The Double-Edged Restorative Sword: When problem-solving becomes a problem. Part 1

“Identifying what is wrong and finding a solution to the problem or issue energizes you. You bring a solution-oriented mindset to daily problems, and complex issues that need to be resolved do not intimidate you” (Gallup, 2021).

According to Gallup, this is a characteristic of people who rate high on the Restorative scale. I wouldn’t say that I get energized by solving problems. I would say that I have a solution-oriented mindset, so maybe that’s the same thing. But, as I reflect in this moment, I guess I am energized by problems. I am always looking for what’s broken. I look for the gap between what I’m seeing and what the best-case scenario could be. But doesn’t everyone?

A couple years ago, my employer started a massive organizational change effort. We were encouraged to rethink everything. I can’t remember the specific objectives, but it generated a lot of activity. I was starting to notice a difference between what leadership was saying and what people were actually feeling. I was excited by the future vision, and I was on board with making it happen. But it was discouraging to have water-cooler conversations during which people would express their resistance to the change. This seemed like a gaping hole. And the longer leaders shared the vision, the more hardened the people became.

This seemed like a big problem, and I couldn’t figure out why anyone wasn’t working on it. Unfortunately, I was not in an organizational change management (OCM) role. Still, I started using my free time to research how to increase the organization’s change capacity, i.e., how do we create a positive feedback loop of adaptation, assessment, and reflection. I found a couple research articles that supported this and whittled it down to a couple pages of content. Ultimately, I condensed it to one page and shared it with a senior leader. They loved it and asked me to champion the change. I wish I had had an opportunity to see it through, but a series of reorganizations and bureaucratic impediments changed my job focus, and I had to put the plan on the shelf.

Looking back on it, I wish I would have had the foresight to keep going. At the time…

To be continued…

My Top 5 Themes

Continuing with the theme of “best self,” I’ve thought of other traits I possess that can help me be successful, provided I get in the right environment and headspace.

The CliftonStrengths Assessment (formerly StrengthsFinder) is an “assessment [that] measures your talents — your natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving — and categorizes them into the 34 CliftonStrengths themes” (Gallup, 2021). I first took the test over 10 years ago, and it impressed me. It made me aware of my strengths that I didn’t even realize. In fact, it showed me all of the ways that I was going against the grain. Most of us gravitate towards specific behavioral patterns. When we’re in the right environment, those patterns and tendencies can help us be successful. They are our strengths. But if we’re in a different environment that doesn’t allow us to do our best, we will struggle. Eventually, we’ll get exhausted from the uphill battle.

This is not to say that your strengths make everything easy, but they allow you to do things better than other people. Your strengths are things that you both do well AND enjoy doing. There are some things that I’m good at it, but I don’t like them. To do them requires a lot of effort, and it feels laborious. At least when I’m in my “zone of genius,” the challenge is fun and not taxing.

My top 5 themes are Restorative, Futuristic, Deliberative, Connectedness, and Intellection. 4 of the 5 were also top themes when I first took the test. Restorative people like to solve problems. Futuristic people are inspired by the future and what it can be. Deliberative folks take lots of care in making decisions. Those of us with high levels of Connectedness don’t believe in coincidences; we believe almost every event has meaning. And Intellection speaks to my proclivity towards introspection and intellectual discussions.

The idea is that you unpack these themes, find environments that help them grow, and develop a game plan to help mitigate weaknesses. The thought has crossed my mind to elaborate on these strengths more to help me get a better sense of who I am.

9 Beliefs for My BEST Self

To help develop your personal philosophy, Gervais suggests a few questions for reflection. One of them is: 

When I’m at my best, what beliefs lie just beneath the surface of my thoughts and actions?

“How to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You” by Michael Gervais.

When I’m at my best, the beliefs that lie just below the surface of my thoughts and actions are:

  • Something good will come out of what I’m working on; it may not be the exact thing that I want, but the lessons I learned in the process will be valuable.
  • I’ve practiced for this. I’m ready.
  • I’m at the edge of my expertise and experience. I won’t know precisely what the next phase looks like. I’ll learn as I go, and the route will become more apparent as I move along.
  • If I’m about to do something that scares me, there’s a chance the fear won’t go away until long after I do it. I.e., I might be scared before, during, and after. But fear isn’t a sign that I shouldn’t do that thing.
  • Speak confidently.
  • Trust yourself.
  • Trust your ideas.
  • You have good ideas.
  • I am thinking AND doing. I learn faster when doing.

