Requests Versus Intentions

This is a fairly common occurrence when dealing with others and especially, with customers or even staff. We all filter during our waking life, most of which goes unnoticed by us, as these “auto-pilot” events carry on in the background. This evolutionary strategy frees up our brains to perform “higher” functions such as thought while still enabling us to maintain life functions such as breathing, walking etc.

As humans we tend to go into an auto-pilot state when ever possible, did you pull the hand brake when you parked the car? Did you turn off the gas? This ability to subconsciously perform tasks is highly beneficial, yet our ability to easily slip into it can have consequences.

When talking to someone we often listen just enough, so we can begin to form our next statement. This can be efficient and perfectly adequate for simple tasks covering well defined and commonly known parameters, facts and requirements.

Yet if the purpose of the conversation is to bring into focus the requirements and needs of a customer then the requested items or tasks may not deliver the actual intended outcome expected by the customer. A customer will often ask for a preconceived “product or service” which to the best of their understanding is the correct one. This request is often skewed by the amount of knowledge, time, importance and even ego the customer has.

The basic idea that the customer is always right is greatly misinterpreted by most of us. The customer has obviously the final say as to whether they are satisfied with the final product or the resulting service but that does not imply they are experts that have precise specifications for their requirements and the equipment and skills to deliver said item or service. If they did they wouldn’t need you.

The greatest obstacle to a satisfactory outcome is often ourselves. Trust is key, each party must have each others best interests at heart, we can not expect a free ride but simple pride in ones work and courtesy goes a very long way. The intention of the requested work is often buried under layers of ego, insufficient knowledge, time constraints and “auto-pilot” conversations. The best customers know what they need and your job is to help them get it. The intention of a piece of work is its reason for being, the request is but a starting point and can and should not be considered a precise specification for the deliverable. This is where the value of your input and speciality knowledge is required and essential, if you don’t have all the answers, then be open about it and then find out what extra pieces of information are required. This manages the customers expectations and shows transparency and honesty while protecting yourself as well.

Everyone can learn everything and anything

This has been a source of some debate between myself and basically everyone else. The fact I stand by is that we can all learn anything and do anything we actually want to. This is often disagreed with by most people I talk to. They are firmly set in their ways and as such find it unacceptable that anyone can do anything. Funnily enough they often cite themselves as an example, they are good at maths but are terrible at accounting, they are a good dancer but suck at sports and my personal favourite they can’t do what ever but never really tried. They often will debate citing aptitude and ability but my premise is that we can all do anything if we really want to enough. The results may not be perfection or the best but we can become capable enough to be competent.

I am convinced we are programmed by our experiences and ourselves. This programming often takes place without any real obvious input but by subtle language and even non-verbal communications. Parents, peers, self and even timing can drastically affect the way we see ourselves and our ability to perform tasks. Should we all feel trapped by our existing abilities and environment? Does this mean that we can never evolve or develop skills and techniques we never had? When you begin to state the the concept of ability and aptitude like this, you start to get the idea that many of us treat abilities much like parents treat their children, their youngest child will always be their baby, even when they turn 50 and have children of their own. This attitude means we take a snap shot and rarely revise that image, much like our abilities.

Efficiency can be bad for your health

In a world of “Bean counters”, the bottom line and increased production, we seem to have missed the human side of the equation and it is having a detrimental effect upon all of us personally.

Terms like work-life balance, transparency and a hundred other touchy feely buzz words seem to only appease the many; with a sense that “something is being done or there is a process to follow”. The problem lies in the truth that as a business the chosen target of focus is the wrong one. We focus to attain and maintain 10% growth, we focus upon man hours wasted, increasing production and reducing staff, all valid strategies yet only one side of the complex equation that is work and business. The other side of the coin is far more complex and counter intuitive.

