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Don’t Let It Ruin Your Day

Is your child driving you nuts with their self-destructive behavior and refusal to listen to your hard-earned wisdom? (Alternatively, are your parents driving you nuts with their constant attempts to control and guilt-trip you?)

Is your client behaving badly? Not returning calls, not making decisions, refusing to face up to tough decisions, constantly back-sliding on your (excellent) advice?

Did one of your (ostensible) good friends diss you recently? Have they refused to apologize, and continue to evade the issue? Have you heard by the grapevine they said something more that appears to confirm their betrayal of you?

Well, I have your answer. Here it is. Don’t Let It Ruin Your Day.

Of Course, You Already Know This.

But that’s just the problem, see. You already ‘know’ it, so you think that therefore you’ve already extracted full value from the proposition. You think, ‘Yeah, yeah, you can’t control other people, it’s not me it’s them, serenity now yada yada, live in the moment – I got it.’

But you don’t  ‘got it.’

If you did, you wouldn’t be living in a constant state of resentment, stress, and worry.

One of the dominant myths of our time is that if you cognitively understand something, you have mastered it. But the brain is a very weak weapon when up against the heart and the nervous system. Knowing something and a dollar may get you a cup of coffee.  Eons of wisdom literature suggests there’s something more to it.

A closely related myth is that the answer lies in doing something. At least that gets one step beyond “understanding” – or so we think.

But the belief in action suffers the same defect. It assumes that there exists An Answer. You’re smart enough to know that The Answer is probably not going to be found in better analytics, Big Data, convincing arguments or brilliant aphorisms. So you look to the softer side – you get better at empathy, listening, vulnerability, open-ended questions and the like. Maybe The Answer lies in better behavior.

Nope, sorry. As long as you’re attached to the outcome, you’re still bound to your attachment – and the attendant resentment, stress and worry. (Medication has its place, of course, but medical-grade marijuana is just the latest non-solution).

At wits’ end, it’s tempting to think, “ah, chuck it all. I’ll just withdraw from the game, there’s no point, I’ll make friends with hopelessness. Maybe happiness lies in just giving up.”

Don’t Let It Ruin Your Day

The answer, it seems to me, is to marry the instinct for thought and action with the detachment from outcome. You should still talk to your kids (and your parents); you should still stay engaged with your clients; you should still strive to make your friendships rich and mutual.

Just don’t let it ruin your day.

The problem is not striving, and the answer is not withdrawal.  The trick is to take the best of both: keep engaging – just detach from the outcome.

Sales

Note: this is not just happy talk for your spiritual side. It also has to do – profoundly – with sales. The answer to sales disappointment is not to “toughen up” and dial more sales calls; and obviously it’s not to stop selling.

The answer, in business development as in life, is to keep striving, for the betterment of your clients and customers. Just don’t let it ruin your day.

Take pride and pleasure in the process, keep putting out good effort for your clients. Just don’t be attached to the outcome. Don’t Always Be Closing: instead, Always Be Helping.

Keep on selling: and when it doesn’t work out, just don’t let it ruin your day.

Who Do You Trust? Honesty Ratings by Career

Periodically, someone does a survey on the trustworthiness of various professions. Last month it was time for Gallup to do their annual poll of “Honesty and Ethical Standards of Professions.”

All the fun happens at the bottom of the list. The good news for politicians is that their ratings were up from last year. The bad news is that puts them in next to last place, just ahead of car salesmen.

Over the years, the ratings of engineers have gone steadily upward. Pharmacists and doctors rate near the top of the lists, as they have for years.

But heading the list of most honest and ethical professions are – nurses. As the article puts it:

[nurses] have scored at the top of all professions every year since they were first included in the list in 1999 — apart from 2001, when Gallup asked about “firefighters” on a one-time basis after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nurses receive a 10-percentage-point higher rating than pharmacists, who in turn are five points above medical doctors.

This finding makes perfect sense if you’ve followed the findings of Trusted Advisor Associates’ Trust Quotient Assessment, outlined in the White Paper – Think More Expertise Will Make You More Trusted?  Think Again.

