Momentum is underrated

Just ask a domino block. None of them would fall if it weren’t for the momentum created by the first one.

This provides a useful way to think about the thing you’re hiding from and avoiding.

It could be a conversation with your boss, a new project or business or something far scarier like cleaning the dishes.

Each time we avoid the task it becomes seemingly more monumental.

Instead, we can remember the lead domino and consider: what’s one tiny way you could nudge this forward?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fill the sink with water.

Something to optimise for

Calm.

Too often we focus on efficiencies, productivity tools and hacks in order to squeeze more into our days.

More to-do’s, more emails, more meetings, more social media posts and ultimately, more self inflicted stress.

This frantic energy to get more done is vastly overrated.

What if instead, we optimised for calm?

What if we did away with questions like: will this save us more money, resources or time? and instead asked: will this create more calm?

Hat tip to one of my favourite books of 2020: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.

Three rules for asking great coaching questions

  1. Avoid framing them in a way that can be answered as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Binary questions tend not to be conducive to uncovering possibility.
  2. As much as possible, start your questions with ‘what’ or ‘how’. ‘What if…‘, ‘How might…’ and ‘what would it look like if…’ are solid examples.
  3. Most important of all: Follow your curiosity. Ask the question you want to ask based on what the other person has said. Seek to understand what it is they’re really saying.

That’s it.

Simple on paper, harder to execute. Hence, practice.

The best way to ask better questions is to practice asking better questions.

When is the last time you…

  • Asked for help?
  • Admitted you didn’t know the answer?
  • Closed your email?
  • Had a day without meetings?
  • Took a week off?
  • Asked someone “how can I support?”
  • Felt like an imposter?
  • Declined a meeting because it didn’t have a clear purpose?
  • Defined what success looks like?
  • Got clear on the hard part?
  • Went for a 60min walk?

These are all choices that can make us better leaders. Which one will you take on in the next week?

A reminder on imposter syndrome

If you’re sharing creative work, starting a new role, working with a new client or leading a new project, chances are you’ll feel like an imposter.

That’s because you’re doing something you’ve never done before and so, by definition, you are an imposter.

This means that everyone we’ve ever admired is also an imposter.

The reminder, then, is to actively choose to dance with our imposter by:

  1. noticing this feeling and giving it a voice
  2. showing up anyway and giving ourselves a voice.

I call this dance the imposter two-step.

Surprises

Surprises change our reality.

The good kind, like a surprise birthday can take us from “I’m having a quiet dinner with one friend” to “looks like I’m having a party with 30 of my friends”.

The not so good kind, like a big client deciding they no longer need our services can take us from “there are plenty of projects for us next quarter” to “coolcoolcool, we need to step up our business development.”

In both cases, in order to navigate what’s happened and move forward we must accept the circumstances of our new reality.

Consider how odd it would be to ignore the 30 friends throwing us a surprise birthday party and pretend we were still having a quiet dinner with one.

When faced with a surprise, then, a good question to ponder is: what’s my new reality?

Making it up as we go

That’s what we’re all doing.

Whether it’s your boss, the CEO, a mentor, the person you admire, your best friend or a complete stranger.

Sure, we might notice patterns or rhymes based on our past experiences, but it’s worth remembering we’ve never experienced this moment, these people, this context or this year before.

The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can let go and bring joy, purpose and humanity to our work.

Case and point:

The meeting default worth challenging

Your next meeting doesn’t have to be one hour long just because Google or Outlook said so.

In fact, 20 minutes of focussed, intentional and non-distracted conversation in small groups is enough to create meaningful connection, progress and alignment.

We default to one hour because it’s easy and safe, not because it’s the most effective.

Instead, we can take the more intentional and generous route by pausing to consider:

  • What’s the one thing I want to get out of this meeting?
  • What if I only had 20min to achieve it?

Out loud

Often it’s really helpful to say things out loud.

To share, using your voice, what you’re working on, where you’re stuck and how you could use some support.

To unpack what it’s like to be you right now, what you’re excited about and what feels hard.

Anyone who’s ever had a coach, therapist or curious loved one knows this.

Saying things out loud can help us connect dots, solve problems and cultivate empathy with others.

It’s why we say things like “Thanks for letting me get that off my chest” or “I feel better having said that out loud”.

The catch is it requires someone who’s generous enough to hold space for us.

The opportunity then, is to be that person for someone. To checkin with others for no reason other than to give them the gift to share what’s on their mind.

Striving

It’s quite possible we are (read: I am) striving for the sake of striving.

Maybe it’s increasing revenue, finding a better job, gaining another client, getting more listeners/readers/followers or listing more examples of things we strive for.

