Archive | March, 2012

Stumbling on Happiness

26 Mar

Why would someone remember fondly the day they went fishing in 28 degree weather with a broken hand and diarrhea? Well, we caught a bunch of fish and had a lot of fun. I remember being very happy.

We took a little detour this past week during the Housley Principled Leadership Program session and spent three hours talking about happiness, contentment, fulfillment, and life satisfaction. Since all of the program participants are planning to become titans in whatever field they choose to pursue, we though it made sense to think about where all of this striving is really going to take us. No one wants to wake up in their fifties and wonder what the hell they have been doing for the past thirty years.

If we are going to follow the instructions of our forefathers and pursue happiness, then we should spend a little time defining it and exploring how to get it. Money seemed to be a big factor in most students’ assessment of what will make them happy, but the evidence says otherwise. Once our basic needs for shelter, sustenance, security and stability are met, more money doesn’t seem to increase our day-to-day contentment (but we did determine that it can buy toys, freedom, experiences and “life satisfaction”.)

The real problem with happiness is that human beings are horrible at judging the things that will make them happy in the future. Using research found in one of my favorite books, Stumbling on Happiness, by Harvard psychology professor, Daniel Gilbert, we looked at the reasons why we are often unable to predict what will make us happy.

First, humans use past experiences to forecast happiness, but our memories do not serve us well. Our brains remember the good stuff and tend to forget or gloss over the bad (like my fishing experience.) Second, the way we feel in the present affects the predictions we make about the future. Anyone who has ever been grocery shopping on an empty stomach can attest to that. Lastly, we have a tendency to significantly overestimate the impact future events will have on our happiness – both positive and negative. The phrase, “I would be eternally happy if only ______” is almost never true even if “it” happens. The same is true for our ability to deal with tragedy and manufacture happiness afterwards.

I highly recommend reading the book and asking yourself – with the benefit of understanding the inner workings of your brain – whether those things you are striving for are really going to make you happy. The answer may lead you down a completely different path where you may stumble upon some happiness of you own.

The Chipster

23 Mar

When the history of Kalypso is written, there will be a chapter devoted to Chip Perry. He bought his first crappy sports coat after watching “The Paper Chase” in 1973 and he hasn’t taken it off since. Seriously, you can ask his wife. Chip is the central character of so many of the most memorable moments of our Firm’s young life that it is difficult to limit the scope of my comments. Here a few of my favorites.

In September 2010 we held KARMA, our annual gathering, in New Orleans and a very good time was had by all. There were about 75 people in a hotel conference room during one of our general session meetings and the professorial Mr. Perry was comfortably leaning back in his chair against a wall reading the New York Times (Krugman, no doubt). Next to him was seated the ever-attentive and quite lovely Ms. Emily Adams. Apparently Chip’s seat was a little too comfortable because he fell asleep during a presentation (that I was giving), fell and grasped and groped on the nearest stable object on his way down. Poor Miss Emily. Gentleman that he is Chip simply pretended that nothing unusual had happened.

Chip loves his GPS device and it never fails – to get him lost. Twice in a single month he picked me up at the airport in Minneapolis for important client meetings and then relied on his GPS to drive us to the wrong building in the wrong part of town. We were very late both times. On another occasion several of us watched Chip drive to within 200 feet of the entrance to the parking lot at a Firm event, pull over, and call us to say that he was hopelessly lost. We didn’t have the heart to seize the opportunity to truly mess with him. But we were tempted.

Ask him about his old Volvo, his Las Vegas experience, his natural ability with firearms, or his English degree (“you do the math”). He may be a little scatterbrained and he may wear corduroy jackets with leather elbow patches, but he is also universally loved and admired. Read more about one of our favorite characters with character here. Chip makes the heart of Kalypso beat strong. In many ways he is the heart of Kalypso. He is our friend. I would go to war with him. I just wouldn’t let him drive.

Reliability

14 Mar

The students in this spring’s Housley Principled Leadership Program are an amazing group. Spending four hours with them each Friday is invigorating and it renews my sense of purpose heading into the weekend. We are off for a couple of weeks for spring break (Remember those? Maybe not.)

We covered a lot of ground in our recent “Back to Basics” session of the program. (See pics from the session here.) My favorite topic is always the trust equation from Maister and Green’s The Trusted Advisor. The simple and not perfectly mathematical formula postulates that your ability to engender trust is equal to your credibility plus reliability plus intimacy divided by your self-orientation. Thus, we are more likely to trust someone that knows their stuff, does what they say they are going to do, is genuinely interested in knowing us as a person, and behaves in a selfless fashion. We are also much more likely to enjoy their company.

