Friday, December 31, 2010

Chatting With The 6 a.m. Sage- part 2

May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions!
Joey Adams

For the end of year blogs, I've been temporarily refocusing from shining a light outward to the community to shining the light within, with a more introspective look at New Year's resolutions and personal change. So I'll just launch into part 2 of the sage advice of the accidental 'guru with a microphone',  John Meaney; if you missed yesterday's blog start there for the background info.

So in that off-air conversation, John shared how, like many of us, two years previously he had set a goal to lose a certain number of pounds. The year started with healthy food choices, exercise... and impressive, steady progress for about 6 months. Then life happened. Busy workdays with quick meals gobbled in front of the computer, unplanned munches while doing shows at remote locations and soon his resolution was careening wildly down that slippery slope. That's when most of us give up, discouraged and haunted by a sense of failure...even after 6 full months of success.

And John admits he initially felt that sense of defeat and started to pick up old habits... then  a realization dawned on him-- he was already halfway to his goal. Even if he totally stopped any more progress, he was in much better shape than when the year had started! Isn't that success? How many of us have hit a roadblock where our resolve stops-- we proclaim our inability to finish the race, and backpedal right back to the start line rather than pausing to enjoy the scenery mid-course? Is the finish line the only important thing? Pondering what motivates (or demotivates) us is probably as important to success as choosing the goal. Which do I enjoy more about hiking, the walk in the woods or the view from the summit? Process or product? (Or is it the time spent on the trail with my dog?)

Back in college, I studied organizational psychology and was always intrigued by different management philosophies. The Japanese have an efficiency and waste reduction philosophy used in factories, called Kaizen. In very basic terms it's a philosophy of continually making small changes that lead to improved performance-- continually unfolding and evolving toward a goal.

So here's how it works:
Identify a goal/problem and start by doing something easy on the path toward that goal-- make the smallest possible change to improve performance, but make this a habit. Once, and only when, that improvement is fully integrated, move on to the next small change. Make sure the changes bring you personal well-being -- this practice isn't embraced because it benefits management, but because it benefits the employee also. Include others in the change and together celebrate all your small successes.

It always stuck me how in the US we tackle change with the swagger and stance of John Wayne, strong, confident, and ambitious...we do it alone and take pride in that independence. While no one can question Asian drive and tenacity in the workplace, their philosophy has a more communal and process-oriented feel to it. Perfection reveals itself not with fanfare; but rather, like a plain sheet of paper lying flat on the table, when patiently and precisely folded... one simple step followed by another... an origami crane emerges and takes flight.

So between now and March 1st, I've got my first resolution strategy to ponder- will I saddle up and gallop into my goal (and enjoy the thrill that brings) or will I gently and methodically unfold toward a new way of being? Or is there a common ground where West meets East? 

"Wishing you a Kaizen New Year?" ... "Partner?"

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