The ancient Romans were presented with a steam engine by Heron, a Greek mathematician and engineer in the 1st century, yes a basic, rudimentary steam engine (the aeolipile ) it could have been used to do work and may have eventually lead to the industrial revolution occurring back in ancient Rome. The surprising thing is, when this device was shown to the Romans they basically replied “What would we do with all the slaves?” How many among us would have thought to say that, does this mean they were smarter than us or is it that they had a different focus and vision of what work was actually about. Yes they had slaves but they also were aware that if a machine could do all the work then the social impact would be far greater than they were prepared to suffer.

steam engineMechanisation and the industrial revolution did occur and its social impact has been felt ever since but does that mean in a modern work place the workers are machines, cogs in the greater mechanism? Is production the means and the end of the modern global workforce? Strangely enough I have never heard anyone say they work solely to produce; reproduce maybe, family, friends or the next holiday, but never just to produce product or perform a service as the ultimate goal of their labours. The goal for most people is not what they actually produce but what they think it will give them, a means to an end. So to most of us work is not the destination but the method or journey to achieve something greater.

With that in mind, think about the way we examine a business and work-flow. The focus is on efficiency, increased profit and reduced cost, all easily measured metrics and relatively easy to modify, especially in a negative way. Now look at the goal of the “workers” the human side of the equation (yes, this includes Management), a much harder metric to examine let alone measure. This is a can of worms! And far to complex to broach here. Yet we can determine some threads to be taken home from this:

Obviously the goal of the “workers” is not actually tightly related to the method or journey taken.

The way we measure success is narrow by nature, focusing upon components not the whole.

So what am I getting at ? The question we often ask is wrong, not because we don’t know it’s wrong but because that’s how we’ve always worked. More is better but more of the wrong thing is worse.

Focus and goals are highly relevant and to lose sight of them is a dangerous and unhealthy way to go. Consider a holiday, a trip across Europe say, most of us plan this sort of thing, where to go, what to see, what to do, and so on. Now what is the goal of a holiday, this varies but for most of us it’s to relax and take a break from work etc. So if your goal is to relax and take it easy then would you plan every moment of the trip; bus and train timetables optimised, condense the trip to its minimum? No, of course not, but if your goal was to see as much of Europe in the time you had, the answer would be Yes. That’s a sight-seeing trip not a holiday, yes they can blend together to some degree but the goals are different.

So how would we measure this, number of sites seen, number of photos taken, time taken, cost effectiveness, distance travelled, personal interactions engaged in or do you need a holiday when you return? It would depend on your attitude to travel and your actual goal.

Efficiency may be bad for your health if you focus on the wrong things or ignore your goals. Like a laser, a highly focused beam of light, efficiency can cause damage if poorly applied.

So how do we deal with this idea and try to make sense of it. Personally I see work, business and global markets no differently than ecosystems, highly varied and complex but with many smaller “components” which effect the overall health of the system.

Biology is a complex and varied system far more so than business, despite what some economist types would have you believe. Think about it biology has evolved over millions of years, has had dead ends, set backs and eventually become what we see today. Business and economics has had at best several thousands of years and if we remove bartering far less.

So if the more evolved and complex system has particular traits then we should at least examine the more simplistic system to see if it truly requires the same traits. Yes we should pare it back to its simplest form, and see the basic blue print of an advanced system. Wow! heavy stuff and far more complicated a discussion than for this document but basics can be gleaned.

Any biological system has some basic truths our comparisons will depend upon how we see a company or business. If we see a company or business as an individual entity then we would focus on the biological requirements for a single individual of a species. If we see the company or business as a group dynamic then we could focus upon cells in individuals or social behaviour, animal dynamics in a group of individuals or maybe even social insects such as bees, ants etc.

An Ecological Example: Trophic cascade.

When a top predator is removed from an ecosystem, a series of knock-on effects are felt throughout all the levels in a food web, as each level is regulated by the one above it. This is known as a trophic cascade. The results of these trophic cascades can lead to an ecosystem being completely transformed, and some surprising results. The impacts trickle down through each level, upsetting the ecological balance by altering numbers of different animal species, until the effects are finally felt by the vegetation.

