing to practice a new language everyday for the next month. And then committing to continue learning that same language the next month. And the next month. Until you’ve strung together 6 months and all of a sudden, you’re finding it easier and easier to come up with words in your new language.

Success only appears to happen overnight. Success truly happens in that initial burst of energy to start something — that initial burst to do something — followed by the perseverance to remain steadfast.

NOTE: Title and image courtesy of Reddit.

Switchbacks Get You Up The Steepest Mountains

tanner-larson-rgmUbg4VsqE-unsplashNow isn’t that a quote!? I heard this the other day listening to Alie Ward’s 100th episode of Ologies. In just about every episode, Alie will interview an expert about their “ologie.” Just to give you an idea, here’s a smattering of relatively recent ologies:

  • Saurology (Lizards)
  • Acarology (Ticks)
  • Mycology (Mushrooms)
  • Scorpiology (Scorpions)
  • Astrobioliogy (Aliens)
  • Ludology (Video games)

Pretty cool, eh?

Anywho, in Alie’s most recent episode, she wanted to be a bit more celebratory, given that it was her 100th, so she riffed a bit on motivation. And in that riff came this golden quote: “Switchbacks Get You Up the Steepest Mountains.” In the context of what she was saying, she discussed some of the lessons she’d learned from the ologist’s that she’d interviewed — just about all of them had no qualms about diving head first into their profession. Diving head first into trying. Diving head first into trying.

She lamented about her struggle in starting the podcast — she had the first episode in the can for 9 months (!) before releasing. The things we do are never going to be perfect. We’ll always be getting better. We’ll always be iterating. We’ll always be perfecting. Never perfect. Always perfecting.

For some folks (okay, many?) there can be a paralyzing fear about starting. A paralyzing fear about hitting send. A paralyzing fear about publishing. A paralyzing fear about putting yourself out there. Unfortunately, until we put ourselves out there, until we’re “off the deep end,” we won’t know what we’re capable of. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You — yes you! — could be the next Picasso (er, or, famous artist, in case you’re not a fan of his story). But if you never let anyone see your paintings, how can you get from you to Picasso-level fame?

Maybe you don’t want fame. Maybe you’re happy living as a recluse. I don’t buy it. I don’t think that’s true. We all yearn for human contact and human connection. The “recluses” among us are those who’ve been hurt the most. They’ve been taught, through their upbringing or interactions, that it’s not safe to venture out. That when they venture out, they get hurt. And that makes me sad. It makes me sad that humans, because of their own pain and suffering, lash out and bring pain and suffering to other humans.


Switchbacks Get You Up the Steepest Mountains.” Venturing out, dipping your toe in the pool, taking that first baby step… Is it going to be on the “right” path — no, almost certainly not. Does it matter — heck no! It’s the act of taking the step. It’s the act of venturing forward. It’s the act of becoming a person who takes steps. It’s the act of becoming a person who recognizes that there’s a vulnerability in putting yourself out there and does it anyway because they know that the rewards are far greater than the perceived — perceived! — losses.

When you steel yourself and take that first step, is it going to be “up” the mountain? Is it going to be straight up the mountain? No, it won’t be. Because getting from here to there rarely ever happens in a straight line. Instead, you’ll start out on the path and get to a point where you realize, “Oh, I need to be going this way, now,” and then you’ll turn on your heel and up the switchback you’ll go. While it might seem like you’re backtracking, after a few minutes, as you gaze ‘down’ the mountain, you’ll see that you’ve ascended quite a bit by moving through these switchbacks. By moving through your life and venturing out. By moving through your life and putting yourself out there. By taking calculated (and sometimes not calculated) risks.

It’s the switchbacks that get you up the steepest mountains.

Quick Thoughts: Recess, Change Management, and the Frequency Illusion

markus-spiske-uVrpmz1ATVg-unsplash.jpgI only have time for a quick (er, quicker than usual) post this afternoon, so I thought I’d riff on a few things that I’ve been thinking about recently.

Recess (Let The Kids Play!): Did you see this tweet from Adam Grant the other day?

I love it. Love it. It makes me think about Waldorf education in how there’s a big emphasis on playing, rather than learning. That is, kids, at a very early age, aren’t meant to be chained to a desk. Sitting still for a 6-year old is crazy-making for the teacher and for the child. So why do we do it? Well, there’s lots of reasons why we do it, but none of those reasons are present-day reasons. That is, countries aren’t fighting the same wars they were fighting when those rules and processes were put in place. [NOTE: I know, we could quibble over the ‘same-ness’ of some of the wars that are still happening today, so let’s just put a pin in that for a later date.] The long and short of it is that we don’t need to ‘churn’ out students in the same way we used to. Great! So, then what?

Well, then, theoretically, we’d all sit down and decide what it is we want out of education for our children. We’d decide what outcomes it is that we’re gearing towards and we’d rework the education system to support those outcomes. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t end up with the exact same system we have, though I’d be very surprised if that were the case. My point is that we’ve just kept on keeping on, such that we’re stuck in this inertial loop of doing the same thing in the same ways that we’ve always done it. It reminds me of what I wrote earlier this week about there being no elected officials who’s sole job it is to represent the ‘future.’ We wouldn’t ever get a person like that unless we took some time to review our political systems to determine whether they’re meeting our needs.

Change Management: I had a conversation earlier today that reminded me of the importance of change management (change leadership?). If we’re going to be instituting large-scale change, we need to bring our people along. We need to engage them early, engage them often. Let them know what it is we’re doing, why we’re doing it, how they can stay involved, and how they can contribute. We’ve got to inspire them, we’ve got to inform them, we’ve got to engage them, and by golly, we’ve got to empower them.

Frequency Illusion: Another conversation today reminded me of the frequency illusion and after a quick search, I realized that I didn’t write about it when I wrote that series on cognitive biases several years ago. Quick example — let’s say you buy a new Toyota. A few days after you buy it, you start noticing that everyone has a Toyota, too. As it happens, your noticing of everyone having a Toyota has more to do with the fact that you just bought a Toyota. Meaning, there were just as many Toyota’s on the road when you bought it as there were before you bought it.