The Trust-Power of Intimacy

These findings are based on the four factors of the Trust Equation – credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation. Based on 12,700 people who took the assessment (since grown to over 25,000), it turned out that the most powerful of the four factors was – intimacy.

High overall trust scores were more highly correlated with high intimacy scores than with any other component. (Intimacy in this study was defined as giving others a sense of security and willingness to confide in them).

Interestingly, women scored as more trustworthy than men. And almost all of the higher ratings for women were due to women’s higher score on one of the four factors – intimacy.

Back to nursing. Ask yourself: which of the four trustworthiness factors are most associated with nursing? Intimacy comes top of mind. We are, figuratively and literally, naked before nurses, and we trust them. It makes perfect sense that nurses consistently outrank all others in most-trusted-professions surveys.

The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

If you’re interested in improving trust in your organization, or in becoming more trustworthy as an individuals, the best route there lies not just through advanced degrees, track records and testimonials – it lies in increased intimacy.

Intimacy correlates with a group of what’s commonly known as “soft” attributes – emotional intelligence, listening, empathy.  Want to move the needle? Show some hard results? This is how you do it. The soft stuff turns out to be the hard stuff.

Lake Wobegon Syndrome: Believing We’re All Above Average

Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon is that Midwestern enclave where:

…the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.

Lately, there are curious signs of incipient Wobegonism – at least the part about the kids. On average, we’re all looking just a little too above-average.

Unconditional Positive Self-Regard

I once watched Marshall Goldsmith ask a room of conference participants to lower their heads, then raise their hands if they thought they were in the top 50% of performers in the room. Then, to keep their hands up if they were in the top 25%; then, the top 10%.

When he finally asked people to raise their heads, all could plainly see that over half the room had indicated they were in the top 10%.

The concept of unconditional positive regard is well-known among therapists. There’s something to be said about positive self-regard as well, in the simple sense that if you can’t accept yourself you’re going to have trouble dealing with other people.

But what happens if your sense of self-regard begins to diverge from reality? What happens if you begin to believe you’re All That – and honestly, you’re not?

Reality Bites

Generation Y, famously raised on a sense of entitlement, is having a tough time confronting today’s horrific economic environment. 60% think they have the right to work remotely, with flexible schedules, despite the economy.

Worse, Gen Y’s much-vaunted computer skills may have been overstated; social media savvy doesn’t translate well to spreadsheets, or even to navigating hierarchical menu structures.

Perhaps recognizing an inflection point, the Wellesley High School graduating class recently made news for being told in a commencement speech that “You are not special…you are not exceptional.”

But it’s not just about Gen Y – not by a long shot. Here at Trusted Advisor Associates, we’ve noticed a distinct case of “grade inflation.” Scores on our Trust Quotient (TQ) self-assessment, have been creeping up over the past year or two. There are several possible explanations, including:

  1. people are becoming more trustworthy,
  2. people think they are becoming more trustworthy.

I have a sneaking suspicion it’s the latter.  Stay tuned.

Overstating our importance is a natural consequence of ignorance. Believing the world is flat was understandable in a world without airplanes or telescopes. But when a modern nation like the US has 46% of its population who believe in creationism, some cognitive dysfunction is afoot.

Politicians bear some blame.  The Speaker of the House declares that the US has “the best healthcare system in the world,” which defies logic unless you exclude the other developed economies.

Many pols publicly support the fiction that balancing the national budget is fundamentally the same as balancing a household budget. Any undergrad econ major can tell you the rules of national economies and households are precisely the opposite. It’s hard to tell if this statement lie is cynical, or just grossly ignorant, much less which is worse.

In our social haste to abandon low self-esteem, we have overplayed the power of a positive attitude. We once heard phrases like “you make your own luck,” “smile before you dial,” and, “the glass is half full.” Corporate training once taught that you could act your way into right thinking.

Somehow, those morphed into, “Hold fast to your dream and it will come true,” saying affirmations until they “manifest,” and best sellers like The Secret. We’ve gone way past “thinking your way into right action,” all the way to “envision reality until reality changes to fit our thinking!”