Removal of apex predators, such as sharks, from food chains can have a devastating effect on the ecosystem. Many sharks reproduce slowly, attaining sexual maturity at a later age, this means their removal has a long term effect to their ecosystem. The next level of carnivorous fish are now not preyed upon and can increase in numbers. This increase can lead to the removal of herbivorous fish which graze upon the algae. If the numbers of these grazing fish is reduced drastically the algae can grow unhindered. This type of trophic cascade can destroy coral reefs by choking out corals that can’t compete with the fast growing vegetation. Not really an obvious outcome, is it?

So when we optimise or increase the efficiency of any part the trophic cascade effects can result into surprising outcomes some of them detrimental.

Aquariums a simplified system as an example.

Most of the technology used to keep a modern aquarium healthy has directly or indirectly evolved from the sewage treatment industry. Many aquarists find this surprising but the legacy of waste treatment is undeniable especially when we look at marine aquaria. The marine aquarium is the pinnacle of aquaculture for the home hobbyist, loaded with advanced equipment such as, biological filter media, Protein skimmer (foam fractionation), denitrifying beds, probes for pH, ORP (oxygen redox potential) etc., ozone generators the list is extensive and goes through even to the low tech box filters and under-gravel filters used in a basic bowl or tank for goldfish and other freshwater fish etc.

Why are we talking about fish? Well the point is that all this technology originated from sewage treatment and is now used to keep your fish alive yet it was developed with a different goal. The best example of this is the protein skimmer or foam fractionator, this device forces a stream of small air bubbles into a water column and if the pH (is say that of seawater ) is sufficiently high a foam begins to form, floating up and then collected and removed, extracting proteins (organics) from the water column. This basic tool is invaluable to the marine aquarist wishing to keep corals alive and healthy in their marine aquarium. Marine invertebrates, especially tropical and reef invertebrates are highly sensitive to pollution and increased organics because they have evolved in nutrient poor waters.

The removal of organics before they can pollute the water column is highly beneficial as you would imagine. The first protein skimmers were an air driven affair using special wooden air-stones, that would slowly degrade and become less efficient overtime. The advances in protein skimmer design meant that air driven skimmers were replaced by highly efficient venturi and/or “turbo” skimmers. Now herein lies the problem, as skimmers became increasingly efficient at removing dissolved organics from the water column, there was a growing need to add supplements to your aquaria to maintain healthy growth. Corals and some other invertebrates require dissolved nutrients, organics and minerals to maintain a healthy metabolism. Highly efficient protein skimmers were in fact being run continually by most aquarists and ironically they were also adding expensive supplements while the skimmers were on and therefore extracting them at the same time. My advice was, since the ridiculously efficient skimmer was being used, they should only run them intermittently either on during the day and off during the night or 2 days on, 3 days off or variations of these depending upon feeding schedules, stocking levels and inhabitants.

The fact that was lost, was that the goal of sewage treatment is ultimately pure water; the goal of an aquarium on the other hand is an aquatic ecosystem which is anything but pure. Actually pure water or distilled water will kill your fish very quickly indeed. When transplanting technology from sewage treatment to aquaria, the goals of the two disciplines were similar but not identical.

Be careful and aware of your intent or goal and the intent or goals of the “tools” and methods you utilise.

Wikipedia, History of the steam engine

The cascade effect

“Biological flow” and the implications upon work-flow and enjoyment.

The concept of biorhythms is an ancient one founded upon the observations of the seasons, tides and even life itself. The validity of biorhythms is debatable, yet we all have fun reading our horoscopes which are based upon astrology and biorhythms.

The word biorhythm is a composite of the two Greek words, bios and rhythmos, which mean life and a constant or periodic beat. The theory of biorhythms defines and measures three basic and important life cycles in humans: the physical, emotional, and intellectual.

The key thing here I wish to expand upon is the idea of cycles and rhythms. The idea that we all have a natural rhythm and cycle is the basis of the idea of biological flow.

Biological flow is defined here as the natural flow that exists in every individual. The basic premise of biological flow can be seen in the length of your stride when walking or running, this is the result of many factors unique to you and as such is natural to you. Now consider you have to walk using a taller persons stride. The distance covered by each stride would be larger and feel awkward to you, so much so, you may actually stumble and fall. The basic fact is that the longer stride of a tall person is not suited to your biological parameters such as length of leg, muscle mass etc. Now the same would be true if a tall person was forced to walk or run using the stride length of a shorter person, the end result would be unease and a lack of comfort and even failure such as stumbling or falling. This is easily observed when a child is trying to match the stride of their parent, they often loose step and run to catch up.

