Let’s say that you are not as effective as you would like to be. It does not matter what your deficiency is, but let’s say that you know what your area of weakness, need, deficiency is. If you know where you are weak, if you know what you need to work on, then consider yourself ahead of the pack. Way ahead. Because, I am now convinced that I know the number one problem that can derail you on your path to success. Here’s that number one problem:
A lack of awareness of your weak areas – your ignorance, your incompetence, your growth areas.
Here’s a quote from Peter Senge that points this out rather vividly: “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.” And I wrote along a similar vein in this blog post, Michael Jordan, Defensive All-Star — A Business Lesson For Us All, describing how Michael Jordan recognized his defensive weaknesses, and how he tackled that challenge with such focus and resolve. After describing how he developed great defensive skills, I asked: But what should you add?
So what prompted this blog post, and spurred me on to state the “number one problem” with such certainty? It was this passage in the book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman.
Perhaps one of our biggest surprises was realizing how few Diminishers understood the respective impact they were having in others. Most of the Diminishers had gown up praised for their personal intelligence and had moved up the management ranks on account of personal – and often intellectual – merit. When they became the “boss,” they assumed it was their job to be the smartest and to manage a set of “subordinates.” …As one executive put it, “When I read your findings, I realized that I have been living in Diminisher land so long that I have gone native.”
In other words, a Diminisher does not know that he or she is a Diminisher.
I think if I had a chance to visit with Liz Wiseman, I would ask her, “why in the world were you surprised?” Because, if we have learned anything by now, it ought to be this – very, very few people know their own weakness(es) well enough to even identify and acknowledge such weakness, much less to develop a strategy and then follow that strategy to actually make the needed changes.
If you want another word for this, you can call it laziness, thinking of the word the way Scott Peck used it. Laziness is not “doing nothing,” it is “avoiding what you need to focus on” (my paraphrase of his idea, as I remember it, from his book The Road Less Traveled).
Think of the beginning of the 12 Steps, the one that prompts this introduction, “Hello, my name is ___, and I am an alcoholic.” You know, the first step: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable..
Maybe we need many more groups, which all begin with a parallel “first step,” like:
I admitted I was a Diminisher – and this derailed me on my path to success.
I admitted I was a:
poor team player
poor time manager
poor money manager
poor encourager of others…
The list could be rather long. But the solution for any and every weakness/deficiency goes back to that first step: I saw my weakness/deficiency, I acknowledged my weakness/deficiency, and then, and only then, could I design a path to overcome that weakness/deficiency.
To Wiseman, she focuses on a specific failure: the failure to become a leader who is a Multiplier. And that failure is exacerbated by an individual’s own blindness to his or her own tendency to be a Diminisher.
Let me quote again Senge’s wisdom: “People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.”
Do you know yours? If you do, you are ahead of the pack – now get to work on it.
If you don’t know yours, then discovering it, identifying it, is definitely the new item on your to do list!
The Rise of the “Stupider”
The Rise of Substitute Intellectual Activity – a Plague!
Roger Ebert has written a column, The quest for frisson, in which he describes some of the ways we function differently with the arrival of the Web. One way: we read full, actual books less often. We are too easily distracted.
As the Signals guys put it in ReWork:
And the reason is interruptions… you can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.
Instead, you should get in the alone zone. Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive. When you don’t have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.
During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings. Just shut up and get to work. You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.
Ebert printed a response from a student from Harvard named Daniel Goldhaber. The student argues that people are getting, for lack of a better word, “stupider” (his word).
“Every year I’ve seen go by has become – for lack of a better word – stupider,” he writes.
Here are a few more thoughts from the student
I go to Harvard University and chose to go instead of accepting a scholarship at USC Film School. My thought process was that even though I want to be a filmmaker, I thought it would make more sense to try to surround myself with people who – like me – enjoy thinking, talking, and reading about the world at large, not just film.
However, what I found stood in such stark contrast to the Harvard of the 70s and the 80s that I had read about in my youth. I found a place where superficiality was prized not just socially, but INTELLECTUALLY. It’s not about the number of books you’ve read, but the number of wikipedia articles on books that you’ve skimmed so that it appears as if you’ve read a lot of books (I’ve succumbed to this as much as anybody else – it’s a plague.)
I don’t know what to do with all this. These thoughts remind me of Scott Peck’s charge that the basic human flaw is laziness – not lazy, as in doing nothing, but lazy as in not doing the things you should be doing, not working on your life in the specific areas that need such work.
Maybe we are lazy. And maybe we want Wikipedia to do all of our thinking and reading for us.
Back in my preaching days, there were two kinds of preachers. Those who got their illustrations and quotes from books of famous illustrations and quotes. And those who read history, biography, philosophy, and built their own inventory of stories and quotes breathed in from wide, varied reading. Such preachers always had more depth.
You might say – “so, Randy, how do you justify your book synopses? You announce that you read the books so that we don’t have to.” I don’t know if I can justify what I do. But I have always held to the fantasy that my presentations will whet your appetite enough that you want to simply read and learn more. I see myself as a “keep learning” ambassador.
I think I know this. The rise of the “stupider” is a threat to our depth, our ethics, our very way of live. We really do need to fortify our defenses, to help us all keep learning.
Yesterday, Bob Morris and I both weighed in on this blog with our “best business books” list from 2009. (Our lists were very different – mine here, Bob’s here). So I started thinking about which books I have read that have had true, lasting impact on my thinking, and even occasionally my behavior. I keep thinking back to one book. I read it in the 1980’s, and though I do not live up to its teachings, I certainly remember them — frequently. I might even call it the best book I have ever read, because it gives me such profound life lessons.
The book is The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck. (You can purchase the 25th anniversary edition at Amazon here). My well-read and fully-marked-up copy is in storage, but thanks to Amazon’s preview feature, I here include the greatest first page of a non-fiction book that I have ever read:
Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
Most do not fully see that truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.
Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?
Discipline is the basic set of tools to solve life’s problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing.
From this book, I remember two great truths:
1) Life is difficult. When you accept this truth, then you can “expect” the next difficulty to arrive, and tackle it as it should be tackled – as the next difficulty on your list of difficulties. There is no life without difficulties! This is truly a great truth. (And, yes, very Buddhist – although you can find plenty of confirmation in Christian Scripture).
2). You (and all of us) are lazy – seek to overcome your laziness! In the book, Peck does not define laziness as doing nothing (couch potato laziness), but rather, laziness is spending time on the “wrong thing.” And the “right thing” is always beckoned by love. Here is the principle: Even if we work diligently on work that needs to be done at some point, if it is not the thing you should be working on at this moment, it is laziness. Avoiding the challenge that we most need to tackle is laziness.
Peck defines laziness as a failure to love. Here is a quote (lifted from a quotes page from the web; as I said, my copy is in storage): evil is laziness carried to its ultimate, extraordinary extreme. As I have defined it, love is the antithesis of laziness. Ordinary laziness is a passive failure to love.
So, as we think about the best books we have read in the last year, maybe it is time to revisit books that most shaped us – and to remember their valuable lessons. And if you have never read The Road Less Traveled, let me encourage you to do so. I believe it is worth the investment of time.