Why I choose Samuel Beckett over positive thinking, any day

I believe we can learn more about what it takes to succeed from the closing assertion of Beckett’s The Unnamable than any other motivational book

You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

This insight about the need for persistence in the face of obstacles and even despair offers no illusions about what it takes to keep going or false promises that success will be great when you get  ‘there’ (wherever that is).

This is useful advice. We should be given more of it.

Instead, we’re meant to be inspired by motivational cries and images of a positive Duracell-style achiever who stares doubt in the face and relentlessly bangs the drum; pitting the emotional equivalent of an airbrushed model against our puny efforts.

This makes us feel bad.

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Avoiding groupthink

How many people do you know who can –

  1. Identify the biases they bring to the table and understand how they can be used (for good or bad)?
  2. Listen to and respect all views while recognising ideas are not equal?
  3. Bring others along but not at the cost of sound decision-making, even when that means standing alone?
  4. Encourage a style of dissent that does not veer to chaos or produce fake consent?

Coherence is so strongly associated with survival and its value so deeply embedded in management practice that we would rather deal with the future consequences of a bad decision than the discomfort of going against the group here and now.

This is called groupthink and it’s what happens when members of any in-group try to minimise conflict by agreeing to something without critically evaluating alternatives.Disagreement is often perceived as disloyalty, rather than as a path to better decision-making.

Groupthink has been implicated in many disasters, from the Bay of Pigs to the GFC. What has emerged in much of the research that follows these events is that many people had doubts about what was happening but did not speak out, sometimes to remain ‘in’ but also because of an understandable concern they might lose their jobs.

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What is trust?

If I offer you my trust am I –

  • Agreeing with you?
  • Doing what you ask of me?
  • Offering robust feedback?
  • Protecting your feelings?
  • None of the above?

What is considered a sign of trust to one may appear as a betrayal to another.

We cannot define the minutia of every interaction, but without a shared understanding of what trust means it becomes another meaningless word on the annual report next to ‘integrity’ and ‘collaboration’.

And yet, because trust is vital to personal and professional life, we need to understand what it is and how to build it.

One way to understand trust is as a set of agreements about how we will behave towards one another. These agreements may be implicit or explicit and, over time, they may change.

For example, an implicit agreement is that parents feed their children. While parenting obviously requires more than this, a child’s dependency demonstrates the way in which obligations emerge by virtue of the type of relationship that exists.

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Disagreement is not disloyalty

It may seem counterintuitive but formal processes are not a panacea for good governance; post-mortems of Enron and WorldCom, or closer to home Centro, reinforce that these companies failed despite entrenched controls.

What leaders can learn from these high profile failures it that risk-taking is a cultural issue and that with respect to decision-making, a culture that encourages independence and debate is an asset.

Yet in many companies, disagreement continues to be seen as disloyalty.

Worse, as in the case of Enron, active collusion can be seen as a precondition for maintaining a seat at the table.

In his book Innovation Corrupted: The Origins and Legacy of Enron’s Collapse, Harvard Business School Emeritus Professor Malcolm S Salter highlights sophisticated internal controls failed to impact the behaviour that led to Enron’s demise.

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4 ways to get past the ‘us and them’ mentality

 In the sky, there is no distinction of east and west; people create distinctions out of their own minds and then believe them to be true. Buddha

You know how your hair is straight but you’ve always wanted it curly and as you jealously ogle someone’s tresses and confess your envy s/he says: gee I’ve always wanted mine straight like yours. (Extrapolate example broadly.)

Why do we do that?

There seems to be something in us that longs for what we don’t have and believes there’s a greener other side.

To make the point.

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2 tips for everyday enlightenment

We find what we search for – or if we don’t find it we become it. Jessamyn West

For years I loved the idea of retreat – an ashram – the top of a mountain – anywhere so long as it was far from the madding crowd.

Here I would wake with the dawn, enjoy deep meditation and contemplative walks, be struck by profound insights between bowls of rice and green tea and later descend: enlightened.

(Not to mention skinny and with glowing skin.)

After that, truth in hand (as if such a thing exists), my proper life could begin.

Thankfully the need to earn a living prevented it then and has continued to thwart me to this day.

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In tough times take the wheel

There’s man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet. Samuel Beckett (Waiting for Godot)

 

I was talking to a friend this week about a situation in which he feels powerless in the face of change.

He was ‘waiting’ for an outcome about his future in the volatile manufacturing sector that was making him increasingly anxious and he was struggling to stay engaged. At times, he admitted, he felt depressed.

Waiting for what I asked?
Fate? Providence? Godot?

The difficulty with waiting for something to determine what happens to you is that it makes you feel less an adult than a child.

Your ‘locus of control’ (or the extent to which you believe you impact life) is farmed out to something beyond your self rather than remaining inside.

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What values drive you?

Whatever we think we are, or say we are; our own and others’ perceptions largely result from: what we do.

Of course, we are not wholly defined by behaviours nor should we be.

Sometimes life demands we reveal only a sanctioned side of ourselves, such as in an oppressive regime or unsafe family/relationships where it is prudent to keep parts tucked away.

We’ve probably all been in states at some time or another where we’ve acted ‘out of character’. A normally loving parent may lose their temper, a trusted colleague unable to hold their ground might kowtow to a decision they do not like, a partner forget to call the other to advise of a change of plan.

But the very expression suggests that these are anomalous events that do not reflect the way we normally behave. Want to know what truly drives someone? Listen to the words but pay acute attention to the patterns that appear in their lives. These are the shape of accumulated choices, some deliberate, others not, and a powerful narrative.

It’s also important to recognize that how we behave is in part situational.

Emotionally aware people know that different times call for different styles. We may need to be tough in driving a legal outcome but empathetic delivering bad news or responding to someone’s pain. This does not lead us away from the core, on the contrary, values act as an anchor from which we extend our reach into the world.

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What masks do you wear and why?

We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. Andre Berthiaume

We all wear masks, although the extent to which we layer ourselves varies greatly.

Masks are the personality layer, or persona, that we put on top of the ‘real thing’ (caveats assumed).

They are the edited and decorated versions we prefer to show the world, shielding what we don’t like or accept or that others ask (typically without words) us to hide. They’re a protective barrier.

At the extreme con wo/men construct a palatable false self to divert people from darker intentions. The compulsive liar who says they hate lies, the wo/maniser who prides themselves on fidelity.

With these types charm is a decoy. These mask-makers have no desire to lift the mask, they know very well why it is there. Seeing through them can be difficult, in particular when they are well practiced.

Masks exist on a continuum from the passive-aggressive friend to the sociopath. However for the most part, we don’t realise the masks are there.

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Trust is a biological necessity

Trust is essential to human endeavour. Despite the excuses we use to wriggle out of the obligations that come with it, all relationship or work need trust to survive.

From before birth until our last breath, our lives are an intricate web of interconnectivities and interdependencies; arguably kept alive even after we die through memories and the legacies we leave behind.

In simple terms, trust is an agreement with one another about how we behave. These agreements may be both implicit and explicit, unvoiced as well as constructed. And they change.

One such implicit agreement: parents must feed and shelter a child. While parenting requires much more than just meeting these basic needs, a child’s dependency demonstrates the way in which obligations emerge by virtue of people’s relationship to each other.

This idea extends easily into the social realm. We are pack animals. We cannot escape that. Trust keeps the group functioning, in balance.

Whether we like it or not, relationships trigger accountability, as do decisions, actions.

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