We can sometimes feel trapped and unable to get out of a situation in which we find ourselves, often when this happens we find ourselves using the word “because”. For example, we may tell ourselves that our situation is “because” of something that happened to us, or that it is “because” of someone else’s actions.

Even if we are correct, by concluding that we are caught up in someone else’s designs, we have made it impossible for us to change our situation. This is because if we assume that we have been adversely affected by something that is out of our control, then we have assumed that it is also out of our control to improve our position.

A story: (There are various versions of the following joke, the following is the non-politically correct one.) An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman were all working on the same building site together, and they always stopped at the same time to eat their packed lunches.

One day the Englishman opened up his plastic lunch container and screamed, “Oh no, not ham sandwiches again! If I have ham sandwiches again, I’m just going to have to… kill myself.”

The Scotsman opened his lunch box and, like the Englishman, screamed, “Oh no – salmon sandwiches again! If the wife makes me these one more time, I’m just going to have to… kill myself!”

The Irishman then opened his lunch box and exclaimed loudly, “Oh no – cheese sandwiches again! If I have cheese sandwiches once more, I tell you, I’m surely going to kill myself!”

Next day, lunchtime came round again. The Englishman opened his sandwiches only to find ham sandwiches. With a loud cry of “Ham sandwiches, I can’t bear them anymore!”, he ran along the roof of the building and flung himself off, falling ten floors to his death.

The Scotsman then opened his lunch box, found salmon sandwiches and screamed, “Och no, salmon again. I can’t bear it anymore!” and in turn flung himself off the building to his death. Finally, the Irishman opened his lunch box and, faced with the prospect of Irish cheddar sandwiches yet again, he leapt off the roof to his death.

At the funeral for the three men, held a week later, the three widows were weeping together.

The English wife sobbed, “I don’t understand it – I thought he liked ham.” The Scotsman’s widow cried, “I don’t understand it either. Jack would have said something if he really didn’t like salmon.” Finally, the Irish wife sniffed loudly, “I just don’t understand my husband at all – he always made his own sandwiches!”

The Moral: It is always within our ability to change the situation which we find ourselves in. Whether this involves deciding against self-defeating behaviour, looking for new opportunities or letting go of a familiar but difficult way of living, only we have the final say in the way we will live our lives.

Where I am today, we tell ourselves, is a consequence of what other people (our parents, for example) and circumstances have done to me. In blaming other people and events, we weaken our power. We argue, “Not my fault…”

As soon as we subscribe to this line of thinking, our chances for any kind of success dramatically decline…

The problem with this line of thinking is that if we don’t accept responsibility for where we are right now, we have no hope of changing our future. I promise you: if it’s the president’s fault, if it’s our neighbor’s fault, if it’s our spouses’ fault, if it’s the government’s fault, if it’s the weather’s fault, then we truly are stuck!

What are you going to do about the president! What are you going to do about the weather? What can you do about your neighbor? I’ll tell you: nothing! But if you can find the answer to your problems in the mirror—if the solution lies within you—well, there’s boundless hope, because you can start working on yourself today!

Mastering the Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success, Andy Andrews, page 4

We all make our own sandwiches, and it is always within our ability to change what will be in our sandwiches tomorrow.

workplace ethics

Workplace ethics: Making fair management decisions

Workplace ethics: Making fair management decisions

Every management role requires decisions to be made that involve the allocation of “scarce resources”. For example, there may be an opportunity for up-skilling, promotion, salary increase or exposure to new technologies, but this opportunity can only be provided to a limited number of team members.

When faced with these decisions, we are sometimes tempted to do a “good deed” and tip the scales in favour of people who we see as being disadvantaged. We may feel that by doing so, we increase the overall balance of good in the world, and can redress wrongs that have been done to this person previously.

In reality however, by tipping the odds in favour of the person who we perceive as disadvantaged, we decrease the chances of the other employees, who are now unable to compete on an even footing.

