Two employees were in the race for a promotion. Both had completed 10 years with the company, but only one was promoted. The aggrieved employee who had missed out, went over to the boss. “We both have 10 years of experience. How come she was promoted and I wasn’t?”
The boss gave an insightful answer. “You’re right, she has 10 years of experience but you have one year’s experience 10 times!” A simple statement, but shows a big difference — difference between stagnation and growth.
Time to introspect
As we come to the end of one more year, it’s time we try to be like Janus, the Roman God with two faces, one of which looks backwards and one, ahead. The questions we should be asking ourselves are: What did I learn from this year? What am I going to change in the coming year? How will I choose to grow?
If we do not seriously introspect, we risk hitting the ‘replay’ button and like the complaining employee, end up doing very much the same things year after year — it’s almost like running busily, but on a treadmill that doesn’t get you anywhere. In our next column, we’ll look at a framework to help with our New Year resolutions but for this one, let’s explore some pre-work.
The SSC list
A tool we used in my last organisation, which I found very useful and continue to use for my personal development, is what is called the stop-start-continue list. A good way to use this tool is to mail a few of your friends, classmates, professors, people we work or study with and ask them the following three questions.
~ What are the things I do that are not helpful to my personal growth and effectiveness that you think I should stop doing?
~ What are the things that you think I should start doing that will help me grow and improve my impact as a person and professional?
~ What are the things I do well that you think I must continue doing and build on?
With the replies you get and your own reflections from the year past, you should be able to put together your stop-start-continue list.
Here is when you should ask yourself: What are the things I have been doing in this past year that I need to stop doing? Think about things that have been holding you back, about problems that you avoided, the time-wasting habits and poor people skills that you want to change.
A definition of insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results’. Are there any insane things you haven’t been able to let go off?
I remember one year, putting on my list, a bad listening habit that I had become aware of. I would often interrupt the person I was listening to or complete her sentence for her. This was arrogant and resulted in missed opportunities to learn something, and grow a relationship. So, it went on my stop list.
Other examples can be how much time you spend on social media. How much time do you spend browsing and forwarding pointless WhatsApp messages? Can you stop some of that?
The stop stuff is difficult, especially if it is a habit that has taken a pernicious hold on us. But the growth journey begins with awareness. The benefit is that we rid ourselves of something that is not helpful to our growth, while at the same time creating a new space for ourselves to fill with more productive options.
What are the things I’ve been putting off doing? What are the things I know I must start but have not made time for? In what ways have I just been spending time instead of investing it?
There’s a power packed article by Clayton M Christensen How Will You Measure Your Life? (https://hbr.org/2010/07/how-will-you-measure-your-life) that I would encourage you to read. (He later wrote a book by the same title. Reading it would be a good investment of your time). The reason I refer to his article in this segment on what to start, are these specific paragraphs that I will quote in their entirety. Let them inspire you on what you plan to start.
“For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential. But it was something I had to think long and hard about before I understood it. When I was a Rhodes Scholar, I was in a very demanding academic programme, trying to cram an extra year’s worth of work into my time at Oxford.
“I decided to spend an hour every night reading, thinking, and praying about why God put me on this earth. That was a very challenging commitment to keep, because every hour I spent doing that, I wasn’t studying applied econometrics. I was conflicted about whether I could really afford to take that time away from my studies, but I stuck with it — and ultimately figured out the purpose of my life.
“Had I instead spent that hour each day learning the latest techniques for mastering the problems of autocorrelation in regression analysis, I would have badly misspent my life. I apply the tools of econometrics a few times a year, but I apply my knowledge of the purpose of my life every day. It’s the single most useful thing I’ve ever learned. I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at HBS. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces.”
What are those power packed decisions, habits or learning I must start with today that will have a transformational impact on my life?
What are strengths that have served me and others well? What are some of the good qualities that others have complimented me on that I must keep on improving? This is the easiest of the three. It is momentum stuff, but takes work to keep improving them. Skills not honed can dull over time, just as muscles that are not exercised, atrophy.
For example, a reading habit may be an excellent strength that must be continued, but perhaps the width of reading and setting aside time to harness learning from that reading could improve.
As we make all three lists, my suggestion would be to not go for too many items. Shoot for the three most important ones. Pick those that would make the most difference to your growth and your impact as a leader. Don’t look too far into the future or set unrealistic goals — start small and stay consistent.
As EL Doctorow would say about writing a novel, which is also true of life: “(it) is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way”.
Let our start-stop-continue lists be those headlights for us in the coming year.