Not “solutioning” anything right now

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I’m not solutioning now. “Solutioning” is what you do to a problem: you solution it.

That’s not a thing, by the way, or even a word. But I’ve heard people use it. Many years ago, a colleague adopted it, ironically, and it stuck in our little company. He sounded like Bill Lumbergh. Used unconsciously, it sounds like a combination of strained “positivity,” stubbornness, and denial.

I’m not solutioning because after scrambling to make sense of this stay-at-home/go-virtual experience, things are getting interesting. Maybe now, some of the initial shock of this emergency has diminished for you. It has for me. I have been through weeks in which frantic activity gave way to confusion, then anger, and until a couple days ago, a sense that maybe what I was doing before the coronavirus pandemic was mostly self-interested busywork. Strong words, I know. That was a few days ago. But it genuinely felt that way.

Now I can notice things. Those reactions got in the way. And so did that “normal life” that we have all left behind. I notice…

  • We rely on familiar routines to reassure us that we’re okay. When conditions change, we don’t know who we are. This is a frightening feeling. It may also be accurate.
  • We hold really tightly to a set of measures of our worth. We don’t know them very well. Some we don’t know at all. We fight back by trying to prove we’re somebody. We become despondent or worse when that’s impossible.

And by “we” I mean “I.” But try these on as hypotheses. Take a closer look and see for yourself.

What should we do about it? I’m not sure.

Since I can’t do much, I’ll do my best to keep watching. Maybe we should see this time as between one thing that’s ending and something that’s beginning. What if that thing that’s ending and beginning is me?

I’m trying to take the attitude that it is interesting to witness my life.

Not as I wish it were, but as it is today. Not to find a way to be more productive. Not work at being who I think I should be. Not to work at being who someone else thinks I should be.

We could give some attention to the kind of experiences that so-called normal life allowed us to miss, intentionally or otherwise. Right now, they are hard to miss, if we’re willing to look.

Ahem. Click the image to learn more.

How not to be drawn into that. Again.

This is a season of happy obligations. Some of us feel the happiness more, some the obligation.

I am uneasy about any advice I might give. Anticipating the holidays, I can already see that I’ve said yes to some things that I might have said no to. And last minute events come up. There are gifts to find and make. Thoughtful gifts. 

Here are two things I’ll be trying out again this holiday season. As I always say, practice builds capacity and practice takes time. The first is about intention. The second is about letting go. These are simple to say. They are not hard to understand. They are not easy to do. 

This word “intention” isn’t magic, though I’ve heard people use it as though it were. If it helps, you could think of it as a commitment. 

I’m making a commitment not to take anything away from others’ joy. When we’re stressed or find ourselves where we don’t want to be, we may unload our emotions on others. Would you steal their wallet, or even that bottle of wine the company gave them? No. My intention is not to steal their joy. If that’s the not-doing, then the doing might be to fan the flame of others’ happiness, even a little. 

Letting go is just as simple and even harder. When we face family, old friends, colleagues at this time of year, we tell a story. There’s an idea of me, of you, embedded in this story. Could I let it go? It’s worth giving some thought to this story of me and what it means. Do I tend to tell the story, “I’m doing well and succeeding.” Or, “I’m distressed by circumstances and I don’t know what to do.” Or “Everything’s fine,” when it’s not fine at all. Or maybe you don’t say much. Not telling a story is a way of communicating something, too. 

A lot of our trouble results from wanting to appear to be something – successful, independent, deep (even “mindful and soulful”), kind and loving. Some stories aim to elicit something in others. They are questions like, Do they really care? Will they do something for me? Do they really see me and hear me? 

These stories can be hard to recognize in ourselves. We live inside them. When others don’t appreciate the way we know ourselves, challenge our story, question the premise, doubt the happy ending, we may get angry, withdraw, and call on past hurts to arm us for counterattack.

Instead, we could let go. I am not what they think, nor am I what I think of myself. If you look closely, you’re not the person that you think you are either. You’re not as important as you think. You are also more important than you think. We are complex and changing all the time. So whatever you’re protecting in there, it’s already moving away. That way you want to be seen? That’s normal. Let it go. You will feel how hard you hold onto it when you try to let it go. But you can’t control others perceptions. And as a rule, people are thinking of us less than we imagine. They’re thinking about their own experience. They’re wondering whether we care about them, see them, love them.