Stereotyping individuals that have a single weak variable is enlightening. The person with low credibility is a blowhard. The unreliable individual is a flake. Score low on the intimacy scale and you will come across as cold as a robot. Score high on all these things, but make it apparent that it is all about you and you may be a politician. We all know people that fall into one of these buckets and we probably don’t trust them much. This formula works in both commercial and personal contexts.

Of all the factors that affect trust the one that is the easiest to master is reliability. It doesn’t take years of education or a personality transplant to start following through on your commitments. In my experience, it is also the easiest way to differentiate yourself from the generally unreliable masses. All of us would benefit from periodically checking ourselves against the trust equation and identifying our weak variable. There is no excuse for letting poor reliability get in the way of building trust.

Sunset

11 Mar

The first star appeared well before sundown. A big, bright mama star with a toddler tight at her heels. Two stars and a washed out light blue sky that faded toward the horizon to almost white. Dragonflies darted about on the breeze. The ever present surf pounded the timeless reef with waves that had begun their journey in a far-off land. The man thought of his time in the Far East, far to the west where the waves had started their trip. It was nearing the socially acceptable time for end-of-day cocktails, but the heat created a preference for chilled white wine. “That is what she will want,” thought the man to himself. Moving from the lounge chair to open the bottle required more energy than he currently possessed. The heat had overstayed its welcome and intensified in defiance of its imminent eviction.

The man heard the first grackle before he saw it. A loud inelegant squawk. The bird landed in the palm trees that ringed the pool and lined the path to the beach. And then came another and started an argument with the first. The sun quickened its pace as it headed for a swim. The man heard the waves, the buzzing of the dragonflies, and the harsh cry of the grackles. Soon the sky was filled with the big, black birds and their shrilly protests. There seemed to be some giant quarrel among them as to the proper social order and their relative position in the trees. The uninvited happy hour guests created a cacophonous commotion. Nothing else could be heard. Even thoughts in the man’s head could not compete with the raucous cries of this unwelcome crowd. Time to get the wine.

He returned to the patio and the clamor with a chilled bottle wrapped in a towel. It was time to toast the end of day. The woman joined him just in time to see the sun extinguish itself in the ocean. “Did you see the green flash?” she asked. He thought briefly about lying to her once again, but chose to merely shake his head slowly from side to side as he sipped his chardonnay. The setting of the sun marked the beginning of the end of the grackle’s riot. They each appeared to recognize that they had been rude and intrusive and settled quietly into their perches among the palm trees. Quiet returned to the yard and the sound of the surf once more reached the man’s ears. He thought again of the waves and sipped his wine. More stars appeared as the evening breeze chased away the heat. He had a good life and a good woman next to him and he was content.

It was a good day.

Overdose on Youth

8 Mar

A couple of decades ago I started my very first consulting assignment at a large manufacturing company. The firm’s innovation-driven glory years in the 70s were distant memory by the time I arrived. The business advantages the company had previously enjoyed were gone, but the people were not. The memorable visual impression of a sea of gray hair (all male) in the employee cafeteria was a symptom of the problem. The company had simply grown old and sclerotic. It was eventually sold off from its parent, declared bankruptcy, reneged on retiree benefits, and is currently being run for cash by a vulture.

As a consultant I have the privilege of working within dozens of client organizations in industries ranging from high tech to telecom to life sciences to consumer products. Each of these companies has a vibe and a personality that creates an atmosphere that runs on a continuum from vibrant and dynamic to dead and dying. While I am certain that a good organizational behaviorist would be able to construct an academically sound comparative analysis of company cultures, there is one correlating factor that is easy to identify and easy to get right. It is the proportion of the workforce that is under the age of 30.

If growth from innovation is your company’s stated strategy then you should be overdosing on youth. If you want ideas to flow and concepts to flourish, you need to hire people with energy, enthusiasm and passion to push them through. I am obviously not suggesting that you institute mandatory retirement at thirty. We need the valuable guidance and wisdom that comes from experienced professionals (like you and me), but we should balance that with people that have a broader sense of the possible and the motivation to achieve what may seem impossible. Load up on smart, talented, energetic youngsters and provide them with some freedom to give your organization an innovation boost.

The popular press is filled with articles on the challenges of multi-generational management. Many of these articles point the finger at younger people as spoiled and unmanageable. This has not been my experience. Youth is like an innovation performance enhancing drug that will make the pulse of your organization beat a lot faster if taken in large quantities. My advice is to overdose.

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