Who else likes to connect the dots?

My fourth-strongest theme is “Connectedness.” I think Gallup sums it up nicely with this synopsis: “People exceptionally talented in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links among all things. They believe there are few coincidences and that almost every event has meaning.”

I do tend to look for connections. That’s part of the purpose for which I [re]-started this blog. I wanted to find connections between the different books I was reading. Intellectually, making connections helps you remember things better. But I think it also makes you smarter. Instead of zooming in, I like to zoom out and look for stuff in common.

I believe that this can be a practical approach to resolving political division. For example, I suspect that there are things most of us can agree on – we want to be healthy, we want to be safe, and we want to be part of a community that accepts us. This looks different for everyone, but I think focusing on the broad similarities can help us overcome political obstacles.

I also like to look for connections in books. I consume a lot of self-help media, and I see some of the same things running through – acting with integrity, balancing discipline and compassion for yourself, and managing your emotions are some of them. Some authors say it better than others, but it’s still the same.

When I consider my other themes of Restorative, Futuristic, and Deliberative, I think my new statement is something like: I am motivated by a vision of the future that I create. My ultimate problem to solve? What does it all mean? (Obviously a work in progress, but I like where this is headed).

Do you have a hard time making decisions?

On a scale from 1-10, how hard is it for you to make a decision?

  • Do you find that you can be too careful or vigilant?
  • Do you believe there’s always more to the story?
  • Does that belief send you down the rabbit hole for more information?
  • Do you have a habit of identifying, assessing, and managing risk?
  • Do you think it’s more important to make the right choice – even if it takes a long time?

Well, you might be strong in the Deliberative theme, like me!

People who are strong in this theme are somewhere on the spectrum between thorough analysis and full-blown skepticism. Gallup places this theme in a positive light, but I think it’s important to identify when it can get out of hand. Generally, deliberation is a good thing. You don’t make impulsive decisions, and you like to set off on a path only after you’ve weighed the pros and cons.

Building on yesterday’s post:

“And if I pair this with my strongest theme – Restorative – it would seem that problem-solving would be significantly influenced by my vision of the future. That is to say that the way I can solve problems is by looking ahead to where I want to go and then deciding how to get there. Then, I break the path down into smaller steps and whittle away at the list. It’s also important to reflect on how my vision for the future changes. Then, I can refine it over time.”

Suppose I add “Deliberative” into the mix with my “Restorative” and “Futuristic” themes. I think it suggests that I construct a vision of the future with painstaking effort, all to solve some complicated, complex problem.

This actually sounds like me. As I unpack the final two strongest themes, I hope to develop a personal philosophy or mission statement that aptly describes who I am. I’ve had some resume writers get close, but I think I can bring it home.

Apparently I’m Futuristic, though I don’t feel like a visionary.

I wrote about my top CliftonStrengths theme a few posts ago – Restorative. In brief, it indicates that I enjoy problem-solving and that I like making things whole. My second-highest theme is Futuristic, which means that I get energized by my vision of the future and inspire others to accomplish that vision.

As I reflect on this, though, I don’t feel I’ve been inspirational. That said, I am highly future-oriented, and I’m motivated by big goals. Gallup says that people who rate high in this theme are visionaries. Still, I think my creative ability has been neutralized. My assumption is that most people have big dreams and that, with the right motivation, they can make them come true. So in that way, I don’t feel unique.

One experience comes to mind when I went to a former boss and said that I realized I’m very different from the other managers. The other managers were operations-focused (which was good because we were in operations). Still, I was more focused on why we did what we did and how we did it. Getting “in the weeds” is mostly a miserable experience for me if it’s not on the shortlist of things I’m passionate about. He said, “Bruce, you’re an idea guy. You have lots of ideas, and we need new ideas on the team”. In some ways, I wonder if he was saying, “you’re not a strong manager, but you are great at coming up with new things for us to do.” Maybe he meant it. Either way, it showed me that not everyone thought the same way I did and that I needed to find a role in which I could be a big thinker.