One of the biggest instances of hubris in our time has to be finance. Efficient market theory, the agency theory that led to private equity, and the various financial engineering “innovations” we have seen in recent decades – all are testimony to a belief that we have found revealed (financial) truth. Yet time and again, it seems we have not.

Two Flavors of Humility

There are two kinds of humility. One consists “not in thinking less of ourselves, but in thinking of ourselves less.” The other amounts to, well, thinking less of ourselves – realizing that we’re not, in fact, All That.

We need a little of both.

Thinking of ourselves less drives relationship thinking; it civilizes us, focuses us on other people. It is the root of social behavior, charity, and most of the higher virtues.

Thinking of ourselves less drives other-focus, collaboration, and connection. It enables client focus, allows us to see value adding potential, and creates the basis for reciprocity and customer loyalty.

Thinking less of ourselves is neither sin nor virtue except insofar as our starting point is delusional. Thinking we know it all is a cyclical affectation, a very human failing we are nonetheless good at forgetting.

Until once again things blow up, revert to the mean, and we get our comeuppance, or our karmic smackdown, or our luck runs out.  What we call it depends on how much we still believe we understand what just happened.

Here’s what we need a whole lot more of:

“I really am not sure; what do you think?”

Moments of Truth, Improvised

Anyone who’s been in professional services for more than a week has probably encountered a tricky client situation or two. Some examples:

– A prospective client asks you point blank, “What experience do you have in xyz industry?” and even though you saw that question coming, you didn’t think it would be quite so direct, and the honest answer is zero, zip, nada—only you’re afraid to say so because you think it’s a deal-breaker and you’ve got other relevant experience that surely they’ll want to hear about before summarily dismissing you!

– You thought the draft deliverable you turned in yesterday was pretty good until you got an email from your client saying how disappointed she is in the product and that, quite frankly, she’s seriously re-considering sending you to London for the next and largest revenue-producing phase of the project.

– You’re seconds away from beginning a meeting with a very senior client, originally scheduled to discuss how to expand the successful work you’re doing together, but an hour earlier you accidentally overheard him in the lunchroom speaking with colleagues about dumping your company and hiring your number one competitor instead.

(By the way: 2 of those 3 really happened to us: which is the made-up story?)

I call these Moments of Truth—when something happens, and suddenly it feels like you’re alone on a sinking ship with no life preserver in sight, and you’d rather be anywhere but where you are.

Daniel Goleman, author of “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,” taught us to understand the science behind our reaction, using the phrase “amygdala hijack” to describe how our well-functioning “thinking brain” (the neocortex) gets completely overruled by the part of the brain that manages our survival. Then our amygdala-threatened-selves do stupid things like spin a great story of how we don’t exactly have direct experience in xyz industry but blah blah blah … or subtly (and maybe overtly) blame our colleague for the sub-par work product … or completely sidestep an awkward interaction altogether in favor of maintaining the pretense that everything really is OK after all. In other words: we’re in fight or flight mode, and often both at once.

Moments of Truth become Moments of Learning

We spend a lot of time dealing with Moments of Truth in our learning programs because they happen a lot in your business relationships. How you handle them speaks volumes about what you’re made of. It speaks to whether or not you have the mindset, motives, and agility of a Trusted Advisor. Being effective in a Moment of Truth requires more than mastering a few behavioral tricks; it demands a new way of thinking and being.

So we do a lot of out-of-the-box experiential learning that deals on the spot with your own live, real situations. Occasionally we use our own caselets for you to experiment with—ones that have been tested for a decade and earned a special place in the hearts of our alumni, like “The Lunchroom.” In other words, we do what most classroom learners universally dread: we role-play.

All right, collective groan–I know, I know, I hate role-playing too. It’s scary and contrived. And there’s never enough background or history or facts to be really comfortable in a role-play. It’s a common refrain during debriefs: “If only I’d known more about the situation I could have handled it better.”

But let’s be real: How many times have you prepped for hours for a meeting, only to learn in the first two minutes that the client just came out of another meeting in which a major decision was made that completely alters not only your agenda for this meeting but your entire set of recommendations for the engagement?

In a Moment of Truth, background and history and facts don’t matter one iota because your reptilian brain doesn’t care—it’s focused exclusively on the emotions of the moment. It has neither the time nor the inclination to process anything else.