Now I propose that we all have a natural metre and rhythm when performing any task. When singing, the number of words a vocalist can sing is determined by factors such as lung capacity, the way they usually phrase their words when speaking, if they are a smoker etc. Now most of us have tried to sing along and at some time have just run out of breath in the process. This is partly due to technique, not taking a big enough breath at the right time but it is also due to our natural and unique biological flow, shaped by our lung capacity, phrasing etc.

The concept of biological flow owes its framework to musical theory in particular musical metre and musical rhythm.

When we look at musical theory, musical metre and musical rhythm often become confused and meld into one. The actual fact is that music is all about beats, timing and sound patterns. A metre is a regular pattern of beats indicated by a time signature. A rhythm is the way different lengths of sound are combined to produce patterns in time.

The following terms are used to describe and preform music :

  • pulse

  • simple and compound time

  • regular, irregular and free rhythms

  • augmentation, diminution, hemiola, cross-rhythm

  • dotted rhythms, triplets, syncopation

  • tempo, rubato

  • polyrhythm, bi-rhythm

  • drum fill

The field of musical theory is vast and out of scope for this discussion, yet the same idea for biological metre and biological rhythm can be observed. We all have a natural and unique biological metre, the speed at which we walk, run, perform tasks etc.; we also have a tendency to have a set pattern of doing things, the rhythm to which we tend to perform tasks for example. There is even a set metre, the time signature per se, of when we naturally perform these patterns of work and life. Some of us work at a steady pace, others are more like sprinters, while others still are marathon runners and on top of this there is the metre of when our energies are expelled. The same could be said for the way we go about performing our daily tasks and even lives. This methodology or rhythm that we gravitate to, often is the reason why we find some people hard to work with and others easier to collaborate with. There is no one answer because we all process and respond differently to the stimuli of work and life but what is clear upon reflection is that the way we are wired definitely impacts our work-flow and enjoyment of work/life.

Our natural biological flow when performing tasks is also affected by where we are in the day; Are you a morning person or a night owl?

Do you need a coffee in the morning before you start?

Do you become so absorbed and consumed by a task you loose track of time?

Do you like to jump in and try things?

Do you like to have tasks defined and quantified?

Are the others you work with wired similarly?

So next time you’re working with others try to keep biological flows in mind, and accept the fact that these different work flows require awareness, understanding and communication and only then will we feel and attain collaboration rather than WORK.

The nirvana of collaboration can be obtained from the oppression of work when aware of the biological flows involved.

Misconceptions are harder to correct than lies.

We all do it, take things out of context, only read the summary, sound bites, hearsay and even don’t listen carefully or fully enough to truly understand. These lapses of focus and concentration can sometimes lead to misconceptions about certain things in our lives. These misconceptions are often not noticed because we actually don’t realise they are misconceptions until we expend some effort in discovering them and correcting them. Misconceptions are like cracks and in the foundations they can range in size from minor hair cracks to major structural fissures. It is only when we begin to build upon them that we start to notice things aren’t quite correct or aren’t quite how they should be.

Like the denial of an alcoholic we often fail to recognise the misconceptions we carry and blindly follow and heaven help anyone who tries to correct them, for us. The simple fact is, that lies on the other hand are far easier to identify and therefore correct. Think about it lies or false concepts often hit a brick wall of reality where things don’t add up. At this point there are usually glaring and obvious inconsistencies, so we begin to dig deeper. Once we begin to examine the facts and look carefully at the lies or false conceptions, we are actually prompted into awareness of their existence. To a vigilant mind, lies and false conceptions are like acids corroding the understanding of the world; while misconceptions are like caustics, slowly undermining it. Acids burn when it touches our skin so we become painfully aware of it quickly and address it by washing it off, to correct the situation. Caustics also causes damage yet we do not feel it burning our skin so a caustic solution can continue to burn you without you every knowing its present.