So I’ll try to let go of some of those definitions: successful, good, energetic, kind, generous. And If I’m less of a stick in the mud because of it, then I may have helped everyone be a little happier and come and go in peace.

Attention reveals the “urge to action”

One common experience that comes from practicing attention is that we can notice the urge to action. We are used to living in patterns. Because we’ve been watching where our attention goes, we may become increasingly aware of the urges to action that activate those patterns. When I sit down to write, I usually feel the urge to snack, run errands, make phone calls, and empty the dishwasher. When I’m with clients, I am familiar with an urge to speak up and give them “better” vocabulary for the experience they’re describing. We could ask “why?” But a better question is “what?”

We could get to know this existence by asking, What is this urge that I notice? When we ask “why?” we may understand. We look to familiar sources and past experiences. That can put the question to rest: “Oh, yeah. That’s why.” But we find that we don’t behave differently.  The more I write, the more I find the Goldfish crackers disappearing from the pantry. So, what is this experience? Note that the question is not, What should I do to change this?

We can look into facets of experience using this attention we’re developing. When I feel compelled to tell clients that they should do X or Y, or I feel the urge to teach something, I try to turn attention to body, emotion, and thinking. I do the same thing when I notice my attention is elsewhere in practice. I try to open up to the experience, the what.

Want to learn more about how to practice attention and how to observe the urge to action? I’d love to talk with you.

How many times have I done this?

How many times have you done this?

Think about your job. How many times have you tried to get something done and had a similar experience of getting there? The obstacles were familiar. The questions you needed to answer? Similar. The allies and opponents. Some of them were in familiar camps, too. Or if the process was easier and you learned to bring people on board, did you feel that you’d compromised some values along the way? Did some of the satisfaction drain out of you because the cost of achievement felt higher than you’d imagined?

What if the way we go about getting what we want is an entrenched pattern? 

Is what I want what-I-want?

“I’m struggling with feeling grateful,” a friend said when the spotlight turned on her at the Thanksgiving table. “I am grateful, but I don’t feel grateful.” And I was very happy she was there. It’s not easy to be honest with ourselves. 

We want to be, well, something else. Think about one of your recurring daydreams. You’re doing something well. You’re thrilled by the people you’re with. You’re completely uninhibited. You’re sitting still in a boat on a glassy lake. Your daydream here.

If you can bear it, stop for a moment. What do you want and know that you want? 

When you take the goal away, what is the feeling that’s left? Here’s an example. You want to have a job where you’re consistently respected and regularly acknowledged for that remarkable thing you do that no one does as well as you. Let’s say this is one of my daydreams. When I put myself in that scenario, I feel a simple dignity and a sense of belonging. Together, they produce a feeling of security. 

The object of wanting isn’t (only) what we want. It is how we envision pursuing what we want. In my example, the job is a means. It’s the vision I have of what I really want. But the object, the “what-I-want” is a sense of belonging and a simple dignity.

We confuse means with ends. We confuse the setting in which we want to achieve our objectives with what we want.

As this year winds down, reflect on whether what-you-want is underneath what you believe you want. See if you can explore what-I-want so that you have the chance of pursuing it in places and new ways rather than the habitual ways you tend to go looking for it.

Three ways to lead with thought and action today

Inside out, outside in

One of the great frustrations of people with vision, energy, and insight – the way we like to see ourselves – is why others don’t see the world as we do. Once we notice this, and all of its obvious obstacles, we take a step.

The easiest step to take is to infer that others are against us for some very poor reasons. They’re not very smart or have no imagination. They’re afraid of change. They just don’t get it. They’re invested in the status quo. It’s personal.

Even if there’s some truth in those conclusions, rehearsing the ways others are opposed to us builds a wall. It gets stronger as we hang onto the notion that “the old guard are protecting their bonuses,” for example. That wall will be there when we look for it. We can count on it. That’s not real, not a fact, not “reality.” But it becomes more real to us the more we rehearse it. It becomes a part of us.

We can take the wall apart by by what we do and what we think. But if we do not take it apart, we will experience work as a maze of walls and alleys.

Instead of drawing taking the very human step that reinforce]s us vs, them, we can take a step into the Learning Leader Lab. Here are three ideas to help you move from certain to curious.

Open up “data collection”

Whatever you infer about others, you’re selecting a small set of data. It’s probably skewed toward what you believe. That’s a human habit; no harm, no foul.