The themes that stick out to me have to do with having a personal conviction that my next step is the best step I can see at the time. So I’m going to put myself out there and see what happens. The worst that happens is that I learn through failure. The best-case scenario is that I get more than I expected. The likely scenario is that I’ll gain confidence from knowing I approached an obstacle head-on and I lived to talk to about it.

What’s interesting about this is that it requires me to pick things I care about. I don’t have strong feelings about many things, but when I do, those are the moments I should exercise my will. It requires that I let go of some things because they aren’t important to me. I have the chance to hone my focus on what’s most important. It certainly seems easier to fight for something I believe in wholeheartedly rather than fight for something because I think people will want me to.

On the 12th Day of Blogging…

I start with a blank page each day, and it can be tough to get going. But once I stop worrying about the outcome and focus on the process, my nerves are calmed and the writing flows – almost effortlessly. I’m 12 days in, and I’m already getting the benefits of daily writing. I find that it helps me articulate my thoughts better. I usually have a lot of thoughts “up there”, but I don’t always take time to organize them into coherent ideas.

There’s one idea I’m trying to tweak. Initially, I thought I would write book and article reviews, but that feels dry and not very interesting. I like to read reviews of books and articles, but I also like the author to share something that I can relate to. So I don’t just want to talk about ideas, but about how I’ve used ideas (or not used them) and what the consequences were.

As I think about this more, I’m less concerned about the review of the article and more concerned about the utility of ideas discussed in the article. I don’t want to be a critic; I want to be a student. Finding a niche is hard, though. I don’t know if it’s something you stumble upon or if you choose it and force it to work. Like most things, I suspect the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

You’ve heard of FOMO; now get ready for FOPO.

My primary goal for this “30 in 30” challenge is to get into the habit of writing consistently. I don’t have a lot of pressure to be an impressive writer because I think I have about six followers. So instead, I’ve been focusing on being consistent, being disciplined, and finding my writing voice. After this challenge, I may start another one – maybe to improve my blog design or optimize my blog on search engines. But, more than anything, this challenge is to further affirm my ability to set and commit to a goal.

At some point, though, I am not only writing for myself. I think blogs are a way to connect with other people, and I expect that my work will be shared with more people. However, as more people see it, I am worried that they’ll negatively critique my portfolio. I’m experiencing pre-FOPO – the fear of other people’s opinions.

In his article, Gervais states that the root of FOPO is our worry of social disapproval. This dates back to our times as hunter-gatherers and is still with us today. I believe there is some utility in assimilating, not standing out from the pack. But we’re not hunter-gatherers anymore. A closed mouth won’t get fed, so if you want something, you have to speak up and ask for what you want. This is a hard lesson I had to learn.

To get over FOPO, Gervais’ solution is developing a solid sense of self. Almost like having a personal mission statement. Instead, he suggests creating your own catchphrase like “always fight” or “never back down.” When you have a strong sense of who you are and what you believe, you are less concerned about what people think about you. If you know, without any doubt, what a “yes” is for you, you’ll be able to say “no” with conviction.

Gervais provides some tips for developing one’s personal philosophy. One suggestion is to see what words or ideas resonate with you the most and use those words to make your phrase. To that end, I saw a quote in a colleague’s email signature from Booker T. Washington, a true BOSS. In his book, Up from Slavery, he offers the following:

I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.

Booker T. Washington, “Up from Slavery”

This resonated with me because I spend a lot of time comparing myself to other people who’ve had fewer obstacles to overcome than me. In those moments, I feel inferior and like I’m behind. I feel like I should have already achieved more. But this quote reminded me that I had a unique and challenging journey and that I should focus on where I came from rather than comparing myself to people who have had different life experiences.

