6 Things I Learned at Work in 2014

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1.Manage your inner chimp

2.Tackle tough conversations

3.Set the context

4.Work in the “feel space”

5.Change routines

6. Be flexible

Manage your inner chimp

The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters has become pretty well known over the last 12 months and I’d credit it as probably being the single book that has influenced me the most. At it’s heart its a simple model – although I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t to read the book in full and if you get the chance, do everything you can to attend one of Dr Steve Peter’s fascinating talks, where he speaks about his involvement with British Cycling among other things. I really feel that understanding and learning to manage one’s inner “chimp” appropriately is a great step toward becoming more a more effective person both professionally and personally.

Tackle tough conversations.

The fund manager who just missed out on a big mandate, the keen and aspiring would-be graduate who didn’t quite make the cut, or the colleagues you respect who are pursuing a project in a direction you don’t agree with. All difficult situations which need careful handling. I think knowing how to handle these sort of tough conversations well is one of the most valuable experiences you can gain as you progress through a career. I’m not saying I’m great at it by any means, far from it, but luckily I have some great people to learn from, and it’s something I’ve really realised the importance of in the last year. Handled well, these sort of conversations can really enhance a working relationship, handled badly or worse, not handled at all and they won’t.

Set the context

Three words for the start of every meeting or presentation: “What’s the context ?”. Such a simple question but properly answered can stop people trying to make decisions when the context is to inform, can stop brainstorming happening when the aim is to progress along a specific path and stop detailed questioning when the aim is to update. All these, in my experience contribute to making meetings more effective and presentations better received. If you meet me in a professional context in 2015, expect to hear that!

Work in the “feel space”

The “Think, Feel, Know” model is a pretty simple and intuitive construct, when presented with a new idea or concept an individual will often react in one of three broad ways: 1. Think – the person will want adopt a logical train of thought, based on rational arguments and evidence presented and be able to deduce the answer. 2. Feel – the individual will make a judgement by relating or likening it to other experiences, or forming a quick and intuitive view not necessarily based on articulatable logic. 3. Know – the individual already knows the answer (right or wrong).

Clearly each type of individual requires ideas and concepts to be presented in a different way for them to best be received, the insight that helped me was knowing when to mix the different approaches, and in particular when to suspend my natural tendency to try and prove everything logically and mathematically, and instead spend some time in the world of analogy, anecdote and metaphor (the “feel space”).

It was Nix Rixon of Shirlaws who first articulated to me this simple but insightful model  (although I have since seen it referred to more widely).

Change routines

Habits and routines can easily get ingrained into an organisation and may not represent the most effective way of operating. It might seem tough to change the behaviour of a large group of individuals but sometimes its possible that small changes to particular habits and routines can be a catalyst for wider and deeper change (Charles Duhigg writes a lot about the idea of such “keystone habits” in his excellent book The Power of Habit). Perhaps having a particular meeting every week at 8.30 on the dot, perhaps moving to a coffee shop for a chat, or even going to the gym before work on a particular day every week. It’ll be different for everyone, but I found it surprising how easy it can be to facilitate wider positive change through just one or two changes to existing routines.

Be flexible

Taking a black-or-white view or approach and clinging to it doggedly as facts and circumstances evolve is unlikely to make you an effective team player, and it can lead to your view ending up being discounted in a group context – everyone knows what you’re going to say before you open your mouth and they aren’t really interested anymore.

The challenge is that being flexible can sometimes feel like you’re going backwards on a project: changing tack to overcome a new constraint, going back to the drawing board, or moving to an alternative line of inquiry can all feel like a move of the rubik’s cube that takes us further away from a completed puzzle. However, by opening up more potential solutions, in the long run they might just be making it more likely we’ll succeed.

Those are my thoughts and lessons looking back on 2014, I’m hugely grateful to those people who’ve helped me appreciate these and other lessons (you know who you are!*). If you like this kind of stuff you might also like Mitesh Sheth’s excellent 15 Tips for 2015 which you can find here.

* In case they don’t I’d like to mention in particular Rob Gardner, David Bennett, Dawid Konotey-Ahulu, Mithesh Sheth, Pete Drewienkiewicz, and Patrick O’Sullivan who’ve all contributed directly to the above lessons

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