A story: It was late in the afternoon when the loudspeaker called me to my final duty. The Family Pets contestants were arranged on wooden chairs drawn up in a wide circle on the turf. They were mainly children but behind them an interested ring of parents and friends watched me warily as I arrived…

The fashion of exotic pets was still in its infancy but I experienced a mild shock of surprise when I saw the variety of creatures on show. I suppose I must have had a vague mental picture of a few dogs and cats but I walked round the circle in growing bewilderment looking down at rabbits— innumerable rabbits of all sizes and colours—guinea pigs, white mice, several budgerigars, two tortoises, a canary, a kitten, a parrot, a Mynah bird, a box of puppies, a few dogs and cats and a goldfish in a bowl. The smaller pets rested on their owners’ knees, the others squatted on the ground.

How, I asked myself, was I going to come to a decision here? How did you choose between a parrot and a puppy, a budgie and a bulldog, a mouse and a Mynah? Then as I circled it came to me; it couldn’t be done. The only way was to question the children in charge and find which ones looked after their pets best, which of them knew most about their feeding and general husbandry. I rubbed my hands together and repressed a chuckle of satisfaction; I had something to work on now…

Among the throng there was one who stood out; the little boy with the goldfish. In reply to my promptings he discoursed knowledgeably about his fish, its feeding, life history and habits. He even had a fair idea of the common diseases. The bowl, too, was beautifully clean and the water fresh; I was impressed. When I had completed the circuit I swept the ring for the last time with a probing eye. Yes, there was no doubt about it; I had the three prize winners fixed in my mind beyond any question and in an order based on strictly scientific selection.

I stepped out into the middle. “Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, scanning the company with an affable smile… “These are the successful entrants. First, number six, the goldfish. Second, number fifteen, the guinea pig. And third, number ten, the white kitten.”

I half expected a little ripple of applause but there was none. In fact my announcement was greeted by a tight-lipped silence. I had noticed an immediate change in the atmosphere when I mentioned the goldfish. It was striking— a sudden cold wave which swept away the expectant smiles and replaced them with discontented muttering…

I was about to leave when a snatch of conversation from behind made me pause. “A bloody goldfish!” a voice was saying disgustedly. “Aye, it’s a rum ‘un, George,” a second voice replied. There was a slurping sound of beer being downed. “But tha knows, Fred,” the first voice said. “That vet feller had to do it. Didn’t ‘ave no choice. He couldn’t pass over t’squire’s son.”…

I fought down a rising panic… I clutched at Tristan’s arm. “Who is that little boy over there?” Tristan peered out glassily across the sward. “The one with the goldfish bowl, you mean?” “That’s right.” “It’s young Nigel Pelham, the squire’s son.”…

George was at it again. “Lovely dogs and cats there was, but squire’s lad won it with a bloody goldfish.” “Well let’s be right,” his companion put in. “If that lad ‘ad brought along a bloody stuffed monkey he’d still ‘ave got fust prize with it.”… There was a gloomy silence punctuated by noisy gulpings. Then, in weary tones: “Well you and me can’t alter it. It’s the kind of world we’re living in today.”
All Things Bright and Beautiful, James Herriot

The moral: Everyone understands that giving preferential treatment to “important people” undermines the good feeling in society. However giving preferential treatment to disadvantaged people can also mean that the other contestants no longer have a fair chance of winning.

Another issue is that the selection of the winner now depends on the personal feelings of the person making the decisions, since they will make their own assessment of who is disadvantaged.

Frank is asked to be the judge in a piano contest; contestant No. 1 is middle-aged, arrogant, well-to-do and brilliant. Contestant No. 2 is young, timid, hard-up and not quite as talented as No. 1. The prize money for the competition is $100,000.

After No. 1 and No. 2 have played their pieces, Frank feels that No. 1 gave the better performance overall… To Frank’s surprise, as he is about to follow the rules of the competition and declare No. 1 the winner, he finds balance-of-good considerations welling up within him… there are all those good things that would ensue if No. 2 received the prize. Young talent would be encouraged, No. 2’s fragile self-esteem would be bolstered, he would be liberated from having to wait on tables to make ends meet, and so forth…

After a few minutes of such balance-of-good reflections, Frank makes his decision. He declares No. 2 the winner, his unstated reason being that the sum of life-goods and evils that will ensue from this declaration clearly outweighs in worth that of the life-goods and evils that would ensue from declaring No. 1 the winner.

