If You Want To Change, You Have To Change

Each day I come up with a lesson learned in life and I share it. Here is today’s lesson.

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We fear change. I know I certainly do anyway. When something seems to be working (an old family tradition, a standardized training program, a ritual for good luck, a habit, etc.) we tend to cling to it, even when it has lost its effectiveness.

Smokers, for example, want to quit smoking, but do not want to change their habits. I would like to lose weight but I don’t want to change what or how or when I eat. Companies want better results but don’t want to change the way they train or communicate with people. It is natural to fear what is different. “Different” means “unpredictable”.

The problem is, if you do not change anything, then nothing will change.

We can not expect better results from old habits. It is true, sometimes we might falter, or even fail, but the difference between accepting “different” is that change brings knowledge, and knowledge brings enlightenment. When you embrace doing things differently, even your failures become foundations for learning how to succeed.

In other words, if you want to change, then you have to change.

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Are We Disconnected?

I’m afraid we have created a fear of being fearless.

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“Hi,” the chat screen flashed on my phone, “How are you?”. The name of the sender was not familiar. I debated whether to respond. There was no context for the message, it was not from someone I know, and it was a vaguely worded but assuming a familiar tone–the marks of spam or possibly a virus or attempt at identity theft through a chat-bot, etc. On the other hand, I have a public blog and I am sometimes contacted by strangers (some have even become my friends). Or, perhaps this was a friend of a friend, or even an acquaintance I had met but whose name I did not recognize.

I chose not to respond, figuring if it was someone who really wanted to reach me, they would follow-up with another message explaining why they were contacting me or who they were. No other message followed.

After thinking about it, I realized my reluctance to respond was out of fear and that made me sad. Thanks to ubiquitous technology, media hype, unscrupulous marketing tactics, and a few legitimately bad people (out of six billion), we each live in a bubble. We are, each of us, essentially carrying a sign that says, “Strangers are not welcome here,” during a time when we can freely communicate with almost anyone in the world.

When someone approaches us in public, our immediate reaction is to seek safety. “Identify yourself!” our body language and eyes demand, “Friend or foe?” On the internet, it is the same. Every conversation, it seems, invites a troll or two. Yet, even though the trollers are far fewer than the engagers, many great conversations that would normally invite diversity and discussion either do not happen or are abruptly ended. I decided to turn comments off for my blog a long time ago, in favor of inviting commenters to interact with me and my core audience directly via email, FaceBook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc… places where it is harder to hide behind anonymity and spew hate or irrationality.

I am not saying caution is bad, by the way (after all, I never responded to the stranger myself), but maybe a little less caution and fear would not be too bad, either.

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Lead And Learn

Today’s Lesson: Be brave.

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The opposite of bravery is cowardice, not fear. A coward feels fear and shrinks into herself, hiding from the monster in the closet.

It takes bravado for her to stand up in spite of her fear, to face the monster and say, “I am terrified of you but I will not cower from you. Maybe I will live to regret it, but I will live, even if only long enough for you to have to face me just as I have to face you.”

Now, who is braver?

When you stand up to your fear, regardless of the outcome, you force Fear to acknowledge it is no more than a bully. Then, it has to choose to either cower or fight. The thing a bully fears most is a fight. Bullying, and fear, rely on us to choose cowardice over bravery.

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Why We Resist Having a Better Life

Today’s Lesson: Change is supposed to be scary.

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Whether it is acknowledging we need to lose 10 pounds or being on the receiving end of a family intervention and hearing loved ones tell us we have an abuse problem, or just adopting a new strategy at work, everyone resists doing things we know we must do to effect change.

Even when changing something is clearly for the better, we run from personal growth before we embrace it.

It seems crazy, even counter-intuitive, yet smokers struggle to quit smoking, dieters rarely stick with diets, alcoholics fall off the wagon, and there is always someone in the meeting who thinks everything is a bad idea without having a better one to offer.

The surprising thing is, if you think about it, our resistance to changing our lives is totally understandable. Even with a small change like losing weight, our first and immediate reaction is to resist, as it should be. Think of how dangerous change was to a person’s life up until the last 100 years or so.

Trying to lose weight was crazy in a world where food was scarce and not eating when you had the chance might have been tantamount to you skipping your last meal. You could not be sure if your hunt would be successful today or if the fruit tree you found yesterday was going to be picked over by other animals or tribes today.