Q. Faced with an MOT, what’s a Trusted Advisor to do?

A. Learn how to improvise.

The Practice of Improvisation: a Key Trusted Advisor Capability

To improvise is to “invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation.” Which is exactly what is called for in a Moment of Truth—the ability to deal on the spot with something unexpected.

Believe it or not, you get better at improvising by practicing improvisation. (And that only sounds like an oxymoron—it’s actually very true). Practice is exactly how professional improv comedians (think, Whose Line is it, Anyway?) become so skilled at their craft.

They practice being quick to respond instead of over-thinking. They practice “yes-and” responses, where they build on what’s already been said, instead of contradicting or denying what someone else has already offered. They practice subordinating their own egos to support what’s being created by the collective instead of hogging the spotlight and stealing a scene. They practice giving up being clever and witty and funny and instead get real.

How do they do this? They get together and … role-play. They do it again and again, always with new scenarios and relationships that are completely made up on the spot. And when it’s show time and the curtain goes up, they still have no idea what they’re going to create together because everything is based on audience suggestion. But what they do know is that they’re fully rehearsed at being responsive, collaborative, and authentic.

In Trusted Advisor terms, they’re credible, transparent, other-oriented, related.

And that is something worth practicing to get good at. So: role-plays? Yep, role-plays.

The Trusted Advisor/Improviser—a Brief Commercial

If you think your skills could use a tune up or you wish you felt more confident in the Moments of Truth you face with your clients and colleagues, we’d love to have you come practice with us Sept 28 and 29 in Washington, DC. Being a Trusted Advisor: Walking the Talk is a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the mindsets and skill sets of a Trusted Advisor.

We’ll improvise. We’ll laugh a lot. And we’ll be sure you walk away with far greater value than you expected.

You Think Your Dog is Smart? You Don’t Know the Half of it

Smart Dog

According to a New York Times article, your average dog “is about as intellectually advanced as a 2- to 2-and-a-half-year-old-child.”  The article goes on to say:

Dr. Coren has come up with an intelligence ranking of 100 breeds, with border collies at No. 1. He says the most intelligent breeds (poodles, retrievers, Labradors and shepherds) can learn as many as 250 words, signs and signals, while the others can learn 165.

But Clive D. L. Wynne, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Florida who specializes in canine cognition…takes issue with efforts to compare human and canine brains.

He argues that it is dogs’ deep sensitivity to the humans around them, their obedience under rigorous training, and their desire to please that can explain most of these capabilities. They may be deft at reading human cues — and teachable — but that doesn’t mean they are thinking like people, he says. A dog’s entire world revolves around its primary owner, and it will respond to that person to get what it wants, usually food, treats or affection.

“I take the view that dogs have their own unique way of thinking,” Dr. Wynne said. “It’s a happy accident that doggie thinking and human thinking overlap enough that we can have these relationships with dogs, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that dogs are viewing the world the way we do.”

What is Intelligence, Anyway?

Apparently the conclusion we are meant to draw is that dogs look pretty smart, but it’s really just behavioral training—good old stimulus and response stuff, hooking them in by bribes to get their food, treats and affection. (If I read it wrong, please correct me).

Most of us dog-owners, I suspect, find this treatment unpersuasive. But don’t believe us. Consider the far more striking information from earlier in the same article. Consider Jet:

Jet is both a seizure alert dog and a psychiatric service dog whose owner has epilepsy, severe anxiety, depression, various phobias and hypoglycemia. Jet has been trained to anticipate seizures, panic attacks and plunging blood sugar and will alert his owner to these things by staring intently at her until she does something about the problem. He will drop a toy in her lap to snap her out of a dissociative state. If she has a seizure, he will position himself so that his body is under her head to cushion a fall.

Jet is not unique. Other dogs are trained to deal with suicidal tendencies, turning on lights for trauma victims, reminding owners to take medication, and so forth.

The Fallacy of Reducing Motives to Behavioral Indicators

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it useful to describe Jet’s behavior solely in terms of fulfilling a desire for affection, much less food. It’s precisely the same discomfort I get when I hear economists describe unselfish behavior among humans.