I hold that even if Frank was correct in his judgment that greater good would be achieved by declaring No. 2 the winner, he should not have done what he did… No. 1 had a right to be declared winner. In addition to weighing up life-goods and evils, Frank should have taken note of a moral consideration of a different order; he should have asked himself whether, in declaring No. 2 the winner, he would be depriving No. 1 of what he had a moral right to.

Justice: Rights and Wrongs, Nicholas Wolterstorff

It is sometimes better to aim for the best localised outcome, rather than trying to rectify life’s inconsistencies by using our decision making authority.

workplace ethics

Workplace ethics: Team building – Keeping an open mind

Workplace ethics: Team building – keeping an open mind

Every person has unique and irreplaceable capabilities.

In order to form a team, it is necessary to identify these abilities and create a framework in which each team member can actualise their uniqueness. Within this environment, each team member can experience their own personal growth, and the team can happily and efficiently produce the output that is needed by the organisation in which the team operates.

In other words, by identifying and then combining the unique contribution that every individual in the team can make, it is possible to create a true group dynamic that combines the unique personal and creative strengths of all involved.

However, it is only possible to achieve this balance if we do not make generalisations about the types of people in the team. This is because the true brilliance of every person occurs precisely at the point where that person is unique. If we mentally put people into slots, we will never be able to identify this point of uniqueness, because we will expect a generic “good” response from that person.

A story: I scanned the article with only passing interest until I saw his name. It was one of those ‘home town boy makes good’ features about a California native son, who had fashioned a brilliant business plan to save an area hospital and whose beneficence had significantly impacted his entire community. When I saw the name Sam Davis attached to this wealthy benefactor, I almost fainted. I had taught Sam Davis!

If Sam had been one of my ‘A’ students, with a quick mind, sharp intellect or driven personality, I would have hardly been surprised. In fact, if Sam had shown academic achievement in any area at all, I would have nodded in agreement at all the accolades showered upon him (and maybe even taken a bit of credit for the upstanding citizen Sam had become). But the truth was quite different. The only thing that ever seemed to interest Sam was recess and lunch on Tuesday when they served hot dogs. You never want to give up hope on your students and their abilities, but with Sam I came precariously close to signing him off. At times, I felt that I would be preparing him for his future if I could teach him to say, “Sir, how would you like your fries?”

But, evidently, I was very wrong. Some time after (barely) graduating high school something changed and Sam became an incredible success story. I am not sure how or why, but it did set me to thinking. While obviously Sam was absorbing more than I gave him credit for, in the end result, I as an educator must pause and reflect on how I missed seeing the talent this student possessed and ask: What does success in school mean and is academic success a teacher’s primary objective?

The moral: It is only possible to identify every person’s unique gifts by keeping a completely open mind. It is also only possible to determine how someone can best fit into society if we acknowledge their unique potential and personality.

If we mentally grade people against a predetermined set of criteria, we will never be able to perceive the brilliance of everyone’s unique gifts and talents, and we will never find the optimum resonance which that person can enjoy with the world.

By keeping an open mind, we can develop the ability to perceive the light of each individual’s personality and talents, and understand how this unique potential can be released.

workplace ethics

Workplace ethics: Appreciating the people behind the scenes

Workplace ethics – Appreciating the people behind the scenes

This guy is on the side of the road hitch-hiking on a very dark night and in the middle of a storm. The night is rolling in and no car goes by. The storm is so strong he can barely see in front of him.

Suddenly he sees a car come towards him and stop.

The guy, without thinking, gets in the car and closes the door, only to realize that there is nobody behind the wheel. The car starts rolling forward slowly. The guy looks at the road and sees a curve coming his way. Scared, he starts to pray, begging for his life. He’s still in shock when, just before he hits the curve, a hand appears through the window and moves the wheel.