My “biggest” thinking occurred during training design and implementation. One of my favorite projects was designing leadership development around trending topics in organization development. I liked to build exercises and focus on ways the managers could immediately apply their skills in their jobs. While training, I’d still be nervous, but I believed in what I was saying. The conviction came across. I know it did because there was always at least one person who said – “were you a motivational speaker? You seem like you’d be good at it. “

The idea of being a motivational speaker always seemed corny to me, but I did fit the profile in some ways. Now that I’m not designing leadership training, I don’t feel like I can motivate people to do anything. I’m out of the habit of thinking big because it feels like I get shut down when I try. I know that sometimes you have to get down in the details and that you can’t have your head in the clouds. But that’s been my sweet spot.

Maybe part of the solution is to practice motivating people again. I don’t want to regurgitate things I heard other people say; instead, I want to come up with my own insights and share them. I am afraid of the moniker of “motivational speaker,” but that’s a fear of judgment that I can acknowledge and let go of. I’m also not sure of the medium through which I can motivate or what I can motivate people to do. But maybe I’m already inspiring people…

A while ago, I read this book called “Executive Warfare.” One of the author’s main points was to exploit your strengths. Find a way to minimize the weakness but don’t spend too much time there. Instead, focus on your strengths because that will make you successful. Of course, this isn’t advice for every situation, but sometimes I think it’s right.

My challenge with being Futuristic is that I don’t focus on where I am and what I have right now. Chasing after a vision of the future gets draining when you don’t like where you are right now and don’t know how to get to where you’re going. This is where I can use some work. How can I keep my vision of the future while not rejecting where I am now? One tweak I can make is to be more active. Instead of envisioning the future, the magic happens when I create it through deliberate actions.

I’m doing some of this now. If I want to be a thought leader or visionary, I have to articulate my thoughts and share them with an audience. I get to accomplish this through blogging. And if I pair this with my strongest theme – Restorative – it would seem that problem-solving would be significantly influenced by my vision of the future. That is to say that the way I can solve problems is by looking ahead to where I want to go and then deciding how to get there. I break the path down into smaller steps and whittle away at the list. It’s also important to reflect on how my vision for the future changes. Then, I can refine it over time.

This is where I have an opportunity. I dive head-first into achieving m,y goals. Still, I would benefit from a more systematic approach to breaking down the big problems into small parts. This means I need to clarify my goals and the path to get there. Part of the problem is that I’ve tried to keep all of this in my head, but this is where project management principles/software comes in – especially Agile principles.

Agile starts with a big picture – sometimes called an epic. It’s not a detailed requirement but rather an inspiring statement about some product, service, or benefit that you’d like to see in the future. This epic is broken down into features or user stories. A user story is an example of what you’d like the program, service, or person to do. Maybe the epic is – “I want my restaurant to have a Michelin star.” One user story might be, “all diners should have a seamless experience between entering the restaurant, enjoying their meal, and leaving the restaurant.” You then break the story down even more into sprints. Let’s take the first component of the user story – entering the restaurant. The next step is to break down “entering the restaurant” into small building blocks. You focus on one or two blocks ONLY for a predetermined amount of time. That’s a sprint.

It’s not terribly difficult to come up with an example epic, user story, and sprint, but it gets tricky when I try to apply it to life. But this is where I think there is some goodness to work with. Though I have not proven this yet, I believe that you can use project management principles to manage the goals you have around your life. It’s hard, though. Many agile principles are best suited for software development, and I don’t think software is a good parallel for life. But then again, maybe it is. I suppose I need to look at the process for software development and see for myself.

I still have a fear that I won’t find an answer. And that it’ll be a waste of my time. What happens if I do all of this mental gymnastics and it turns out I haven’t made any helpful breakthroughs? I only have so much free time to devote to this, and I want to make good use of it. That said, time and again, I return to this idea of using project management – and change management – principles to not only run a business but to live a successful life. I’ve seen that what you start working on is almost definitely not going to be the finished product. But you still have to put in the time to figure out what works and what doesn’t. In the end, the time isn’t wasted. You learn from it, making you better at handling similar problems in the future.