In an attempt to preserve an elegant theoretical model about how self-serving behaviors lie at the heart of all human action, I have heard economists ascribe unselfish behavior to longer term self-aggrandizement, or to advancing the species’ interests by occasionally sacrificing the good of an individual.

But sometimes devotion to others, unselfishness, an inclination to collaborate, is best described as simply what it appears to be.

As ee cummings put it, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

I trust my dog with my life—but not with my ham sandwich. Which suggests it’s highly doubtful that my dog would save my life in order to get a deferred-gratification ham sandwich. Something else is going on.

So is Jet smart? If you measure by human vocabulary, as smart as a 2 year old. Personally I’m not blown away by two-year olds’ intelligence, except in comparison to 1-year olds. That’s not what I mean when I say wow, my dog is really smart.

What I mean when I call a dog smart is that empathy thing, the ability to not hold a grudge, to reach out and touch someone.

To elevate the word “smart” (as in vocabulary breadth) to a higher level than “smart” (as in save a life and mend a heart) is to waste a good word.

IQ, EQ and the Next Billion Banking Consumers

 

The Boston Consulting Group might house the world’s highest concentrations of brainpower per square foot.  BCG is to consulting what Goldman Sachs and Cravath are to banking and law.

When it comes to intelligence, they are tops.

In terms of IQ, that is.

EQ?  Well, that’s not so much what they’re aiming for.

Case in point—the most recent article from BCG’s Industry Insight series, The Next Billion Banking Consumers. (The piece shares two authors and whole paragraphs verbatim with a more general piece from BCG’s Perspectives article series, titled The Next Billion).

BCG’s article series—particularly Perspectives—have been the source of breakthrough thinking for several decades now, including the experience curve and the barnyard portfolio theory, and the general concept of strategy as the pursuit of sustainable competitive advantatage.

The article opens big:

The problem of financial exclusion—individuals’ limited access to or use of formal banking services—looms large around the world. It both reflects and contributes to the stark socioeconomic divide that pervades many emerging markets…

By embracing innovative business models, however, banks can upend the economics of reaching consumers long considered impossible or unattractive to serve.

Great—energizing the banking sector to help accomplish what microfinance suggested might be possible. Cutting-edge capitalism, bringing the next billion—“just above the poorest of the poor and just below those who are currently targeted by most banks”—into the mainstream of the global economy.

Indeed, much of the article addresses the need for changes in product development, distribution, marketing and organization structure, listing some exciting innovative practices.

Then there appears this paragraph:

Unfortunately, regulations sometimes make it difficult—if not impossible—to offer products that suit the financial means of the next billion consumers. Our analysis shows, for example, that Indian banks would need to charge a 32 percent interest rate just to break even on the kind of small, short-term personal loan that the next billion consumers would want.  Yet national regulations prohibit banks from charging interest rates to priority sectors that exceed the prime lending rate, which currently stands at about 12 percent.  This problem underscores the need for regulatory reform that complements initiatives to reach the next billion consumers.  (italics mine)

The need for regulatory reform?  Let me get this straight.  A banking industry in a country with 5% inflation and 6% one-year t-bill rates needs 32% interest rates to break even in a new market, and the problem is—the presence of usury laws?

How about—oh, I don’t know—a banking industry that can make money on less-than-32% interest rates?

Unless I am seriously missing something—always a possibility—the inclusion of this paragraph, alongside discussion of radical product and distribution redesign, is socially and politically tone-deaf.  Narrow.  Myopic.

It feels like a hammer seeing an all-nail world.  If your constant goal is the pursuit of corporate competitive strategic advantage, then of course regulatory “reform” is inconsequentially different from product innovation—it all adds to competitive advantage, right?  (Except of course for the poor schmoe trying to make a buck with his feet in plus-32% debt cement shoes). 

In an increasingly connected world, the view of competition as the be-all and end-all of business—even just of strategy—is antiquated.  Out of sync. Competition without commerce just doesn’t add up to much.

The world is connecting more.  And it isn’t about just the connections, or the connected.  It’s about the synergy in the combination.

Kind of like IQ and EQ.