The guy, paralysed with terror, watches how the hand appears every time they get to a curve.

Gathering strength, he gets out of the car and runs to the nearest township. Wet and in shock, he goes to a bar and asks for two shots of tequila and starts telling everyone about the horrible experience he went through.

A silence envelopes them all when they realise the guy is crying and isn’t drunk.

About half an hour later, two wet and weary men walk into the same bar and one says to the other, “Look, Mfwetu, that’s the idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it down the highway.”

Moral: We sometimes take things in our lives for granted, whereas in reality it is only because people are putting in a lot of work to keep everything functioning smoothly, that we get the impression that “everything works by itself”.

During a discussion of gratitude in Garnett House, the girls started thinking about all of the “hidden ” people who support their life at the School. First they thought of obvious people who work behind the scenes to make the community run smoothly, such as the staff in the kitchen and offices.

They then started to delve more deeply and ask questions about what happened behind the scenes to keep the school functioning. Through this exploration the students identified many less obvious but very important people such as security staff, maintenance staff, and staff in the sewing room.

The students cut out and decorated “gratitude people” from stickers, and wrote messages of appreciation on them for each of the different groups of staff members. Together the Garnett girls scurried around at night under cover of darkness and placed the gratitude stickers around the school community, so that they would be a surprise in the morning.

The next evening the students thought about even more important people within the community, so more messages of gratitude were created and displayed. The feedback to the girls was really wonderful. One security man said that he had cried because he was so happy that we had noticed what he and his colleagues did for the community.

By showing gratitude to the people who work hard to keep the show going, we can generate good feeling and create a pleasant working environment.


Thinking agility

This man had a flat tire next to the insane asylum. He jacked up his wheel, took it off, put the nuts in his hubcap, and put it up on his hood. They fell off into his grill, and he couldn’t get them out. He thought, “Oh, Lordy. What am I going to do?”

Across the fence one of the inmates was watching him and said, “Just take one nut off each of the other wheels and put them on that one, that way you’ll have three nuts on each wheel, and it’ll get you where you’re going.”

He said, “That’s a brilliant idea. Why, you’re not crazy. What are you doing in there?”

“I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.”

Moral: In order to maintain a balanced view of the world, we need to assimilate information from people who have a different approach to life than we do. If we only tune-in to people who provide the sort of advice that we want to hear, we can make it impossible for us to develop our thinking abilities.

It is evident that one needs humility to learn from everyone, especially those whom we perceive to be beneath us in status or qualification. Confucius explains that Kong Wenzi was given the title of ‘cultured’ because he was ‘diligent and loved learning, and not ashamed of asking advice from those below him’.

The possibility of learning from everyone… reminds us once again that learning, for Confucius, is an active, lifelong and life-wide process that is intimately linked to real-life application.

By considering ideas that do not fit into our preconceived notions, we can give our minds the agility to simultaneously grasp diverse ways of thinking about a situation.

Relying on yourself

It was October and the Indians on a remote reservation asked their new Chief if the coming winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a Chief who had been brought up in a modern society he had never been taught the old secrets, and when he looked at the sky he couldn’t tell what the winter was going to be like. To be on the safe side he told his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect firewood to be prepared.

However, being a practical leader, he decided to find out the real answer. He galloped away on his horse, went to a public phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, “Is the coming winter going to be cold?”

“It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold,” the meteorologist at the weather service responded. So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more firewood in order to be prepared.

A week later he called the National Weather Service again. “Does it still look like it is going to be a very cold winter?” “Yes,” the man at National Weather Service again replied, “it’s going to be a very cold winter.” The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of firewood they could find.

Two weeks later the Chief called the National Weather Service again. “Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?” “Absolutely,” the man replied. “It’s looking more and more like it is going to be one of the coldest winters ever.”

“How can you be so sure?” the Chief asked.