Venturing out of your cave home into new territory meant uncertainty about where or when you might next find food, shelter, or safety. Of course, staying in one place indefinitely also increased your chances of perishing. The longer you stayed in place, the more likely you were to be found by a neighboring tribe also fighting for resources and the more likely you were to leave clues of your whereabouts to other would-be predators.

Albeit reluctantly, our ancestors embraced change and eventually moved on, traveled, explored, and sought out novel experiences, but never before being overly cautious at first. Just as today, we resisted change at first but eventually accepted the necessity of change.

The next time you catch yourself reacting to doing something new or different with initial resistance (or the next time someone reacts to your suggestion of change with initial fear), remember it is normal. Just as we jump when we catch something moving in the corner of our vision and then calm down and smile when we realize it was our reflection in a mirror, it is expected that we react to change.

The important thing is, after the initial fear, to properly evaluate the potential good and bad of any change and then take appropriate action.

It is okay to fear change at first. Just be sure to remember it is a natural reaction and it is both okay to feel fear and okay to let it go.

 

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Food Boobs

I’m thinking about changing my blog title from simply my name to “Sexy Celebrity Who Knows Everything You Can’t Figure Out For Yourself”. What do you think?

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If you are at all interested in the debate over healthy eating, then you have probably heard of the “Food Babe“.

She is the latest in a long line of conspiracy theorists and uninformed non-scientific critics trying to lambaste vaguely identified corporate entities.

(If you do not know where to point a finger when it comes to food, just say “Monsanto” in an accusing way and you will sound like an informed advocate on the side of would-be underdogs who believe they are defending food… because they saw some documentaries. As we know, that’s pretty much the same as becoming an actual scientist and Hollywood can always be trusted.)

The problem I have with people like Vani Hari (the “Food Babe”), Dave Asprey (“Bulletproof Coffee” and now also the “Bulletproof Diet”), and Loren Cordain (“Paleo Diet“) is they prey on fear. They exploit the ignorance of others and spread bad information to create panic for profit.

Here is the real deal. I have been vegan and studying the food debate for more than a decade and I can tell you, unequivocally, there are no good answers, no easy answers, and no shortcuts to health. Genetically Modified Food has never been proven unsafe or less nutritious in any rigorous scientific study, whether you choose to eat it or not (I choose not, usually, but not because I pretend to understand the intricacies of the science and agendas on either side of the debate). The base of corporate conspiracies falls apart at the doorstep of any company. Monsanto is comprised of normal working people, just like you and I, paid to do their jobs, just like you and I. No one I have ever met goes to work at any company with the intention of destroying the world. It is, on its face, ludicrous.

Just consider the base logic of nearly all of the anti-food / pro-fear arguments. They advocate eating like we did centuries ago. They say if we go back to eating the way we did more than a hundred years ago, then we will live longer and be healthier. The only problem is, just a hundred years ago our lifespans were shorter, our access to food was more limited, and our understanding of how food works was a hundred years behind today’s knowledge. Would you drive a hundred year old car and expect it to run better, faster, and with fewer emissions than one made today? Food has advanced and improved like nearly everything else. It is not a singular exception to society’s movement forward.

Farmers have always selected for the best food genes, cross-breeding and splicing plants to create better breeds, since the dawn of agriculture. Genetically Modified Food used to just be called “food”. We likely would find the corn our ancestors consumed virtually inedible. Through generations of selection, we now have sweet corn that can be eaten plain and is delicious!

The worst part with conspiracy celebrities like the Food Babe is, they are smart. Vani Hari understands marketing and social media. She has a degree in computer science. She may have good intentions, too, but well-meaning charlatans are still charlatans.

Again, the Food Babe has a computer science degree, not a food science degree, not a degree in nutrition, not even a Chemistry degree. She (and people like her) rely on gullible sycophants to support them, not on their earned credibility in the field they are advocating for or against. These predators are becoming increasingly easy to spot, too, and I encourage you to consider a simple fact before buying into their scare tactics… Associated with all their “miracle cures”, “breakthrough” diets, and generous sharing of information is always, inevitably, a product, service, or subscription they want you to buy.

Shockingly, the Food Babe has a book (and a second one on the way) that she wants you to buy, so she can keep working from home and paying for travel and the costs of maintaining fame and celebrity by finding an ever-increasing (and ever-profitable) audience to fund new panic-invoking articles, interviews, media events, and “research”. The Food Babe relies on two essential things to make a living: her boobs and your fear (she was not given the moniker “Food Babe” by her audience–she gave it to herself).

