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January 2018

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Change

Why not slip into something more uncomfortable?

By Tim Baxter, TCO Associate

Our schooling systems are the product of a society which took certainty and stability for granted. Young people grow up thinking that perfection, zero errors, is possible and that those who do not get full marks have something wrong with them. This form of mass imprinting creates the common held belief that at work we are paid to not make mistakes. How can this help companies achieve the holy trinity of innovation, initiative and creativity that almost every corporate website announces is part of its culture? It short, it cannot!

In today’s world of fast moving, complex and unpredictable change where clarity of direction has given way to ambiguity, perfection is a dangerous block to progress. What is needed is a move towards excellence – the best possible result in a specific situation. This shift in emphasis will require us to rethink how we learn not only in our education systems but also at work. 

Someone who always strives for perfection does everything to avoid mistakes which also includes avoiding risk and playing safe. Learning is an uncomfortable business, it means going to the outer reaches of your comfort zone and dipping your toe in uncertainty. Mistakes will happen, it is a new context for you, but that is where and how the learning happens. No one has ever learned anything, rather than just improved on past skills, without making errors. Speaking, reading, writing, riding a bike all involved trial and error it is just that we have forgotten the process of learning and take the skill for granted.

Some people are naturally inclined to be risk adverse but everyone could benefit from developing a sense of which type of errors are useful and when experimentation should be encouraged. Carol Dweck has spent much of her professional life researching the implications of a fixed mindset approach (where someone avoids anything which might lead to mistakes in their performance) and a growth mindset (which regards mistakes as part of the learning process). Her work looks at children’s education but the premise holds true for adults. When a boss gives feedback to a colleague and praises the individual rather than the effort the person has put into the task they are reinforcing a fixed mindset approach. If this is scaled up to company culture then we have exactly the opposite of what is required to face the reality we operate in today. If we need agility then we need to learn both as people as as organisations. This means making mistakes. Isn’t it time that we collectively slip into something more uncomfortable?

Change, Lifestyle

Perfectionism vs Happiness: a personal story of imperfection

I have a confession to make: I am a victim of my own perfectionism.

My life has somehow been marked by phrases said by the most diverse people – all with a life-changing effect on me.

The first was a quote written on a magnet that my mother gave me when I was an early adolescent: Never underestimate the power of a dream.

That had a massive impact on me: I never give up and I never stop believing that I can make it, that I can do it. This has affected my positive restlessness that leads my attitude to life and my behaviour every day. ‘Doing enough’ has never been enough for me. Doing my best and always asking the questions ‘What else can I do? Where else can I go? What else can I learn?’ define who I am.

The second sentence which has marked my life has actually been said to me in a variety of different formats. Last week a colleague of mine sent me a quote that summarises all of them: ‘A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the brunch but on her own wings’.

This has also had a massive impact on me: I have always believed that I am the captain of my ship and the master of my actions. This has also meant taking full responsibility for my actions and my mistakes. Looking for scapegoats and external forces has never been my approach to life.

The third and most impactful sentence, though, is this. When I was at the elementary school at the age of 10 I took the exams that define the transition to middle school. As a mark, my teacher at the time gave me ‘Quasi Ottimo’ – ‘Almost Excellent’. I will never forget what at that time I promised to myself: I will never accept anything that is ‘almost’ the maximum. And so I did – I thrived throughout my education always managing to get top marks from the age of 11 to my second degree. Never less than the maximum.

But what happened when I finally entered the working world? I followed the same spirit never accepting anything less that the maximum. Top clients, top ambitions, top results. Before Xmas I had a coaching session which lead to a real epiphany. I finally joined the dots around my perfectionism. For me getting the maximum is a self-protection mechanism from judgement. If you do not fail, if you always get the best, you are not judged. It is very simple…What could you be judged on? On being error free and perfect?

But let’s have a look at it from another perspective…doing your best is honourable but fearing judgement to an extent that perfectionism becomes your norm is a form of prisoning. Being victims of your personal perfectionism is giving in to the tyranny of perfectionism. And this is the worse form of self-victimization.

On the other hand, how does the discomfort of not being perfect feel? What do you avoid when you are always perfect? What can you learn when you are imperfect?

This is my most challenging goal this year: facing judgment and experiencing ‘not being perfect’.  

In a nutshell, honouring the sentence of an Oracle which I chose eyes closed in Australia 2 years ago on my first solo trip:

If you wish to find happiness and freedom stop self-sabotaging those fundamental rights by giving up having to be right all the time. Just enjoy being yourself!

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