The weatherman replied, “We’re never really sure about our readings, but the Indians always seem to get it right, and they’re collecting firewood like crazy!”

Moral: Sometimes we try to find the answer to a situation by looking around to see what everyone else thinks. The reality is however, that we have the strengths and abilities to solve our own problems most of the time, through application of our own skills and knowledge.

I have discovered that in order to plan, I have to release my directed thoughts and go into a mode of free daydreaming. During these reveries, I can envision myself putting together materials that I would need to build a boat, a plane, or a house, or a beach cottage.

Over the years, I have done all these things. I learned how to do things with the help of library books and talking to other people who knew more than I did about a project. I would start at the beginning, stick with the work, and finally complete the project.

Some things have taken afternoons, weeks, months, even years to build. In those projects, I have discovered an indescribable freedom and contentment of the heart and soul that is hard to come by any other means.

My family and friends have encouraged me, cheered for me, and listened to me talk about my work. Some have even helped me from time to time… To start on that journey, to construct something, is to believe that I can and will do it. When I have made the dream a reality, then I am contented, joyful, and proud to share it.

Through self-belief and persistently applying our skills and knowledge, we can accomplish things that would have seemed impossible when we initially believed in our ability to effect change for the good.

Know your strengths

A man walked into a bar with a dog and said to the bartender, “My dog can talk.”

“I tell you what,” said the bartender, “If your dog can talk, I’ll give you a free round of beer.”

“OK,” said the man.

The man turned round and asked his dog, “What does sandpaper feel like?”

“Ruff,” said the dog.

“What covers the trunk of a tree?”

“Bark,” said the dog.

“What do you have on top of a house?”

“Wrooof,” said the dog.

“OK,” said the bartender, “Take this beer and get out of here.”

The man and the dog went to a park bench where they sat silently sipping the beer. Eventually the dog turned to the man and said, “You know, I don’t think they liked our show, but I’m not sure why.”

Moral: You may sometimes feel like you’re not getting anywhere, but that could be because you are only exercising a very small set of your full capabilities.

The authentic self is the you that can be found at your absolute core. It is the part of you that is not defined by your job, or your function, or your role. It is the composite of all your unique gifts, skills, abilities, interests, talents, insights, and wisdom. It is all of your strengths and values that are uniquely yours and need expression, versus what you have been programmed to believe that you are “supposed” to be and do.

You may get a much warmer welcome by doing things that you are not expected to be able to do, instead of just doing the things that people think you can do.

Leadership styles

The lion walked up to the mouse and roared, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The mouse squeaked, “You are, you are.”

Then the lion walked up to the fox and roared, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The fox barked, “You are, you are.”

Then the lion walked up to the elephant and roared, “And who is the king of the jungle?”

The elephant picked up the lion by the tail, whirled him round his head and dropped him in a bush. The lion poked his head out of the bush and said, “There’s no need to get in a bad mood just because you don’t know the answer.”

Moral: There is more to leadership than assuming that you’re in charge. This may impress mice and foxes, but is not always an effective management technique.

High-quality leadership involves leaders…

  • Being clear about personal and organisational goals
  • Monitoring their [team members’] achievements
  • Changing processes to [allow their team members to reach their goals]
  • Having a simultaneous ‘push’ to get things done together with a charismatic ‘pull’ [to persuade their team members that “they can do it”], and
  • Fully involving staff through consultation

True leadership means inviting other people to come on a journey with you. The journey may sometimes seem perilous and challenging, but ends with a sense of personal accomplishment and triumph for everyone involved.

Thinking with concepts

Thinking with concepts

In our everyday lives, it seems natural for us to talk about the things that are processed by the company that we work for. We go to work and we talk about insurance policies, home-loans, phone-plans, children’s board games, magazines, fast-food meals and stocks and shares.

When we have these conversations, we take it for granted that we are talking about real and factual things. We do not see that there is any difference between talking about a loaf of bread and talking about the financial position of a public limited company.