This exposition has not made anything more precise, but I suppose it was good to get my thoughts on paper.

How do I find my purpose and my audience?

A couple days ago, I passed the halfway point in my 30 in 30 blog challenge. It seems like a good time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and how I want to proceed. So far, I’ve learned that my adherence to grammar rules has slipped. I’m reminded that starting writing requires a commitment, but once I get going, the ideas flow freely. I’ve also had a chance to see what I like to write about. I could choose from so many topics, so why did I pick those I picked? I’ve consistently wondered why I am writing and who I am writing for? And I think my answer has been refined over time. 

I know that I have a lot of thoughts, and writing allows me to organize these thoughts and make connections to other ideas. Blogging allows me to be more objective with my ideas. They aren’t valuable unless I can articulate them, and moving these thoughts out of my head makes them feel real. I can take responsibility for my own thinking – good or bad – and share what is honest. Writing also allows me to share my struggles and successes with you. I have received many good ideas from Bloggers and YouTubers on topics from project management to psychology. I think it’s vital that we all help each other, so writing helps me do that. 

But who am I writing for? This is a tricky question for me because another benefit of writing is that it helps me summarize things I’ve read or heard. So, writing is primarily constructive for me. But because I post on a public blog, I can’t ignore the reality that other people might read this. So, how do I make something enjoyable for people to read while still having my primary focus be on the benefits that blogging provides specifically for me? 

I realized that writing for me is the best way to write for my intended audience. I like to write about my lived experience – all the ups and downs. I have a strong bent towards learning, introspection, reflection, self-criticism, and achievement. These themes will come through in my posts and resonate with people who have similar experiences. With this approach, I don’t have to worry about my audience; I can just focus on what’s most important for me to process. 

10…nvm…7 Reasons to Take a Break

  1. Breaks are refreshing. You let your brain breathe and renew itself. 
  2. Because you deserve it! Every living being has some form of rest or sleep. You are not a machine. 
  3. Breaks allow for intentional, unproductive time. Somehow we caught up in being so productive that “resting” is now “lazy.” 
  4. In music – Baroque music especially – you need breaks to let the music settle. It can get so busy. 
  5. Relationship breaks (platonic or romantic) can help you remember what you need and evaluate whether you’re getting it. 
  6. Breaks are fun. All work and no play is no good. 
  7. Breaks help you be more productive by giving you time to recharge.

Part 2

Looking back on it, I wish I would have had the foresight to keep going. At the time, I didn’t appreciate how complicated bottom-up change management would be. My supervisors had a vision for my role, and it did not include change management. As a result, I struggled so hard in that role. I kept wanting to do something big. I like to make big plans, and I get energized by the idea of making things better. But in that role, I was constricted to the point where my OCM flame had burned out. Even after attaining my Human Resources certification through the Society for Human Resource Management and becoming a certified change management practitioner – all on my own dime, I’d add – I could not break through the quagmire.

In my role now, the original problem is still there. And I think it may be time to pick up where I left off. I see not having everyone behind a change as a problem. And there isn’t one form of messaging that works for everyone. Some people are motivated by the vision (like me), others by what they’ll learn, others because of the benefits the change brings, others because people they respect are doing it, and still others only if it’s clear what’s in it for them. Effective OCM takes this into account and designs strategies for delivering the right message, from the right sender to the person, at the right time. It is messy, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. But I’m interested in it. I believe it can happen. It’ll probably be more challenging than I think, take longer than expected, and require a different approach than I have in mind, but I know it can happen.

So maybe I do get energized by problem-solving, after all. To me, what else is there other than solving problems? Perhaps some people will say building relationships. Or instead of looking for deficiencies, look for successes and build on them. But I think these are problems, too. Some issues are fun, and others are not fun, but they are still problems either way. My preference is to solve complicated problems. I want to be in an environment where I have the tools and support to cultivate my skills further. The “sink or swim” approach is over-used and over-rated.

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.