Actually learning the science of food, studying peer-reviewed literature, and talking to actual scientists who are actually informed does not help her pocketbook or her agenda. Talking to Good Morning America, staying in the news, and finding a way to reach Oprah’s audience does.

It saddens and frustrates me when people, trying to make good decisions, are held captive by sensational marketers, fear-mongering, and exploitation of their own ignorance. No one has the time to study every facet of food production, food science, or even to learn how to discern the hype from the known facts. Sadly, it is at our own peril if we do not start making the time to learn how to think and make decisions on more than a recommendation from a celebrity.

Today’s lesson: Marketers are too good at manipulation now and, for better or worse, your brain is the main tool you have to navigate ethics, morality, and Reality. Do not rely on blogs (not even mine), television, social media, or celebrities to do your thinking or live your life for you. Raise your sleeves and get to work finding out how to think skeptically, how to trace information to its sources, or just how to understand the basics of living a logical life. Be in the driver’s seat of your life. Don’t let these idiots get behind the wheel.

 

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Time To Die, Part 1 (of 5)

In all likelihood, everyone reading this blog will die, including me… but that might be a good thing.

 

Despite what we see in the media, I think the human race is greatly, almost romantically, optimistic, perhaps to a fault. Every great invention I can think of came at great potential peril. The airplane–can you imagine the optimism it took for the first pilot to test the first jet airliner? “You want me to try to fly fifty tons of metal 20,000 feet in the air and you say the engineers over there say it should work? Sure, what the heck. I’ll give it a go…”

How optimistic did Neil Armstrong have to be in having faith that some crazy idea of sending a ship to the moon would work? Even the internet itself–what kind of cautious optimism was required for the risk of opening up the world’s knowledge to anyone?

We move forward at the risk of death all the time. Driving. Taking the elevator. Living by the ocean. Walking across a bridge. Swimming in the ocean.

What I wonder is, does death make us optimistic?

It seems like a contradiction but I wonder if knowing we will eventually pass away helps us appreciate the time we have. Could it be that we take risks to enjoy life more (going bungee jumping, for example) because we know how fleeting life is? It is, perhaps, our way of reminding ourselves how precious our time here is.

 

Today’s lesson: it is obvious we do not live our lives in fear (not even the most “fearful” of us). Knowing now that you are actually fearless and that you might die at any given moment, the question is: how will you live the rest of your life?

 

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Today’s Lesson: Old Rules Don’t Apply [140904]

With the advent of the internet, social media, crowd-sourcing, and mobile technology, there are more innovative ways to do business now than slow-moving regulators can keep up with.

It is both humorous and frustrating to watch traditionalists resist change. New York City, once known as the hub of business and innovation, now fights new ideas like Airbnb, a service that enables you to travel the world by letting strangers rent spare rooms or couches to would-be jet-setters. The same is true for Lyft and Uber–two services that allow people to rent their cars when not in use. EatWith, another popular service that links up foodies with meals so authentic they are cooked at the chef’s house, is also facing pushback from state regulators.

How do we know the meals are safe (how do you know they are safe at a restaurant…and if your answer is “regulation”, then how do you explain the many cases of food poisoning?)? How do we know people won’t rent rooms for prostitution or to sell drugs (what stops them now?)?

The old rules don’t apply anymore and regulators need to step out-of-the-way or learn to move with innovation and technology instead of trying to stifle it. Being afraid of change is natural and understandable but letting fear cripple you is not healthy. Business is no longer big, bulky, and easy to control. It’s micro-sized and nimble now. It’s Etsy, Pinterest, Kickstarter, and Bitcoin. It is simultaneously local and global, it is a connection economy, and it is growing no matter what.

So today’s lesson is: the way we do business is changing fast. How can we leverage the tools and power of technology, social media, and crowdsourcing to make our lives better and our businesses profitable for the foreseeable future?

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Today The Lesson I Learned Is… Why Your Company Is Broken (140721)

What would sales at your company look like if your employees had no fear of making the wrong decision? If they knew no matter what you would have their back and if they made a judgment, they were covered, even if it was a bad one? Do you suppose they would feel more confident in going after sales, or less?