The reality however is, that when we talk about anything that is meaningful to us, we have already formed a concept in our minds about the nature of the thing under discussion. That means, we have translated the actual item into an abstract concept that represents to us the inherent nature of the item.

Without this ability to create abstract concepts in our minds, we would be unable to make value judgments or think about how different things fit together.

Concepts are like the air we breathe. They are everywhere. They are essential to our life, but we rarely notice them. Yet only when we have conceptualized a thing in some way can we think about it. Nature does not give us instruction in how things are to be conceptualized. We must create that conceptualization, alone or with others. Once it is conceptualized, we integrate a thing into a network of ideas (as no concept stands alone).

We humans approach virtually everything in our experience as something that can be “decoded.” Things are given meaning by the power of our mind to create a conceptualization and to make inferences on the basis of it – hence, we create further conceptualizations. We do this so routinely and automatically that we don’t typically recognize ourselves as engaged in these processes….

…it is precisely this capacity [to create concepts through which we see and experience the world] of which you must take charge in taking command of your thinking. You must become the master of your own conceptualizations…

Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life, Richard Paul, Linda Elder
FT Press, 24 Aug. 2013, page 99

Our ability to create concepts within our minds is the bedrock on which our reasoning rests. The concepts that we form in our minds determine the value judgments and logical associations that we can subsequently make.

In reality, therefore, before we even begin to think about a problem we have already determined the way that our thoughts will proceed and the possibilities that we will be able to identify, by choosing to conceptualise the items at hand in a particular way.


Accurate concepts

When we transform the things in the world around us into abstract concepts, we make qualitative decisions about how we will view these things from now on. The subtlety of these decisions is as nuanced as life itself, however it is possible to identify some basic choices we make when deciding how to decipher reality.

Personal or impersonal: Some ideas are close to our feelings, other ideas we hold at an arm’s length. We can choose to relate to something in a close and personal manner, or we can choose to view the same thing impartially and from a distance.

For instance, a worker in a factory may relate to their work with pride and satisfaction, but it is likely that an accountant in head-office will relate to the worker’s output from a purely financial perspective. The worker sees the inherent goodness in what they produce, the accountant perceives the commercial usefulness of the same thing. Both of these conceptualisations are valid; the worker has adopted a personal view and the accountant has adopted an impersonal view, of the same reality.

The accountant’s impersonal conceptualisation is fitting for their job, their impersonal approach enables them to determine the correct course of action needed for the financial wellbeing of the company. Were they to be passionate, they would be unable to make decisions that could involve cutting a particular product or service, for example.

However, the worker’s personal perspective is fitting for their job. Because of their personal involvement, they will apply the best of their skills and knowledge to ensure that they can take pride in the quality and robustness of their work.

Important or trivial: We can conceptualise something as having minute relevance to ourselves, or as being overwhelmingly important.

For example, some people may ignore a minor skin blemish, but other people may pay thousands of dollars to have it invisibly removed. Alternatively, some people may feel it is important to prevent the destruction of natural habitats, but other people may feel this is a minor detail in improving farm productivity.

Our decision to spend time and energy on something, often depends on how significant we think the thing is. Subsequently, it is important to realise how our initial perceptions influence our subsequent course of action. Otherwise, we may pay too much attention to something insignificant, or too little attention to something that could have great potential.

Controllable or uncontrollable: Sometimes we perceive that we have influence over something, at other times we live with an attitude of “that is just the way things are”. That means, we may choose to view something as being under our influence, or we may prefer to feel that it is unalterable and that nothing we could possibly do would have any bearing on the outcome.

For example, we can view the variable quality of manufactured goods as something that is due to natural circumstance and that is beyond our control. Or we can view the variable quality of manufactured goods as something which we can improve on using precision technology and equipment.

Alternatively, we may see the pollution in the city that we live in as something which is an inevitable part of living an urban environment, or we may see pollution as something that we can eliminate through petitioning to change local traffic regulations.

If you perceive that you have influence over an outcome, but in reality you don’t, you may waste your efforts and achieve no results despite a lot of hard work. If you believe that you don’t have influence over an outcome, but in fact you do, you could miss out on an opportunity that was easily within your grasp.


