Five Foolish Follies

1. Choosing not to think. Have you ever noticed that there are boundaries to what we choose to think about? Religion is certainly one area where we may choose not to apply the usual rigours of thought. Math is another one; childhood school fears are likely the main block. Relationships, too, might not be tested for fear of failure. If you ever find yourself choosing not to think about something, take a step back and ask yourself why.

2. Seeking only evidence that makes you feel good or supports your point of view. Horoscopes, astrologists, and psychics play on this well-known human weakness. We only notice those things that confirm what we want and ignore those things that don’t. I find I have to pay attention when I’m advocating for or defending a position. Am I being reasonable and fair? Am I seeking disconfirming evidence? How are you at searching for contradictions?

3. Being unthinkingly loyal to your friends, your family, your organization, or any of your “in” group. I grew up with this notion that blood is thicker than water. Mafias are loyal to their “family”, but it doesn’t make their actions right. There is, of course, some truth in the saying. I know and trust my family and friends because of my shared experiences with them, but this doesn’t mean that I should excuse anything they say or do. If anything, it is my responsibility to be loyal to their best selves. Do you find yourself unthinkingly supporting your friends or family?

4. Dismissing ideas or people because of their form not their content. If it looks good, it must be good right? Advertisers would want us to believe that of course, but any astute shopper who has been disappointed by a product knows that looks and quality don’t always go hand-in-hand. The corollary then would be that if it looks bad, it isn’t always bad. A documentary film may not have great special effects or the prettiest actors or the right flow… but the truths it speaks may be more fruitful than any Hollywood film. When do you dismiss something, is it because it doesn’t look good?

5. Quitting before you’ve begun. What if you wanted to lead a healthy lifestyle and quit going to the gym after a month? What if you wanted to market your business and quit networking after a month? You’ve stopped before you’ve even begun. Most of the time it’s not for lack of the right direction or technique or skills. It’s a lack of persisting long enough to see the results. Have you quit before you’ve begun?

Chris Hsiung BSc. CPCC
U Venture

Chris Hsiung is the president of U Venture, a consulting practice that helps entrepreneurs and professionals develop their adaptive learning capacities to navigate uncertain times and build meaningful life ventures. He graduated with distinction from the University of Calgary in Electrical Engineering and is an internationally certified coach through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI). He is also a student and teacher of curriculum at Leadership Calgary and at Momentum.

How to develop consistency of action

It’s surprising how difficult it is to develop a new habit, but learning how to do it well is a skill well worth developing. Literally anything important that we aim to accomplish in the future requires creating the habits today.

The moral of the story behind the turtle and the rabbit race should be less “slow and steady wins the race” and more “slow and steady develops great habits which can then help you win races”. This lesson is becoming harder and harder for our society to learn because we are use to getting everything quickly. A few keystrokes will get us the information we need. A bit of money will buy whatever you need.

But relationships cannot be bought or developed instantaneously. Our bodies can’t be transformed on a dime. Nor can our ideas be forced to drip from our minds and take shape without incubation.

So are you trying to develop a consistency of action? Here are a few tips I’ve found helps:

  • Be clear about the capacity you want to develop and the habit needed to develop it. The habits for developing a healthy body are clear, but what about the habits for a healthy mind? What done consistently over time will actually generate results?
  • Be specific and concrete about the habit. If it’s reading a book, then what kind of book? How many pages will you read? What notes will you take?
  • Make it easy and convenient to do. I leave my guitar at the top of my stairs so that I see it every day. When I need a short break, I pick up the guitar and practice a few chords.
  • Initially, don’t be too concerned about quality. Just do something, anything. Get in your 15 minutes of working out even it’s jumping jacks in your basement because you don’t have time to get to the gym. Force yourself to write just a single line in your blog even when you can’t think of anything.
  • Know that anything we do will initially feel difficult to do, but once the habit is developed, it becomes easier to do. Our unconscious is not developed in a day!
  • When the habit becomes routine, try to one-up it so that it is a little more challenging. When twenty push-ups become easy, reach for thirty push-ups. When calling three people a day about your business becomes easy, try doing it in less time.
  • Be accountable to someone, something, or some idea. Coaches hold accountability, but so do friends or the dream inside you that you remember every day.

These are just a few tips. How do you develop consistency of action every day?

What makes a question powerful?

I was stirred to consider this question upon reading The Art of Powerful Questions by Eric E. Vogt, Juanita Brown, and David Isaacs. Part of the work of a coach is asking powerful questions, but what is that? We can see the result of a powerful question. It provokes new and more effective thinking and feeling. It pushes individuals to pursue deeper learning. It garners committed and bold action.

questionsThe article suggests three dimensions of powerful questions: the construction of the question (how it is phrased), the scope of the questions (tactical versus strategic), the assumptions of the question. These are important dimensions to consider, but there is an even more important underlying principle here. Questions are only as powerful as the inquiry processes behind it.

A properly constructed question with the right scope and assumptions will not go far if the asker and the askee are not prepared to inquire seriously into what is being investigated.

The better question then would be what is inquiry?

Inquiry is the ability to investigate our own ignorance in its variety of forms. The problem is that much of the kinds of ignorance we are use to facing can be easily solved by looking it up in Google or asking someone about it. A more common kind of ignorance encountered in coaching is the that which can’t be answered easily by simply consulting a book. It’s the kind that requires effort and energy on the part of the coach and client. And that’s hard.

To investigate requires a persistence, a willingness to look at the fallibility of our judgment, a willingness to apply reasoned thought, self-awareness, a willingness to triangulate with other sources of information, outlining the solution space and a whole range of other skills and capacities. Fortunately, these are all character traits we develop to some degree whenever we’re trying to figure something important out.

So turn on your investigative journalistic powers, and discover your powerful questions.

The Power of Pattern-Seeking

Orion's Belt
Greeks map out the story of the Orion constellation.

We are naturally pattern-seeking creatures. When the ancient Greeks looked up at the stars, they invented a whole series of rich stories and mythologies to go with the constellations. These stories and patterns may on one hand seem arbitrary to us, but on the other hand it was an early way of remembering where the stars were positioned in a time when navigation by the stars were critical.

We have since found far more powerful uses of patterns. Some of you may know the story of how one man discovered the cause of cholera outbreaks in London. Before anyone knew about germs, these outbreaks were thought to be caused by bad smells.

Dr. John Snow thought otherwise. He investigated the outbreaks by mapping the location deaths with a black bar on a street map.

Dr. John Snow tracks cholera outbreaks on a map of London.
Dr. John Snow tracks cholera outbreaks on a map of London.

He discovered that cholera would kill people on one side of a street but not the other, or that one person would die blocks away from a cluster. How then could this be caused by bad smells?

Then by interviewing every family, he was able to find the commonality that each person drank from the same water pump. To test his theory, he took the handle off the water pump and the outbreak stopped.

What is important is not the map, but how he was able to identify the patterns and create a solution by creating the map.

Finding patterns and testing them allows us to understand the underlying cause, which often cannot be seen by the naked eye.

Much of human behaviour is that way. You can watch a chess player move a piece or a boxer throw a punch. You can even mimic the movement, but you will not have a clue why they do so or what they will do next. We can see the action, but not the thought behind the action.

Whether you are trying to understand how to be creative, innovative, or successful discover the principles behind the event, the pattern behind the isolated data points.