Misconceptions are more subtle than lies, yet they skew or pervert our perceptions of the situation in much the same way. Misconceptions behave in a caustic way because we don’t realise they are misconceptions at the time. If someone told you today was Monday, when you knew it was actually Tuesday, you’d know it was an untruth or a lie; yet if you woke up thinking it was Monday, you could actually plod threw the whole day and never realise your mistake. You may even argue that the day was in fact Monday, with some vigour. In this situation your misconception would only come to light if you needed to work with a date oriented task.

Misconceptions like misunderstood lyrics can be rather difficult to shift and can actually lead to differing outcomes.

So how can we stop them? Well we can’t actually stop them, the best we can do is reduce the opportunity for them to exist.

Some thoughts on how to reduce the misconceptions:

1) Definitions are the foundations of communication, therefore when using jargon or sound bites paint the frame work of their meanings, in your context. It wouldn’t be the first time people glaze over the meaning of a word because of embarrassment.

2) When ever you use information from another field or discipline be aware that your audience my not be cross the subtleties of that area or field. Again context or the lack of a common context may allow misconceptions.

3) The opportunity for miscomprehension lies in life experience of your audience, the more homogenous the crowd the more specific, focused and jargon biased you can be. The trade off for easy of “communication” is an increase in potential misconceptions.

As a member of any community if you truly wish to discuss, debate and explore possibilities you must define, scope and frame the context of the discussion point. Only when we’re on a firm footing of known concepts and defined language can we have the freedom to truly communicate and explore ideas. Most people find the grunt work of defining and framing boring but without shared concepts, language and communication fails and falls into disagreement and argument.

Have you ever debated/argued with someone only to find the disagreement was solely based upon a subtle difference in the definition of a word. Words are not just words they carry with them subtile overtones of meaning which vary for each of us depending upon when, how, where we heard them and what they meant to us.

I hope these thoughts about misconceptions may aid in avoiding them.

When is help not helping?

An interesting experience at the local fried chicken store. Last time I went to my local fried chicken store I was struck by the total lack of awareness by the staff. The simple process of taking orders, preparing food, bagging and final delivery was completely off the rails. The bizarre thing was that it had gone off the rails mostly because of one “helpful” person. To summarise the situation I’m at the counter to order and ended up waiting more than 10 minutes for a staff member to take my order. The store was not overly busy only a few customers. So why the long wait before taking my order? The staff member in question had left his post “the register” to aid another front of house staff member in bagging orders. Nice of him but in more than 10 minutes he never kept an eye on the counter for new customers and no other staff member bothered to notice. I personally would have walked out 3 times over but my son wanted Fried chicken so we stayed. While waiting and watching the process the staff were engaged in I noticed they were waiting upon menu items which were not ready yet. The back of house staff never glanced at the counter, the front of house staff had their backs to the register meanwhile the customer waited. Eventually the male staff member came to the register and took another customers order who had been standing there waiting. I actually thought she had already ordered but she hadn’t. Upon taking her order he proceeded to go off to the bagging area to help his fellow female counter part.

Now all this time I was wondering if the two young people had been trained in front of house customer service. The basics of any food outlet the way I see it is get the order as soon as possible, once you have their order they are hooked and wait. One of the metrics most organisations use for customer relations is the wait time, answer the phone call in 3 – 8 rings etc. Back to the “process” I use the term loosely; while the staff were waiting on the menu items, no orders were taken therefore the cooking team could not prepare the food in the meantime for the other customers. The kitchen staff never glanced at the counter to gauge the up coming work load, the management never appeared from the back of the store/kitchen. This was not rush hour (5 people in the store) but the entire team at the local fried chicken store had bottle necked.

The counter staff handed the food to the previous customers apologising for the delay. I was thinking ‘if you take the orders while waiting for the not prepared menu items, the wait would not be so great’. The order taking process is the most crucial and shortest compared to those following.