Pay attention to other inputs, information, contributions people are making to the issue you think they oppose. If this feels a bit like being a Pollyanna when you suspect other intentions, keep it up. You’re on the right track. That suspiciousness is also a common human habit.

Try thought experiments

What other legitimate interests might this person be attempting to serve? What’s the good thing, principle, or value they’re trying to bring about?

Stretch yourself. You may find it hard to see the good interests of others if you’ve already decided they’re set against yours.

Inquire

Ask for more information about others’ perspectives and conclusions. Like you, they’re synthesizing a collection of values, assumptions, experience, and popping out with “what we should do.” You may find common ground in the things that haven’t been said yet.

Watch your questioning, though. With practice, we learn to tell when closed-end questions are set as traps, when leading questions are really statements, and when even open-ended questions are designed to make us look smart rather than to learn something new.

How did you learn to let in other points of view this week?

Really big transformation? It’s happening today

Look at that

Does leading start from the inside or from the outside? Is it what I think or what I do? What about the company, the people I work with?

I am confident that if you’re the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, it’s not too late for you. If you’re an engineer with an idea, you too could be the founder of startup. You can be more effective and there are many ways to get help with that. Maybe you’re just beginning to recognize that you could do more than you’ve done until now.

 Leading is a commitment to transformation.

It takes time, yes, and it is happening today. You can guide the course of transformation in yourself and the world around you today.

Three ways simple gratitude can change your leadership

Here comes that gift again

Gratitude isn’t easy for me. I can’t help but notice how similar the word is to “platitude.” I have thought of it as thin, perfunctory, forced. I am changing my mind. And that’s changing the way I lead. It can change the way you lead, too.

What is it? Gratitude is acknowledging that something has been given.

Even before you go on reading, what do you notice when you read that sentence? This is not a rhetorical question. Keep the question fresh in mind and notice: what’s given?

Let’s assume for a moment that some things are given: they just happen. That’s no reason to be grateful in itself. Some of those things are problems, tragedies, or idiotic annoyances.

Whatever the causes, things that just happen are happening uniquely to you. When something happens to me, everything that went before contributes. That’s why it may feel familiar.Here comes that gift again

Yet, the sheer complexity of things means that no two moments are the same. Right now, we’re handed a once-in-a-lifetime gift. You could say that complexity conspires to give it to us. I didn’t make it happen. I can be grateful for that. It wasn’t a sure thing. But here it is.

Every one of these moments carries an opportunity to do something with it. It’s fresh and different from the one before. Sure, that’s subtle. But here comes another. And if I don’t act now, I can still act. Now. Or even now.

The three ways

Practicing gratitude turns our attention to opportunities. It helps us become more aware. “Here’s a moment that I can do something with, right now.” As a leader, I have choices.

It helps is develop faith in opportunity even if we feel have few or no options. We do have options. In this moment, or the next one. As a leader, I stay hopeful. Circumstances aren’t conspiring against me. They’re just circumstances.

Gratitude can also help us be a little more forgiving when we or others let a crucial moment pass. There’s another moment coming with its opportunity inside. So as leaders, we use that awareness of opportunity to encourage folks to act now. Or now. As a leader, I build up people to ensure they use their opportunities well.

I’m learning to worry less about leading skillfully. This moment is unfolding an opportunity. Developing awareness helps me recognize the slight differences that create them. It’s not just about what I should do, and not at all about what I can do perfectly. It is a new habit – or practice – that involves recognizing that a moment is unfolding an opportunity, which is the chance to take an action that will fit it.

And if I don’t get it just right, here comes another one for me to open.

Three ways to get learning into your bones

Forty eight percent of employees say they receive no formal training. You’re thinking, “That’s not good. But taking in the big picture, it’s conceivable.” So what?

First, get pragmatic. You have a fifty-fifty chance of getting formal training at work. Ask for it. Seek it out. Find programs outside the company and ask for funding. But don’t blame the company (or any “them”) if it’s not going to happen. And don’t hold a grudge.

You can build your own curriculum. Dorie Clark has offered some great ideas for DIY professional development. Shout out to her for pointing me to the Accenture study in which the opening data point is found.

Some learning is more challenging, though. You could call it the adaptive challenge of learning. We need to change our minds, but also ourselves. Some learning has to be chewed slowly and patiently if we’re going to really digest it and use all its nutrients.

Put hindsight to work and test it with foresight

Start holding your own regular after-action review. I call it reflection-in-action. Schedule it least once a week. Look back over the week, pick its high point and low point, and take a wider view of events.