Gervais closes his article by reminding us that we only grow when pushed beyond our limits. And one limit I’ve had is that I want everyone to like me to feel accepted. So I’ve tried not to ruffle too many feathers, and I’ve also consistently put other people’s needs ahead of mine, even when it was to my detriment. Although to be fair, I’ve also been selfish and had disregard for other people’s feelings. Still, my natural inclination is to shy away from conflict and suffer in silence. But I don‘t have to let FOPO stop me from breaking out of this shell. On the contrary, by understanding who Bruce is, I can be more confident in my decisions and less dependent on what other people think of me.

The People-Pleasing Pickle

I am one-third of the way to my goal of 30 posts in 30 days!

I read that over-achievers need to learn how to stop and celebrate their achievements.

Back to the article. “How to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You” by Michael Gervais. Citation: (Gervais, HBR, 2019)

“If you want to be your best and perform at a high level, fear of people’s opinions may be holding you back. (Gervais, HBR, 2019).”

I love when the first sentence packs a punch. It reminds me of a quote that I thought was attributed to Bill Cosby (but is apparently also attributed to Ed Sheeran 😐), “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” Now, just because I remembered the quote doesn’t mean I live by it. I still find myself in people-pleasing pickles.

Through life experience, I’ve learned how to be curious about my emotions. When I get curious about the need to be liked, I think it’s driven by a couple of things. One is the fear of rejection. Why would someone reject me? Because I am a rejectable human who is not perfect. And why am I not perfect? Well, because no one is. But, again, why am I not perfect? It’s because there’s a deep-seated, perverse, subtle sense that I am fundamentally flawed and unlovable. That sounds terrible, right? But you’ve probably had it, too. Maybe you didn’t unpack it as I did, but it’s just there, sitting around.

One of the most impactful books I’ve recently read is “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Henepola Gunaratana. Check out this excerpt from the first chapter:

“None of us is entirely free from it. We may deny it. We try to suppress it. We build a whole culture around hiding from it, pretending it is not there, and distracting ourselves with goals, projects, and concerns about status. But it never goes away. It is a constant undercurrent in every thought and every perception, a little voice in the back of the mind that keeps saying, “Not good enough yet. Need to have more. Have to make it better. Have to be better.” It is a monster, a monster that manifests everywhere in subtle forms.”

Excerpt From: Henepola Gunaratana. “Mindfulness in Plain English.” Apple Books.

Anyway, back to the article. I DO want to be my best and perform at a high level. And I AM worried that my fear of other people’s opinions might be holding me back. So – what can I do about it? I guess I’ll need to read on to find out.

Why I Need to Change Course

As I write, I get more clarity on what I don’t want to write about. My vision for starting all of my blogs and podcasts was to share insights about things I learned in hopes that they would inform and inspire other people in the same way that I’ve been informed and inspired by other people. Many of my insights and interests are in personal and professional development.

That said, I like Scrum principles, but I’ve not worked on a Scrum team. This makes a lot of the topics theoretical. On the other hand, all of my project management experience has been in traditional project management, so it makes more sense to talk about concepts I use every day. It might also make it easier to integrate Agile topics because I have a solid understanding of traditional project management.

To that end, I’ll link the Scrum guide here.

If you’ve enjoyed learning about it, then you can read it. But I want to shift toward a new direction.

In addition to sharing what I’ve learned, blogs and podcasts give me a way to crystalize and memorialize my learnings. Sometimes there are so many insights in books that I need to spend a couple of days just on a few words. I want to spend time with these thoughts, nurture and cultivate them, and have them become a part of who I am. I can’t do that if I don’t slow down and unpack all the lessons.

I’ve thought about doing this for books and for articles. And I have almost 100 articles saved in my inbox that I want to read and write about, but I haven’t. So this might be an opportunity for me to get some of that done.

One of the challenges I have is that I like to read, re-read, and then re-read the articles again. I spend more time reading and thinking than I do writing. When I finally sit down to write, I’m overwhelmed by all the ideas, and it takes too long to write. I get hung up on sounding smart and making everything perfect. If I allow myself to move slowly, I can meet my goal. But I worry that it will take too long to get through all the articles and books. What happens if it takes me a whole year to unpack a book. Paradoxically, that’s the entire reason I want to take my time. Think about how well you know something if you stick with it for a whole year. I understand this intellectually, but emotionally it’s hard for me to make that trade-off. I can do tons of shallow reviews or much fewer thorough reviews. But I can’t have both.