Several minutes passed and then the female staff member came to take my order. Meanwhile two other customers entered and the older man walked start up to order in front of me. Realising the error, the female staff member asked me for my order. When she asked me if she could take my order, I smiled and enquired in a gentle polite manner if she had been trained in customer relations. The intent of the question was not to offend but to genuinely discover if the chicken store or the management team had trained her and her male counter part for front of house. My question was ignored, so I added “you have to keep an eye on the register when your at front of house”, to make her aware that it is important. At this point the pushy older male customer became animated accusing me of being abusive to her and that she did not have to put up with that etc. All the while he was backing away from me towards the exit, a man of conviction. This is the classic guilt mixed with snap judgement scenario, the old man had pushed in and without knowing what had happened before, the lack of process, he assumed that my question was because she had gone to take his order before me. This type of person is no help and beyond help in fact I consider him a moron because only a moron would get involved wth little or no facts. However, guilt is a funny thing.

Now let me expand, I know I somehow intimidate people by my looks and my honesty but I am very aware of this and try to be super gentle when interacting with people. The female staff member did not appear upset but more surprised. In fact the old man caused more of a scene than anyone, ironic, guilt again. I then proceeded to give my order clearly and distinctly, “4 zee burger combos, regular and 1 pepsi max and 3 sunkist”, she read it back to me “a zee burger combo, 1 pepsi max and 3 sunkist”. I corrected her “No, 4 zee burger combos, regular and 1 pepsi max and 3 sunkist”, she read it back to me “3 zee burger combos, 1 pepsi max and 3 sunkist”. I corrected her again “No, 4 zee burger combos, regular and 1 pepsi max and 3 sunkist”. Finally on the third try she got it correct. Now she may have been flustered by my question or the old man but the question of front of house training seemed rather relevant at this stage.

Anyway the order was thrown together, dropped she asked me if I wanted the receipt, to which I replied “yes” and I left.

The receipt has a survey link on it for feed back, she didn’t inform me of this but I knew anyway. I took the food home and proceeded to fill in the online survey. Needless to say very dissatisfied appeared in more than one box. What was interesting was the question asking about cleanliness. I responded by checking the “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied” option, yet in the survey process I was later asked why I gave them a dissatisfied. Poor coding? The fried chicken store can’t listen? Who knows. I responded that I gave a neutral answer in the survey.

Why is your helping not helping? a funny story.

Now I’m a fixer, yes one of those genetically predisposed “idiots” that when I see a problem I feel a need to put it right. Therefore, when I saw a blocked drain I grabbed my set of plumbing springs


and began to clear the drain. Soil, roots the usual mess and eventually the drain was all clear. Now in the meantime my father was helping (yep you know where this is going). So while I was still working on the drain he decided to help by picking up all the soil I had pulled out and put to one side. My helpful father began to scrape up the debris and remove it. I had to move my stack of springs which were near me and the debris, to give him room to work. Now a set of old fashioned plumbing springs have a special tool called a separation key. This key is


designed to hook the end of the spring and pull it, enlarging the spring spiral while you twist it to separate the springs from each other. Now this little tool is a must because the springs become incredibly tightened during use and separating them without this tool is a nightmare. I noticed that my separation key was not near the unused springs. Yep he had somehow picked up a 100mm key and thrown it out, without noticing. Yes thrown it out, he had placed the debris into the garbage bin out on the curb for collection that very day. After some digging and head shaking I found the key and could now get back to cleaning the drain.

These two stories actually have a common thread of helping “going pear shaped” and becoming the opposite of helping.

How do you judge your worth?

What makes you feel your work is appreciated?

What gives you satisfaction?

What gives you validation?………Metrics?

We all value our time yet we often feel that the real effort we put into something is not appreciated. A friend of mine once told me that “Nothing says thank you, like a pay check!” I laughed but on the whole he was right…. well basically. The actual feeling of worth is not really wrapped up in the amount of money we earn from our efforts. The sense of worth is far more intangible than that. What really makes me feel appreciated is not money but a sense that I have in some way imparted benefit, knowledge or ease. Don’t get me wrong if I’ve just worked an entire week only to get a thanks, I don’t feel appreciated or valued at all. I feel underwhelmed and will not help them ever again because obviously their life and efforts are far more valuable and precious than anyone else’s. Harsh? Not at all, only the way they value others time is.