Feeling your way

When we assess reality, we have to decide whether we are seeing something new, or if we are seeing something that we can categorise according to prior experience and knowledge. There may be some aspects of an experience that we can categorise in accordance with our previous knowledge, and other aspects of the experience that we discern as new and original.

Sometimes the best way to perceive what is genuinely new and fresh in what we are seeing, is to connect to the experience and let it wash over us. We can then retroactively think about the way the experience made us feel, and see if we tasted something new.

We set every new fact or impression in the framework and light of our existing knowledge, and this “apperception,” as it is called, is a large and vital factor in all our knowledge.

We thus see things, not only as they are, but also as we are. The mind itself is an active and determining agent in forming our knowledge. Every one thus sees his own objects and creates his own world. It is these differences in minds that make the immense differences in the things men see. When Turner showed one of his sunsets to a friend and the friend remarked that he had never seen such a sunset, Turner replied, “Don’t you wish you could?”…

These… constructs are the representatives in our minds of the realities of the objective world, and therefore it is of the first importance that they represent them accurately… Any inaccuracy or error in them… may undermine and ruin our whole structure of thought and life.

The Psychology of Religion, James H. Snowden, page 29

The best way to understand the nature of new things that we see and experience is to let them talk for themselves. If we approach new experiences with an open mind, we are likely to be able to discern the true essence of what we are looking at. However, if we approach new situations with preconceived ideas, we are likely to see what we expect to see, and miss new insights that we could have gained.


Take away

It can be a struggle for us not to project what we expect to see, onto what we are actually seeing. By keeping an open mind, we can discern the subtle innuendoes that hint at the true essence of what we encounter. However if we retrofit new experiences into what we are expecting, we may miss new vistas of growth and opportunity.

One day, I received a cutting from a Chinese business magazine. It had interviewed a famous visitor from the West, one of those rare people who has influenced almost everyone’s life all over the globe. He had been my student some thirty years earlier; he became the venture capitalist who was the first to invest in Google, Yahoo, eBay, humble start-ups that eventually changed the world.

He was asked who had been the greatest influence on his career. He named me, and gave this reason: I had taught him that things are not what they appear to be.

It is unusual for a teacher to be understood by a pupil. But he saw precisely the true measure of my ignorance. Every time I encounter an object, a person or an experience, I do not see only it, but also how else it could be. I am always asking myself: How could it be otherwise?…

The process of creating something useful and beautiful out of what I learn does not resemble building a house out of bricks that have been ordered in advance. It is more like painting a picture which gradually takes shape. As I add and subtract colours and contours, each opens up possibilities that I did not imagine beforehand, and I rush off to deepen my understanding of them, and research new territories, which in turn open up new vistas and new meanings for the too naive or simple thoughts I began with.

The Hidden Pleasures of Life: A New Way of Remembering the Past and Imagining the Future
Theodore Zeldin, MacLehose Press, 2015

Life is full of opportunity, but in order to be able to connect to this flow of energy, we may have to draw back the curtain of assumptions that we live safely behind.

Career growth and happiness

Career growth and happiness

It can sometimes seem that there is a conflict of interests between our personal lives and our career development. Perhaps career progression will only happen if we short change our personal lives, or maybe our personal lives will only work out if we sacrifice career growth.

All too often…, leaders and managers become so consumed in climbing the corporate ladder, or working to ensure that they do not move down the ladder, that lose focus of what is really important in life…

Can you really be successful in the office and at home? Can you be successful at both without shorting one or the other?.. Are you willing to sacrifice family for professional achievement? Some folks are.. How many times have you heard someone say, “I wish had spent more time with my children when they were growing up.”?..

Is the price worth it? Assess your personal situation and decide where to place your dedication and determination.

Modeling and Benchmarking Supply Chain Leadership, page 87

Does there have to be a contradiction between career growth and achieving personal happiness, or is there a way to find harmony between these different facets of our existence?