The after-action review (AAR) comes out of military training. It’s designed to provide a well-rounded picture of what happened. The first step: review without blame or prejudice. Start with you.carrying a leg

Notice that the AAR focuses on what happened in the concrete world of objects and actions. You can go one better by adding what you thought, intended, felt, experienced. Mindset drives the choices we have and the choices we make. What can you see now, or imagine might be true, that you could not see then?

You can’t know what others thought or felt. But you can develop a hypothesis about what they were trying to achieve and why. Here’s where foresight helps. Set up a test of your hypothesis. Ask questions. Or plan to try a different approach in a similar situation. This is a test, so stay open to new data.

Bundle the learning with peers

You are not alone. Whatever you find challenging, others are struggling over it now. Others need to know what you want to learn.

Find some friends or people you trust. Decide on a a method for a small group peer coaching. (Here’s one good example from Marshall Goldsmith.) Start meeting regularly. For a small investment, you could even hire a coach to teach you a peer coaching method. In a couple of hours you will know the process and have seen how it works.

The kind of learning that gets into our bones will make us (very) uncomfortable from time to time. You want to work with peers who will both support you and keep you honest. If you don’t find a dream team immediately, don’t give up.

Get expert help but share the cost

I know that people get great value out of working with a coach individually, but you might say I have a bias. If you can enlist a few people with similar challenges and intentions, hire a coach for the group. It’s more economical and you’ll still get some individual attention. The big benefit in group coaching is that you don’t need to run the meeting. You can focus on the slow and steady digesting of learning and change. The coach will be responsible for focus, facilitation, and creating a productive discussion for learning.

What have you done to digest deep learning or big change and get it into your bones?

Fixing a fixed mindset: Failure is an option

“Failure is not an option.” For some people, this is how they say they’ve got grit and persistence. But others live it without recognizing that they’re working as hard as possible to avoid failure in many ways, big and small. “If I don’t do well, what’s become of my skills, talents, abilities? Doesn’t it call them into question?” If this is one of your worries, you may be operating in the fixed mindset.

If we can’t allow ourselves to consider the possibility of failure, we have locked ourselves into a cell with only one way out. And we’ve foreclosed the chance to learn. We make it difficult to course-correct. We make it more difficult to accept help, new ideas, and the inevitable developments that don’t go as planned. Worst, we make it almost impossible to notice what’s developing while we drive for our fore-ordained goal.

Circumstances sometimes go against us. Opponents may best us. Or, apparent opponents may prove to be allies as new developments take shape. Even if we do succeed on our own terms, we will not have learned how to respond to circumstance and change. We will only have found a way to manhandle events the way we have done in the past.

How to start fixing the fixed mindset

First, notice when success is the only option. Take responsibility for your part in feeding that mindset. Did you sign up for the assignment because it would confirm your string of successes? Did you sell yourself short and take on a sure thing? Are you blaming others for things that neither you nor they can control?

Second, use self reflection: What will I lose if I fail? Job? Maybe, but not likely. Not many of us will lose our jobs over a one-time fail. Respect, yes, for a while. Will you lose the fond idea of yourself as a success, and brilliant, and next in line for [whatever you think you want next]? If you think you can’t handle losing those, you may be noticing the fixed mindset.

What we believe about ourselves is pretty important to us. Think about it: it’s pretty important to you to be seen as a success, or as kind, or collaborative, or creative, even visionary. But you will not die without it. You may have to take my word on this. But from here on, watch and see if not getting everything right the first time inflicts a mortal wound. Oh, it will hurt. But you’ll come back from it stronger.

Third, keep an eye on yourself. Pay attention to when you insist that success is the only option. Learn to recognize the urge to take on the sure thing, the thing that proves you are who you think you are. See if you can name what you are really trying to get out of it. We’re usually reinforcing something that makes us feel very good; nothing is more natural. So don’t give yourself a hard time. It’s going to take some practice to learn to recognize this habit.

Last, try something like this. “I’m not positive how to [decide, select, present, evaluate, your verb here]. Here’s what I’ve learned about our situation so far, and that makes me think [this]. What do you make of the situation? What are we learning from this situation right now?”

It can be really challenging to do this. How old are you? That’s how many years you’ve been reinforcing the mindset you have. You can change it. It will take some time. It may take some help.

Step back when you are able. See yourself as the project. Ask, “What am I learning from this project so far?”