While this can be an effective strategy to grow and develop we also risk getting stuck on the metaphorical treadmill with the setting set to 16, sweat pouring down our face and legs pumping faster than we thought possible in order to stay upright and avoid being the next viral face plant video.

Knowing that it’s worth pausing to consider: What does enough look like?

PS. I recently had a wide-ranging conversation with Craig Harper on The You Project related to this and other topics including coaching, leadership and making change.

What if…

A selection of noodley questions that all start with the same two words: what if.

What if you weren’t afraid?

What if you weren’t stuck?

What if it was easy?

What if you’re right?

What if you’re wrong?

What if this fails?

What if this succeeds?

What if we didn’t do things the same way we always have?

What if we tried this instead?

What if you’re right where you need to be?

What if crunchy peanut butter is just smooth peanut butter that didn’t quite make it?

These questions that start with ‘what if’ serve as great pattern interrupts for the stories we tell ourselves.

Your next meeting

Is it about “getting everyone on the same page?”

Or “providing an update”?

Or “sharing a progress report?”

If so, it’s worth noting these are merely ways of passively sharing information.

Passively sharing information can easily be done in an email, Slack message, voice recording or video. In fact, that’s precisely what these mediums are for.

Meetings, on the other hand, can be reserved for active participation and connection.

That is to say:

What if we did away with the slide decks and reserved meetings for human connection?

For checking in and asking: what’s it like to be you right now?

For real-time brainstorming and collaboration?

Might we start to enjoy connecting with our peers, rather than loathing another one-way business update?

Pour over coffee

Requires precision, patience and careful attention.

You have to boil the water before wetting the paper filter.

Measure and weigh the right amount of coffee into the damp filter (15g for one cup).

Then, gently pour 30-40g of water at a time, allowing the coffee to ‘bloom’, until you have 250g of delicious liquid gold.

It’s a slow, gentle process that does not benefit from being rushed, or optimised.

A process that is well worth the effort with a coffee that ends up smooth and full of flavour.

It makes me wonder:

Where else is the same rule true?

Where might we slow down?

What if we practiced precision, patience and careful attention in our work and with our teams?

Might that change the frantic energy many are feeling in this moment?

NB: Contrary to popular belief manicured beards and/or tattoos are optional in the process of making a delicious cup of pour over.

The magic blue table

In grade two, I was a real nuisance.

I’d talk all the time, distract the other kids and lose focus.

Enter Mrs Metcalfe.

One day after class she pulled me aside and excitedly explained:

“Pete, I’ve got a surprise for you tomorrow. It’s a brand new, bright blue table that is magic!”

Seeing my mouth slightly agape, thinking “did she say MAGIC?!”, she continued:

“It’s magic because it stops anyone who sits on it from talking too much, being distracted and losing focus. Just like that!”

Sensing my excitement, she went in for the close:

“Now, I want you to be the first person to sit on it. For the entire week, this magic blue table is all yours. The trick is, you mustn’t tell anyone about its magic powers. Are you in?”

You better believe I was in. I mean, it was a fricking magic table and I had been hand picked and trusted with its secret powers.

So there I sat for an entire week in absolute silence.

I got all my work done, didn’t distract anyone and was more engaged in class than I’d ever been before.

At the end of the week, I received this certificate:

23 years on, I see many lessons in this story.

Perhaps the most important is that in order create change, we must tell stories that spark curiosity and enrolment.

Mrs Metcalfe didn’t tell me I was a bad kid, kick me out of the classroom or lose her temper.

She didn’t give me a list of pro’s and con’s regarding my behaviour, call my mum and or even state exactly what I needed to do better.

Instead, she:

  1. Created a story that I was curious about. A story about magic, tables and secrets.
  2. Enrolled me in the story by empowering me to decide if I was in.

That right there, is some judo changemaking.

Noticing and improving

In order to improve anything, one must first notice.

For example:

I used to sit at a desk all day until I noticed back and shoulder pain and a posture that resembled a Disney Character from Notre Dame.

I thought about it and went and got a wireless keyboard, mouse and monitor.

That worked well for a while until I noticed that doing so much sitting made me tired and lethargic.

So I made a standing desk.

This has been a game-changer until one day I noticed standing all day was starting to give me sore feet.

Now I rotate between sitting and standing.

On and on it goes.

Enhancements, improvements and iterations are available for us to make things better.

The key is to first observe and notice.

Consider this question fork (that’s right I’m bringing back the cutlery post):

  • What’s not working for me right now?
  • Where are my pain points?
  • Where do I experience friction?

Then: Which of these are worth improving?