How would your team’s culture be affected if you empower every employee to resolve a customer’s issue with a discretionary, no-questions-asked, $100 a week budget (or $200, or $500)? If you can solve a customer issue with less than $100, then just do it. Would that result in more or fewer customers and sales? How would your employees feel about being able to solve a problem at the drop of a hat without seeking approval, filling out and submitting a form, or calling a over-stressed department head?

What if your employees didn’t worry that their jobs are on the line if they do not sell X number of widgets, but only if they do not excel at customer retention or provide incredible training for every customer that buys a widget? Do you think that would help them sell more widgets anyway?

Have you noticed that when you raise a goal, then employees work to meet it but stop just about wherever you set the goal post? Then you raise it again and they work to meet it again (but stop just about there)? Then again, and again… Employees do not excel too far beyond goals. Wouldn’t it be great if you never had to raise goals and employees simply always do their best?

I think one reason employees do not breeze past goals is because there are goals–there is an artificial limit right there in front of them. There is a big sign that says, “If you do this, then that’s good enough for now, but don’t try too hard; we are just going to raise it again anyway.” Worse, having goals also means there are repercussions for not meeting goals.

What I have learned is that fear is intrinsic and always implied in most workplaces. It permeates the culture and gums up the wheels of success instead of greasing them. Fear is a funny thing; it works in both directions, driving you forward (like running from a bear) and driving you backward (like recoiling from a spider).

Setting a goal with either implicit or explicit pressure to reach it (whether spoken aloud or not, the “or else…” is always implied) will drive your team forward (because they don’t want to lose their jobs). It will also will drive them backward (because they know the reward for reaching the goal is only that it will be raised again and they will have to hit a higher goal–this always pays diminishing returns for them).

Companies (or teams), I think, are broken by fear. The trick is to remove the fear by removing what employees are afraid of. What if you freed them up to delight both themselves and their customers in ways never covered in the employee handbook or duties and responsibilities document? What if your company looked like the first 3 paragraphs of this post instead of the last 3 paragraphs?

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Today The Lesson I Learned Is… How To Run A Business (140719)

I was listening to an episode of the James Altucher show and he shared a story about the sitcom Arrested Development. It turns out that show was so successful that it won six Emmy awards and is generally considered one of the best comedy shows of all time (I missed it; I have never seen an episode but will check it out!). Yet, it was canceled after only three seasons.

As James tells it, the show’s success, and the success of most of HBO’s current shows comes from a unique approach to creating these shows: intense focus on the talent. All of the actors on Arrested Development, for example, were professional comedians and the writers wrote for the talent rather than for the executives at Fox who produced the show. Because of this choice, there was a running joke that the head writer never really moved into his office. He was certain the show would be canceled after every episode.

Finally, he was right, but the important part of the story is why Fox canceled the show. For the most part, the producers left everyone on the show to do whatever they wanted during the first season. After Arrested Development won its first Emmy, however, the executives at Fox stepped in to “fix” one of the best shows on television. You see, after all the accolades and attention, there were suddenly conversations that centered around the idea that “now that people are watching, let’s be sure we are not doing anything to mess this up, no more experimenting or taking chances; it’s too important now.”

The show quickly fell apart and only lasted another season and a half (until it was picked up by Netflix several years later for a fourth season). How do you “fix” a show that is already winning awards and gaining an audience? The people in charge thought the smartest thing to do was to take a show receiving incredible critical acclaim and strip it of everything that was making it work…

The bottom line is this: if you want to run a successful company (or team, or project, or anything), then here is how you do it:

Hire talented people and give them whatever they want.

The failure of companies, teams, and projects begins when we forget why we hire people in the first place: to make it better. When we remove trust and barricade talent in policies and traditions, we take away their ability to do the thing we tasked them to do.

How many times have you or your company failed to meet goals because you failed to allow the talent to be talented? How many ideas were rejected this year (or never brought to the table) because of fear of rejection, retaliation, or refusal to try something new? The irony, of course, is nearly every company touts the need to embrace change, revel in ambiguity, and leverage innovation to create success. Of course, reality looks about as far from the truth as the Cowardly Lion looks from Superman.

One more hat tip to James Altucher for the poignant advice: If you want to be successful, then hire talented people and let them run. Give them whatever they want. Free and trust your most talented players to be talented and see what kind of crazy, magical, and yes, even scary, things start to happen.

 

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