“Cast not pearls before swine….” So why in all logic would you help/aid such a superior and perfect entity.

The basic fact is often a simple act such as a coffee or just company while I’m helping you out is enough. An experience being shared often eases the burden. This concept seems foreign to most but the simple truth is that as the helpee watches they also learn, maybe by simple osmosis, or by asking questions and even by active involvement.

What about the question of success? How do you gauge how successful you have been in a particular task?

The irony is that regardless of how many people in your lecture or class room, the true measure of success is the impact we have upon others. When a student finally gets it or understands the concept you have been trying to get across to them, then and only then do I feel satisfaction and validation. There are only a handful of people in our lives which impart such an impact upon us and these are the ones who are often not considered successful by the usual measure of things in our society. The quiet achievers and “teachers” who may themselves not know they have actually contributed more to others and as such have led a truly validated existence.

Metrics are often used to give validation or satisfaction yet the actual purpose of metrics is to gauge position. Position of a process. I propose that since satisfaction and validation are somewhat difficult to gauge and define, that we often substitute the more easily measured “metrics”. The ease of measurement does not make ease of satisfaction or validation.

Validation and satisfaction are destinations, metrics aid in keeping us on course and headed in the right direction. Metrics can be alluring and highly convincing but they fall short when we try to find satisfaction and validation. How could a static measurement give anyone a sense of worth?

Think about your own experiences. What gave you satisfaction and a sense of worth? What was the best work environment you ever worked in? Think about it the intangibles play a far greater part than the measurable or “metrics”.

Metrics are finite, cold, short lived and tools. Satisfaction is potentially infinite, long lived and a destination. Validation is warm, ever-lasting and a state of mind.

Initial expectations and pot plants

When you first interact with someone, your mind goes into high acquisitions mode. This is the initial response whenever we experience anything for the first time. Our mind is like a sponge absorbing vast amounts of details about the new experience. This is a good thing evolutionarily speaking because we have a rapid response to new stimuli and therefore a course of action can be evaluated quickly.

Yet this evolutionary advantage has a down side when dealing with others, in the long term.

We are curious animals and love to learn but we also love to experience new things. Now we all know that we all have at sometime switched off during a conversation, we go on auto pilot. This is not a bad thing per se but it does leave us open to the fact we are not driving the car so to speak, we are not actively engaged. This is the vacuum where assumptions and expectations rule and exert their influence, the world of lazy folly.

Consider the way we tend to accumulate information,

  1. Initial uptake, mind is like a sponge absorbing vast amounts of data
  2. Evaluation of new stimuli/experience
  3. Response plan
  4. Course of action

These steps happen subconsciously and often go unnoticed, yet they often become expectations and even assumptions.

So what about the pot plants?

Initial expectations and even assumptions for that matter, often go unnoticed just like the pot around that small plant you bought. You look after the plant, interacting with it on a daily basis, watering, rotating the pot so it grows straight etc. Yet after a few years the plant seems unhappy and stifled. No matter how much you water it, the leaves always seem to droop from lack of water.

How could this be?

The plant has grown enough to be root-bound. Unbeknownst to you and out of sight of all, the roots have wrapped around the pot, strangling the very plant they are meant to feed. Any green thumbed person will tell you, you should have re-potted long ago. In fact generally speaking you should re-pot every 2-3 years depending on plant vigour.

Back to initial expectations…...

Your parents still treat you like a kid, even though you have kid of your own.
Your siblings still treat you like their baby brother or sister.
Your friends from high school still see you as you were way back then.

These all sound familiar and are all based on the same idea of the root bound pot plant. The initial interactions laid the ground work for the initial expectations and assumptions. Just like the roots of a plant, things change even if you don’t see them. So over time your initial expectations of a person or situation, even if accurate at the time, will drift.

It is these subconscious initial expectations that remain static, just like the pot around our plant and just like the pot we rarely re-evaluate (re-pot) them. So maybe we should revisit our initial expectations and be aware of them.