One of the most important ingredients of a successful personal life, is the ability to be natural and spontaneous. For example, we often find happiness when we allow our thoughts and feelings to wander wherever they want to go. In our working lives however, we tend to assume a stricter and more self-conscious mode of existence.

Two of the factors that persuade us to leave our natural selves behind when we enter the workplace are:

  • Time pressure: In our personal lives, our feelings and thoughts develop at their own natural pace. In the workplace, on the other hand, our activities are timebound. Work must happen within its allotted time slot, otherwise the downstream processes that depend on our output will come to a stop.
  • Conformity: In our personal lives, we value self-expression and search for our unique individuality. In our work life, on the other hand, we conform to the ways of thinking, feeling and doing of the company that we work for, so that we can blend into the workplace dynamic.

The need to meet targets on time, and the pressure to conform to the company’s way of thinking, pushes us into a task-focussed frame of mind which can make us lose touch with our natural selves.

Children have a natural grace which asserts itself easily, but which is rarely seen in the sophisticated adult except in persons with a great natural sweetness of mind. Innocent moments are of greater value in the adult – they bring a more complex being and a wider knowledge into balance than in the case of the child – but such moments are infrequent of the difficulty experienced by a mature person in coming to terms with a complicated world….

The child shows an interest in the minute details of objects. He wonders at things and is fascinated by them. The cultivated adult, on the other hand, fails to observe much of what goes on about him, subordinates his activities to his interests, has little left to wonder at, and is too confident of his knowledge of things to find them fascinating…

William Blake, page 14

If we lose the naturalness that is essential to our personal lives, we are likely to make decisions that could adversely impact the relationships that are crucial to us.

How can we make sure that our natural freshness is not dulled by the daily grind?


Thriving from challenge

When we encounter pressure to perform, we experience a sense of uncertainty. “Will we be able to meet the challenge, or will we fall short?”

There are two ways that we can respond to this quandary. We can either feel exhilarated, and rise to meet the challenge that has been put to us. Or we can feel dismayed by the expectations that have been placed on us, and tense ourselves up to desperately try to meet our targets.

The experience of uncertainty can vary: it can be an exhilarating challenge to be confronted and resolved – it is exciting and makes us feel edgy and alive, and delivers us a sense of satisfaction and mastery when we resolve [the situation]; or it can be anxiety provoking and stressful, making us feel impotent and unable to predict or control our world and what will happen to us in it.

…if we believe our resources to deal with the demand[s placed on us] are adequate, we feel a sense of [excitement that makes us meet the challenge head on.] if we believe our resources are inadequate, we feel a sense of threat that [makes us shrink away and ignore the challenge as much as possible].

Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology: Collection: Volumes 1 & 2, page 65

Being upbeat about the challenges we face, releases our inner aptitudes and enables us to grow from the challenge. If we feel overwhelmed, on the other hand, our feeling of inadequacy makes us close up, and becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Two ways in which a positive frame of mind provides us with the abilities that we need to win are:

  • Finding new possibilities: If we feel secure in our capability to ultimately solve the problem, then we allow ourselves time to look around for new ideas. If we feel threatened by the challenge, however, then we can’t afford to admit that we do not already possess the tools and knowledge needed to solve the problem, as this would make us feel more threatened. Subsequently we may try to force a non-optimal solution, using the knowledge that is immediately available, instead of looking for fresh insights.
  • Intuition: Intuition happens when we allow ourselves to park a problem in the back of our minds. Our subconscious then makes the connection between our understanding in other areas and the problem that we are faced with. If we agitatedly turn the problem round and round in our minds however, we will never experience the deep understanding that comes when our background thought processes are allowed to free-wheel.


High energy balance

If we grow to meet the challenges that we face at work, this releases energy that grows our natural vitality. The positivity that this creates provides strength and dynamism in our personal lives, which in turn becomes the the base from which we can approach new work challenges with confidence and optimism.

This positive feedback loop can become the gateway for us to operate at an entirely new level.