Interestingly, the more I think and talk about it but don’t do it, I’m not making any progress at all. So let’s start doing.

I want to explore the first article, “How to Stop Worrying About What Other People Think of You,” by Michael Gervais. It was published in Harvard Business Review on May 2, 2019. It was timely that this article showed up in my feed because I struggle with this concept. In fact, I’ve struggled with it a lot. One interesting manifestation of this is my sensitivity to whether my meeting invites are declined and about declining other people’s invites. When people decline my invite, it feels like they are declining me as a person. It feels like they are rejecting me. Intellectually, I know that’s silly. And even if they were declining me as a person, doing it via email invites is a poor way to do it. I also don’t want to decline a meeting because I don’t know if the other person will think I did it because I don’t like them as a person.

Geesh. The more I write this out, the sillier it sounds. But I cannot deny that it is a thought pattern that causes me grief from time to time. So I hope this article gives me some tips.

Terrible Tuesday

Today was challenging. 

It was a long day, and I ran out of energy a couple hours before I was done with my work. I’m not sure what’s the cause, but my colleagues sound burned out. I think we need better skills in collaborating with a dispersed workforce. I can’t speak for them, but it seems as if information is already outdated by the time I get it. It can be hard to keep up.

Organizations, i.e., people, have to adapt – sometimes abruptly. And I also know that change is the only constant. But at what point does the amount of change feel dysfunctional? I guess at the point where one’s capacity for managing change has been exceeded. But, of course, we all have different levels of change capacity, and even that capacity is dependent on the context of the situation.

It does feel like we try to do too much at once. But, again, I’m not sure if I should be more agile or if my point is objectively viable. Doing the back-to-back to meetings on different topics gives my brain whiplash. By the end of the day, if I’m not careful, I would have spent a lot of time doing “stuff” but never making progress on what’s most important.

I’d define the Scrum framework as one where the goal is to create an environment where change can be effectively managed while making progress towards a specific goal. But one of the guideposts is that the entire team agrees to what they plan to accomplish. We control for known distractions and practice discipline with just the right touch of flexibility. We set ourselves up for success in the sprint planning session. There are three guiding questions: (1) Why is this sprint valuable? (2) What can be done in this sprint? (3) How will the chosen work get done?

Note: I got these questions from The Scrum Guide: The definitive guide to Scrum: The rules of the game, by Ken Schwaber & Jeff Sutherland.

At work, when there’s a sense of urgency with almost every task, it gets challenging to prioritize. The Scrum framework accounts for this in the Daily Scrum meeting. This is not your typical meeting – usually, it’s held with everyone standing up and limited to 15 minutes. The only goal is to get aligned on the most critical work that has to be done that day and resolve impediments to getting said work done. At the end of the sprint, there’s a sprint review to inspect the work that was done, and at the very end of the sprint, there’s a retrospective to evaluate how we did it.

I like this process because you determine what you’re going to do upfront. Then, every day, you talk about your progress towards that specific goal and nothing else. Then, you evaluate what you did and how well you did it at a predetermined time. And then you do it all over again. It breaks complicated projects down into more manageable pieces. What I miss in my current role is the connection back to what we agreed upon.

On the one hand, I get to make my own metrics and plan my own day. I really like the autonomy of my job. But on the other, it feels a bit every-man-for-himself.

Piano Project Management

One concept that stuck with me from learning about agile project management (PM) is the sprint. Agile PM is based on principles, and it can be implemented in different ways. It’s a flexible methodology. One agile approach is Scrum, and one of the five Scrum events is a sprint. Think of a sprint as a period, usually a couple of weeks, where a team focuses on a particular task or set of tasks. It’s like a mini-, time-crunched, singularly-focused project in the middle of a project.

This idea stuck with me because one of my challenges is staying focused on a task. I can’t always rely on my brain to think linearly. In fact, I often jump around on a project. Sometimes that’s fine, but other times it’s not because it makes it hard to measure my progress. Sprints require focus, forcing you to say “no” to some things and a strong “yes” to something else.

