Thursday Sep 25, 2014

Leadership, Reflection, and 34GB a Day

Information is flying at us throughout the day. A few years back, a report from University of California, San Diego estimated that an individual consumes 34 gigabytes of information each day. Further, human knowledge tends to double about every 13 months, with IBM estimating that the build out of the ‘internet of things’ will cause human knowledge to double every 12 hours. It’s no wonder that we feel stressed!

Last week I read an article titled “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Love to Write.” The article stated that writing allows a person to focus on moving forward rather than “obsessing unhealthily” over something that has happened.

Writing allows a person to pull together disparate pieces of information and make sense of them. With writing, you have the time to connect information, see patterns, and notice those things that get lost in the daily bustle. As you do this, you’re creating more complex mental models that allow you to make more connections, and, ultimately, potentially better decisions – about yourself, your work, your team, your leadership.

So what does this have to do with leadership?

Research tells us that a leader’s health and a leader’s ability to reflect are crucial to his or her success. Too often, however, leaders don’t take time for either. We don’t have time to get to the gym. We need to make just one more critical decision. It will hold until tomorrow. But, it won’t hold until tomorrow. As a leader, you owe it to yourself and your team to invest in your health and in the practice of reflection.

One line in the article I read stood out for me – “even blogging or journaling is enough to see results.” Think about it. If you spend 5-10 minutes a day simply writing about your leadership practice, you are exploring higher levels of cognitive thinking; you are opening yourself up to more innovative ideas; you are giving yourself the opportunity to learn new things about yourself and how you learn; and you are potentially lowering your level of stress and your blood pressure.

Right now, you might be thinking “Yea, I buy into it. But I don’t know where to start.” Guess what? I have five simple steps that will help you start a practice of reflection:

  1. Pick your tool. Use a blog (published or not), a journaling app on your tablet (there are some good ones for free), or even a cool notebook that you picked up when shopping back-to-school supplies with your kids. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as it works for you.
  2. Select your time. Maybe first thing in the morning at your desk, or in the evening before you go home. Perhaps it’s on the weekend when you’re the only person awake at your house. Aim for twice a week (or more if you want), but figure out your best times and stick to it.
  3. Add it to your calendar. Yes, you are busy, but adding it to your calendar makes it a commitment that you’re more likely to honor.
  4. Write. You might be telling yourself that you don’t know what to write about. Try some of these ideas:
    • What went incredibly well last week? Which of your leadership skills contributed to this success?
    • What was the worst thing that happened last week? What leadership skills could you cultivate to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
    • Thinking about a particular approach to a problem? Write about the opposing view to your approach. It might open up new ideas.
    • As a leader, what risks have you taken lately? How did they turn out? What did you learn about yourself by taking the risk?
    • What are the specific gifts and talents that you bring to a leadership role? How do you show or share those gifts and talents with your team and/or colleagues?
    • If you were the hero in your own action movie, what would happen in your movie? Do you the skills and/or knowledge to make that happen? Where might you improve?
    • What have you learned in the past 48 hours that you can apply to your leadership role? Why would it be important to do so?
    • What will your leadership role look like in 10 years? Why do you think this?
    • What leadership advice would your future self give to your current self? What leadership advice would your current self give your past self?
    • Try drawing out your problem. Create a visual representation to see if there are pieces of the problem that you’re not really seeing.
  5. Read what you wrote. You don’t have to share what you wrote with anyone, but you should periodically review what you wrote. Look for any new ideas, overarching themes or consistent issues. This will give you additional ideas to explore in future reflections.

Remember that this is purely for you and your development. Try to commit to a three-month trial, and I guarantee that you’ll be smarter at the end of those three months. How can I be sure? Because at the end of three months, you’ll have three months of accumulated intelligence in the form of your insights, connections and ideas – things that you wouldn’t have without reflecting and writing.

Socrates boldly said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Take the time for examination…reflect on your leadership…make those mental models that provide clearer thinking…gain perspective. Doing so might lower your stress level and blood pressure; it will likely let you better handle those 34 gigabytes of information that you intake each day; and it will definitely make you a better leader.

Tuesday Aug 19, 2008

Just Do It!

Apologies to Nike, but they were not the first to use the phrase “Just do it!” It's a phrase I heard often growing up as I had an older brother who wasn't afraid to double and triple-dog dare me.

It's a phrase one of my Russian gymnastics coaches used to get me to do the tumbling pass that scared me. Although, Boris made it sound more like “DOOOOT!”

It's a phrase I heard when I was standing at the end of a diving board after my swimming instructor said the diving board was just like the vault in gymnastics. Just for the record, you run a lot faster and harder for the vault than you need to for the diving board. Yea, you get the picture – the dive was pretty; the ending wasn't!

And it's now a phrase I'm hearing as I contemplate jumping into that bigger pool of blogging. So why bother? I think that I might have something meaningful to contribute to the conversation around the importance of learning to improve yourself, those around around you and your organization or company. The scary part is that you'll be the judge of that – not me. So, let's get started, shall we?

++++++

This time around, I'm hitting the topic of personal improvement.

Last week I found a manifesto with a catchy title: A Brief Guide to World Domination (and other important goals) – How to Live a Remarkable Life in a Conventional World. Who wouldn't want to read that? Chris Guillebeau, the author, believes that you can achieve remarkable personal goals, help others at the same time, and do so in a way that challenges conventional belief that mediocrity is good enough.

In doing so, Chris puts forth two challenging questions:
1) What do you really want to get out of life?
2) What else can you offer the world that no one else can?

I found myself nodding in agreement as Chris talked about setting 1-year, 5-year and lifetime goals and how they can help define the answer to question one. I found myself agreeing as Chris introduced examples of people who were really living a remarkable life and helping others at the same time – Randy Pausch, professor extraordinaire ; Sam Thompson, ultra marathon runner, and Matt and Jessica Flanery, founders of kiva.org.

The overriding message in the manifesto is that you don't have to live your life the way other people expect you to. Other people will tell you that “it” (whatever your “it” is) can't be done, or that you need more experience, or that you need (fill in the blank). These are the gatekeepers – the people who want you to remain conventional and unremarkable. You can listen to these people, or you can listen to yourself.

Chris does provide 11 tips on remaining unremarkably average. Four of my favorites are:

  • Accept what people tell you at face value
  • Don't question authority
  • Don't stand out or draw attention to yourself
  • Jump through hoops; Check off boxes 
If you're still with me, you're probably intrigued by this manifesto as well. I guess that means you have an inner desire to be remarkable and a bit unconventional. Read the manifesto, answer the questions, complete the Ideal World exercise. Determine what it is you need to do to live a remarkable life.

What you choose isn't the most important thing – what's important is that you pick something and then just do it.



About

Sandy's ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff.

I work on Oracle's Leadership Development team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!

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