Expectations and Empowerment bizarre possibilities.

So what if the goal is to enable the empowerment of staff, how can we possibly accomplish this when human nature and culture on the whole is risk averse?

Most of us expect negative results when we fail, this is basic survival. Yet we also know that the greatest rewards are often obtained when we seek opportunities and stretch outside comfort zones. These less travelled paths often are avoided because of the risk of failure and the expectation of “punishment” or negative results. The strange thing is, that as companies become larger they are often forced into previously unfamiliar territory. This very risk is often were the benefits lie.

Yet in an established hierarchy the management and staff often feel that it is better to remain inert rather than proactive and acting upon possible opportunities. We have negative expectations when we see opportunities. Often even though the answers are obvious and easily implemented, we stand idle because it’s outside our pay grade or we want/need higher management permission to enact any action or change.

This form of initiative blockage is systemic in most work environments, so how could we get around this blockage? The answer may just be as simple as the problem. We use a “get out of jail free card” strategy. If you give your management team or even expert staff an exemption card, if something goes wrong during a project they could utilise it and the entire issue is for all intents and purposes a blank slate, written on a piece of paper and thrown in the bin, never to be remarked upon ever again. This reset, enables the expectation that even if things do not work out for what ever reason then the risk averse bias is negated to a certain extent by the exemption card. Obviously this is not meant to be carte blanche but a method to alleviate the bottlenecking and allowing staff of all levels to maximise opportunities, developing skill of evaluation and risk assessment along the way, all within a professional framework.

Expectations Pressures and Self

The word expectations invokes different things for different people, yet most of us see it as a negative. Comments like “What did you expect?”, “Don’t get your hopes up.”, “Manage your expectations.” sound all too familiar. They all cast expectations in a negative light to varying degrees.

So why do we dread expectations and see them in a negative way? The simple answer is FEAR, the most basic driving force that we humans seem to indulge in on a daily basis.

Fear of failure, fear of being let down, fear of not being good enough and the list goes on and on.  The interesting fact is that we divide expectations and fear. By pulling these two intertwined threads, we obscure the reason for our dread of expectations, which is due to our internal fears and the way we perceive others will see us. I leave you with that thought, give it some pause and contemplate how fear impacts the way we behave.

Expectations, pressure and self, heavy stuff but basically both expectations and pressure are impacted by the latter, Self. We all make our own reality and in doing so sculpt the perspectives of others.

The word expectations predominantly has a cautionary negativity about it but it is also seen as an external force. I know that expectations commonly are exerted upon us from the outside, project, boss, peers, family….etc. Yet we overlook, the more important expectations those we carry within. We all carry these expectations of Self but we tend not to acknowledge them.

Small children tend to have no real fear of failure or how others will see them. How often have you heard a small child say “I can do that !”, even though they have never done it before? They are not inhibited by expectation either external or internal, they carry a self expectation that they can do anything and be good at it. Adults on the other hand become nervous and fearful of any potential failure, tending to exert massive amounts of stress upon themselves and adversely impacting the experience and even the outcome at times.

You see self-expectations are often overlooked but I believe they are the most powerful of all expectations. The image of self and how it impacts our behaviours and responses is a vast topic, I will not go into detail here but I will hopefully cast some light upon the issue, so as to help you along the path of self awareness about the Self-expectations we all carry.

These self-expectations that we have, often limit our advancement and stifle our ability to succeed. How often have we hesitated despite the obvious. This can be seen often in a career path where we settle in and get comfortable. We expect that comfort, and this feeling of comfort should be there, all the while slowly becoming oblivious to the need to stretch ourselves, so we can grow and feel a sense of accomplishment.

I’m not just talking about our salary or pay, although this is a very common symptom of the self-limiting expectations but the growing dissatisfaction from our own fear driven self-expectations. If you feel you could contribute or do a task better, why don’t you? The instinct is to keep your head down and bum up but at what cost to yourself and the group. The loudest and most assertive among us are not always the best suited to the task at hand.

Yet often we down-size our expectations to suit our comfortable stride.