In my mind, there are so many possibilities of approaching work. And my natural over-achiever tendencies cause me to immediately up the ante. Instead of thinking, how do I get this done in the fastest, most efficient way possible, I like to dream up big, elaborate visions, and I can get lost in my head. While I’m doing this, I’m missing out on time actually spent “doing” and learning and making mistakes. When I do finally settle down, my brain still likes to jump around and think about how to make something sexier. But I have to bring myself back to the task at hand. I’ve experienced this issue in almost every role I’ve had as an adult.

So when I heard about the sprint, which is based on this idea that we agree to do THIS and only THIS for this period, which by default means we’re not doing THAT, it gave me hope. It gave me structure, and it gave me the vocabulary to use.

One of the principles in Agile is that you focus on creating value as soon as possible. For example, if you are building an app, it typically takes 6 months. First, you have to take the idea, draw up a prototype, design the app, and actually develop it. Then, you have to test it, deploy it, and service it. In this scenario, you don’t create value – i.e., the benefit of having the working app – until all of these steps are completed. Using an agile approach like Scrum, instead of waiting 6 months for the app, we can release the app in one month and make improvements over time.

Let’s say we have a 4-week sprint. At the beginning of the sprint, the team decides what can be accomplished in 4 weeks given the constraints around the team’s time and abilities. They can’t release 6 months of functionality in one month, so they decide to release the bare-bones functionality of the app. It might not be sexy, but it’s usable and starts to add value for the intended audience. So in a sprint, the team would look at how to design, develop, test, and deploy one feature in one month. And then, in the next month, they’d do the same.

Applying this to life, we can’t do everything we want at once. As I shared in a previous post, humans are notoriously bad at planning far out in the future. It’s good to have an eye on the horizon, but what we have the most control over now is what’s right in front of us. In a way, focusing on the present is the best way to plan for the future. A real-life example for me is that I want to be an accomplished, amateur pianist who gives small classical music concerts in people’s homes. I want to educate them on the piece, the composer, the period, its connection to today – ultimately, to add some context to otherwise esoteric music and make classical music more accessible. I have a lot of music to learn and haven’t given much thought to making this a reality. But if I want to start now, I can have small recitals for my friends – which I’ve done in the past. These have been on a smaller scale and have helped me improve and fine-tune my approach for next time. In a way, this is what happens on a sprint. And this is why I thought PM, specifically Agile PM, would be an excellent way to track my progress towards this goal.

Day 6 of 30

I am trying not to obsess over finding the perfect project management (PM) tool, but I’m not doing great at it. I used “ATracker” for a few entries, but I didn’t like the user interface (UI). On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed using Toggl for work, so I created a new board specifically for non-work tasks. Ideally, I’d be able to track time directly in the project – and I think that’s possible with Asana – but I can’t learn everything at once.

As I started planning my solo recital and adding other things to the list, something interesting (but not unfamiliar) happened. Getting it out of my head and writing out the steps that I need to achieve makes it real. It doesn’t matter how grand the plan is in my head. What matters is what I can actually complete. When I write some things down, I realize it won’t take as many steps as planned, or vice versa.

PM tools can’t help me plan. I still have to do the sequencing and think through the steps and timeline. I don’t need a PM tool for that; I really only need pen and paper. And most of what I need help with is task management instead of extensive project management.

That said, I’ve listed the tasks (songs) that I need to complete (learn) by February, and I’ve also scheduled the dress rehearsals. I assessed what I’ve already learned and determined which pieces I needed to master to finish the half-hour concert. One of my piano teachers encouraged me to pick a recital date and stick with it. If the date is flexible, I can constantly tweak the program. I’m not bound by anything. Setting a date forces me to focus my time on what’s possible. In a way, setting a deadline actually helps me get more done. I make better use of the time because I want to be accountable for my schedule. I stop dreaming and start doing.

It’s Sunday, and I’m in one of those moods where I want to be a lazy bum, but I feel guilty for being a lazy bum. Usually, I struggle with this all day, but I want to do it differently this time. I’m going to pick some things to do – maybe 3 – then allow myself to relax or be spontaneous the rest of the time.

  1. Workout – It doesn’t have to be a long one, but I want to break a sweat and feel like I did something.
  2. Work – I want to spend one hour preparing for the work week ahead.
  3. Piano – I want to practice and track my practice time using Toggl.