Power dynamics, culture and basic human psychology keeps us in a deceptive comfort zone of indifference.
Have you ever knowingly:
- Managed people in way that feels wrong and erodes trust, safety, and a sense of belonging?
- Worked a project, ignoring best practices?
- Built a product listening to only one voice?
- Wasted your time on Friday afternoon waiting for the 5 o’clock hour?
- Spun your productivity wheels on Monday as you try to reconcile the avalanche of work for rest of the week?
- Spent too much looking, reading and responding to email or social media while ignoring that hard work on your desk?
- Kept quite in the face of a bad decision because it’s just easier to get a long?
Hierarchical structures not built on competence and the false illusion of meritocracy places us in close proximity to real world examples of ideal values and principles ignored. Indeed, far too often we see examples of how short cuts, optics and the frailty of perception are all rewarded. It should not surprise us that doing the right thing is often a reward best shared with yourself.
If you have a scintilla of honest observation you recognize that careers can be advanced by doing the wrong things and by decimating those around your reality distortion field. In the face of such prevent examples we are then left with a choice play the game or be plaid.
Corporate life is precarious walk on the edge of a multiverse; where on one side you see the person you want to be and on the other side you see the persona of the person you need to be to survive and thrive.
How do we reconcile what Stephen R. Covey proclaimed as the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in the face of anecdotal examples of leaders such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elizabeth Holmes and others that on the surface seem the follow the highly effective habits of self-promotion, deceitful persuasion and seeking short term gains over long term benefits?
If we can’t turn or trust people to do the best thing for our organizations can the structures and ethos of those organizations protect and promote the right virtues?
Can culture level the playing field?
The best litmus test of a culture is how they deal with failure.
“The wisdom of learning from failure is incontrovertible. Yet organizations that do it well are extraordinarily rare.” So said Amy C. Edmondson, a Professor at Harvard Business School. Edmondson continues her brilliant insight and research saying:
“Most executives I’ve talked to believe that failure is bad (of course!). They also believe that learning from it is pretty straightforward. These widely held beliefs are misguided. First, failure is not always bad. Second, learning from organizational failures is anything but straightforward.”
We need a Culture of Learning!
Edmondson continues “exceptional organizations are those that go beyond detecting and analyzing failures and try to generate intelligent ones for the express purpose of learning and innovating. It’s not that managers in these organizations enjoy failure. But they recognize it as a necessary by-product of experimentation. They also realize that they don’t have to do dramatic experiments with large budgets. Often a small pilot, a dry run of a new technique, or a simulation will suffice.”
Even if you had a warm learning culture and had nice boss the nature of how we perceive work would still prompt retreat rather than advancing forward in practical and strategic ways.
Our biology is at odds with the stressors of work. Stress often prompts procrastination.
Thomas Koulopoulos says. “Like so many things we do, procrastination is a habit. We fall into it and then struggle to get out. We play mind games with ourselves and withhold rewards, or we chain ourselves to a desk until we get the job done. But it’s like psychological quicksand–the more we struggle, the further into its grasp we seem to fall.
So what gives here? Why do we procrastinate, and how do we break free?
The answers are remarkably simple, according to Mel Robbins, author of The 5 Second Rule.
Procrastination is actually a behavior meant to help us cope with stress. Whatever we are putting off is linked to something that is stressing us. Naturally, if you’re stressed, you want to escape the stressor. So we do what makes sense, we try to avoid the stress and instead seek near-term satisfaction, or at least a distraction and refuge from the stress. It momentarily makes you feel good to avoid the stress.
Procrastination is basically a coping mechanism. Koulopoulos goes further, “Chalk it up to our ancestral DNA, which evolved in an environment where stress was like radar, helping us avoid those things that were likely to compromise our chances for survival. If you needed to go out and hunt for food but you also imagined that there might be raptors running around outside your cave doing the same, you’d most likely put off getting food and find a nice corner to scratch out a few wall drawings. Yes, those amazing insights into humanity’s first artistic inclinations were the result of our Neanderthal ancestors procrastinating.
That’s not so different from what you do today when you turn to Facebook or YouTube. It’s the way you escape from a cause of stress. What we are avoiding isn’t the task but rather the stress that we are associating with the task.”
Even when we know and feel we are not being productive the way forward seems obscured because we disconnect success from monotonous, disciplined, practice. This coupled with the reality that our minds are wired to protect us from change might explain why we ignore productivity tips and best practices in the workplace even if we know better.
In my experience we learn more about what not to do than we learn from abstract lessons contained in the library of self-help that claim to help us become productive and successful.
Why we ignore productivity tips and best practices in the workplace is not the theses of Kevin Kruse’s book 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. Why we ignore and avoid these quantitative practices is for the reader to square. I sum it up this way.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.
15 tips reconciles the habits of successful people at the 10K level verses the habits within our cubical. Kruse’s book is really about how to acquire knowledge and skills and change behavior. And so these are all learnable things that you can identify by analyzing failure.
From the way we manage people, manage products and manage our time we are all probably too comfortable and doing it wrong. Knowing we should do better is the reason for the billion dollar market for self-help.
This malaise of how we work is often never challenged, evaluated or adjusted. Unfortunately the status quo is culturally acceptable in many organizations. Self-help content typically doesn’t address the root cause of workplace power dynamics, the lack of a learning culture and behaviorism of our basic human psychology.
Learning productivity skills can happen organically but there are resources that can jump start your habits and thus offer you better ways to work.
Remember, how you frame what you want to accomplish matters more than the failures you experience along the way.
Here are some resources:
The Value of Failure is an unconventional book that will give you insights into the nature of failure and help you learn how to pivot your life back on track.
The Value of Failure
what is Learning Frames?
The Learning Maze: A New Framework For Personalized Learning will be published soon. Learn more about it here: