There is enough to go around

credited to blackbrando on twitter

I like to be generous and am buoyed to be even more so as I read the research that supports that you can almost never be generous to a fault.  I don’t generally keep a mental scorecard on things I do, waiting for the return as a “matcher” might do and see more and more that being generous is truly generative and makes others more share and give more to you.

That said, I have work to do on overcoming some of my own remaining scarcity thinking as I reflect on why it persists in some areas and limit the growth and maintenance of a healthy work culture.

In a nutshell, scarcity thinking is the idea that there just isn’t enough to go around.  Not enough money, time, recognition.  The result is that anything you take, I lose.  Scarcity thinking can be especially damaging when paired with “downward spiral” thinking as discussed in “The Art of Possibility.”

Consider this scarcity thinking paired with downward spiral thinking.  I have a friend who is a creative, award-winning chef and is asked for her recipes and gives them freely.  I can hear some of your reactions to this.   That’s as bad as people stealing the recipes. They could then make the food and would stop coming to the restaurant.  They could open their own restaurant.  What if they do better than her restaurant and hers closes?  But what’s the reality? Having a recipe is nothing close to cooking the food yourself.  Once you see the ingredient list and the work involved, the odds of you cooking the dish may go down significantly.  You may realize that you are just curious as to how it’s done and grateful that someone with a well equipped kitchen bothered to think this up and create if for you.  What’s more, food tastes better when cooked by someone else. And there is no denying that a certain meal in a lovely restaurant with friends will not necessarily taste the same when you re-create the recipe at home.

In another recent experience of struggling with scarcity thinking, I was debating submitting my ideas in an exercise where we were asked to submit innovative ideas at work with the best/most popular ones getting resources allocated to see them realized (we don’t personally get money just help).   So I wanted to talk about the ideas and share the proposals to “kick the tires” but a nagging idea started in the back of my mind that maybe I shouldn’t share them because someone else would present the same idea but only better.  But, in end I knew I would need help to implement solid ideas so decided that the more people who considered these projects, the better.  And in government we don’t own ideas anyway.  So I shared my ideas with several colleagues and the ideas got more refined and I gave more strongly reasoned and more polished products as my final proposal (with a shout out to my brainy colleagues).

What about more objective things like time? That really is a scarce resource for most people so this should be an easier argument to make.  In the past few years I have challenged myself to really look at  how actual time unfolds to reality check my own hard-wired panic about lack of time and my hatred for being late for things.  While a certain percentage of the world wants to polish and perfect, I tend to continually stress about all the things I have to get done and would rather see progress and completion than break into a cold sweat because things are late.  I also hate being late because it disrupts the plans of others and seems to imply that my time is more important than the person left waiting.   That said, I have now concluded that, in general,  there is usually enough time if we wade in mindfully.

So how to embrace an abundance culture in the workplace?

Give more of what you need

I would start by saying, take a general leap of faith to believing that things often work out and prime yourself for that possibility. Some simple ideas that follow from this mindset: I like the idea from a recent piece which sounds counterintuitive but has the power to improve work cultures immensely – give more of what you need. You feel your work isn’t getting recognized enough? As an example of what I have experienced, I have tried to bend over backwards to be civilized/polite and friendly in many work emails and I can see language I used mirrored sometimes.  It costs no time to say “have a good evening” or “good morning” in an email though it sometimes appears that people have forgotten this is an option because they feel they don’t have time.

Remember to play the long game

Scarcity thinking has also be characterized as extreme short term thinking (with a focus only on the negative thing in the present moment). Though bumps and even significant losses can be devastating, avoiding risk and getting consumed when we get derailed can ignore the research that says that we are generally more resilient than we think we will be when confronted with bad events. The long term effects of most of our losses and worries are overblown in the present moment.

When researchers checked with both lottery winners and persons who had been through a catastrophic event (e.g. someone who lost both legs in an accident), they both returned to their original base levels of happiness with a year.

On a practical level, you might consider using the 10/10/10 rule.  Ask yourself if the issue you are fretting about will matter in ten minutes, ten months and ten years.  This has been a powerful one for me.  For a stretch I made a mental commitment to checking in with myself to really examine the long term outcomes after a period of great worry or actual loss either professionally or personally.  Leaving aside extremes (sudden deaths), I would be hard pressed to find more than a couple of examples of things that really really mattered even after the ten month period.

Be a “time stretcher”

One of the managerial styles that I most admire and have tried to emulate is “time stretching” bosses who have really do have limited time and may start meetings late but will make you feel as if they have time for you.  Result being that you are not rushed, you think clearly as you are making your points and the meeting actually takes less time than it would if you were getting cut off and panicked about your briefing.  Does that mean you won’t adapt ten minutes of presentation material to the five you have available? You absolutely will need to but you don’t need to have your words clipped to remind you that time is limited.

I apply this thinking when I am tutoring young kids to improve their reading. I have a deep interest and commitment to literacy but minimal training as a tutor.  And the greatest gift I can give a kid learning to master their letters or read better may just be time.  Puzzling out words is gruelling and though I can offer strategies, I probably offer more spaces to think and scan the page than actual talking.  I think that the quiet space may also function as a confidence giver to tell the seven year old that he already knows lots already to help puzzle this out without my continual commentary in the background.

And for the instances in my life when I really didn’t have enough time – sudden deaths in my immediate family would be the prime example – I still rely abundance thinking as my solace for these difficult passages.  I want to commit even more to reframing my mind to think abundance in the moment and be present for the time I have with people I care about including the people I love to work with.



Confession: I was a benevolent dictator | SmartBrief


Source: Confession: I was a benevolent dictator | SmartBrief

A good piece on a book I enjoyed and have touched on in another piece called Multipliers.

This article focuses on the ability to empower employees by shaking off the inclination to be a constant contributor to the ideas they bring and resisting the temptation to give step-by-step instructions for every task.

I especially liked the quote that when you give advice, the brain is essentially asleep versus when you ask questions it engages the listener.

On Legacy


I’ve been enjoying chipping away at the special Legacy Issue of the Rotman School of Management Magazine and a few snippets that I have found valuable have helped shift my thinking from a definition of legacy that goes beyond awards, scholarships and other named recognition but also reaches beyond changes that outlast the person who instigated them.  I take no big quibble with these definitions of legacy but I prefer the more nuanced treatment highlighted in the survey of articles in this magazine.  How people think and behave as a result interacting with you is your legacy.  And as importantly to me as a manager, maybe our key role is help others build their legacies.

Respect Employees: Be Tough on Them – A Response

Respect Employees: Be Tough on Them.

I read many more articles than I post on this blog.  One of my filters is that I generally post things with which I agree.

But, in this instance, I feel that this article missed enough nuances for me to want to mount a response.

The basic premise advanced here is that nasty work environments  with lots of negative feedback, are better at advancing complex tasks and get better results.  The prescription here is something less than a toxic work environment but somehow lands with a place where we’d allow employees to feel “anxious and depressed” in the name of achievement.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to respect employees by giving them honest feedback about what’s working and what’s not working.  Yes that’s the basic work we need to do.  Are we hardwired to be good at this as managers? Not always.  I know that I was terrible at this at the beginning of my management career for a variety of reasons.  One of my greatest ongoing learnings is how to give meaningful feedback about how to get from here to there.

This much I think I know.   We need to stop redoing employees’ work and giving thoughtful effort to what feedback we provide to get the products where we need them.  Time travel back to a time before track changes as a method of giving feedback – it’s too easy to lapse back into re-writing.  Watch how seasoned senior leaders give feedback – some margin notes or a couple of bullets in a cover email.  If the document is so off base that this can’t work, a regrouping meeting may be required and this will be an exercise in shared responsibility in how we failed to land in the right place.

 We also need to let employees do their own learning.

We also need to respect those who give us feedback enough to want to rise the the challenge of what they ask of us.  I learned gobs from a phone coach who was helping me brush up my French skills.  I felt like I was in the conjugation Olympics every Friday morning at 8:30.  She kept me on my toes and yes I did want to please her.  As is elaborated in the Talent Code, as Daniel Coyle kindly confirmed for me by email this week:  you should avoid coaches who treat you like eager waiters and seek out coaches who scare you a little.

Can this cross the line into someone who belittles or humiliates? Absolutely not.  Are environments where employees feel worn down and depressed ones that are also creative hotbeds? I find this hard to believe.

The opposite actually seems to be true – rather that our brains shut down when we feel we are under attack and reject feedback when we are feeling threatened.

“… What this means at work and at home is that we have a very hard time listening to someone if we are angry with them, or if we feel they are treating us unfairly.   And in fact, this is true.   It’s almost impossible to take feedback from someone who you feel is treating you unfairly, even if the feedback makes perfect sense.  And this turns out to be one of the primary reasons we reject even useful feedback.”

We also now know that the praise to criticism ratio is very high for high performing teams: for high performing teams it is over 5 to one. for negative teams it is three negative comments for every one.  Does this ratio change over time? Yes most likely it does with more expert performers who will need more targeted feedback on things to improve as they reach mastery.

So in sum, yes, employees do need the straight goods on what is working or not working. What we also need is:

  • The ability to articulate what isn’t working while providing the tools to get from here to there.
  • Feedback that leaves the door open for a shared responsibility for how we got to where we are and along with the hope that we will get where we need to go, together.
  • Feedback from a source we respect – that won’t pander but won’t demean.
  • A work environment which spends more time affirming what is working than what is not working.  To paraphrase a wise colleague, you can’t over do positive feedback.  When you do have to show up with the news that things didn’t go so well, you will have the credibility to be heard.

The three business books that I’d ask you to read

(c) abee5

Seth Godin recently posed a suggested challenge: pick three books that changed your thinking and then buy them for three admired people and ask them to read them over the holidays to advance a conversation.

Though I won’t honour the challenge to the letter, I think that doing some reflection on books that changed my thinking is a great way to end the year on the blog. Here are three books that made a difference to my thinking as a manager for the better:

1) Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen

I own multiple copies if this one and use it to prepare for most difficult conversations. Of the three books I am recommending it’s the only one that I think has genuine utility in everyday life.

The book makes the point that each conversation is really three different conversations: the “what happened” conversation (where we tend to spend all of our time to our detriment), the “identity” conversation – what is the effect of the problem on each person’s identity? and the feelings conversation. The book also has a number of tools to support difficult conversations including to enter conversations as “learning” conversations.

The support the spirit of Seth Godin’s challenge, I will give a copy of this book to the first three people who email me saying that they’d like it.

2) Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

This is a book about the power of emotional intelligence its links to leadership. The emotions of leaders are greatly magnified for better and for worse and they change the dynamic of teams quite powerfully. This book in combination with some of the more recent writing make the link between how your brain shuts down under stress – you go into fight flight mode and can actually go deaf – it is nearly impossible to work well under such conditions.  At the other end of the scale, positive emotions, generate powerful creativity.

As well, this was also the first book to convince me to abandon the idea that leadership is innate. Most powerfully, the belief that leadership can be learned, will set someone up to be empowered for success in truly difficult situations.

3) Drive: Daniel Pink’s bestseller on motivation – it comes down to three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

One the main findings – when you link monetary rewards to performance it only works well with rudimentary tasks.  Performance actually gets worse with pay incentives with tasks involving analytical skills.

Here are two videos which explain his main ideas for those of you not inclined to read the book:

Animated one:

TED talk:

Winning When the Troops are Tired – Let’s Grow Leaders


An important piece for me to have read this year – I work with a hardworking and understandably tired team.

The best bits in my opinion:

“Help your team understand what matters most.   Be frank about what can be lost without sacrificing your mission.  Candor strengthens resolve.  Empowering “less than perfect”, energizes the front lines.”

“Provide a little leave:  “Your highest performers won’t complain.  They’ll take on more, and work longer hours to get it done.  You may not even know they’re tired.   Initiate the conversation.  Establish regular check-ins.  Make it okay to politely question your asks.”

Manage your own stress:  Stress rolls down hill.  Get a grip.

via Winning When the Troops are Tired – Let’s Grow Leaders.

13 Item Hit List That Will Make A Successful Artist | Chase Jarvis Blog



The Hit List: 13 Things Crucial For Your Success [In Any Field]

A lovely list – I’ve excerpted the list and left the language “as is” but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Get shit done.  Yep I have written about this before.

“Over-thinking, pontificating, and wondering are tools for the slacker. People don’t care what almost happened, or what your problems are or why something wasn’t. “

Educate yourself.

“Think someone else is responsible for your education? Think again.”


“Nothing–and I’ll say it again, but louder–NOTHING will spring from your creative self fully formed. […] The summary of those iterations will aggregate into something special.”


Take a deep breath.

“Life, work, art can be hard. Anxiety – not to be confused with the positive stress of deadlines and forced production schedules – is counter productive. So when shit is getting hairy, take a breath. Everything is going to be okay.

Take delight.

“Your work should be fun. […] If you don’t take delight, your career will be short, either by choice or by fate.”

Find some quiet.

“Synthesis–the gluing together of your ideas–requires some sort of quiet, be it just a moment or bunch of moments. So carve out this time.”

via 13 Item Hit List That Will Make A Successful Artist | Chase Jarvis Blog.

Tear off the labels

Not Running a Hospital: How a team degrades.

A great forwarded piece – thanks Andrew.

The author talks about an experiment where people wore hats (visible to all but the wearer) with a personal characteristic, either bad or good (creative, whiner).  Notwithstanding that everyone knew that these labels had been assigned arbitrarily, people started to be treated in accordance with their label.

He then goes on to talk about his own experience of getting an unfair label, and being unable to shake it.  Though this is the classic “halo” effect, this piece lays out the ripple effects more powerfully than many discussions and is worth a read.

Where this piece is a bit thin and I can always use more help is how to make the delicate jump from a legitimate observation that some behaviours recur and need support to change without forming personal characterizations and putting people on the defensive.

You’re Rude Because Your Boss Is Rude – Christine Porath and Christine Pearson – Harvard Business Review


You’re Rude Because Your Boss Is Rude – Christine Porath and Christine Pearson – Harvard Business Review.

An important if disturbing article with the basic premise is the fact that you’ll “pay it forward” if your boss is rude to you.  The article was disturbing because it reminded me of how difficult and important it is to re-calibrate after a difficult interaction so that you don’t mirror it to others.

What could have been a happier conclusion for this same premise is that positive emotions are also played forward.

While the authors suggest that walking away or learning from rude colleagues are options, I’d suggest a third which has provided more benefits than I’d expected:  Take the high ground by taking the level of communication to more civilized level, implicitly inviting others to join you.  I have been pleasantly surprised that the reaction (in person, or even in email), is often that people will tend to mirror back a higher level of civility.

Why Appreciation Matters So Much – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review

Why Appreciation Matters So Much – Tony Schwartz – Harvard Business Review.

An important piece from one of my favourite HBR bloggers on the importance of appreciating people and the link to engagement.

I agree, reluctantly, with his conclusion that we often lack the language of positive emotion in the workplace.

To get things rolling in the right direction, he suggests learning to appreciate your own contribution and making a priority of appreciating others.