You’re Trying to Hire the Wrong People

What do you think is the average age of the founders of most new companies? Or an even better question is, what do you think the average age is of founders of high-growth startups? The kind of start-ups that take off and scale and grow quickly? Do you think it’s 25 years old, 35, 45, 55?

When asked this question most people say 25 and the voting gets lower as the age range goes up. The truth is that the average age of all new founders is 42, but the average age of the founders of the fastest growing and most lasting successful companies is 47. And founders with an average age of 50 are almost twice as likely to create a fast growth firm with a highly profitable exit, the kind of exit that makes investors rich.

Surprised? Maybe you bought into the romantic idea that all savvy entrepreneurs are young like Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Sarah Blakely, the founder of SPANXX. The truth is that older entrepreneurs have more experience, broader networks, and deeper wisdom, which seems to contribute to their capability to innovate successfully. And by “innovate successfully” I don’t mean they possess creativity. Lots of people are creative, but the difference between being creative and being innovative is the ability to execute – to lead a team to realize a shared vision.

As more and more work is routinized, outsourced, or automated, highly innovative people are exactly the kind of people most organizations need and want right now, but instead most hiring managers are hiring for PLUs – People Like Us. To ensure we have “culture fit” we hire people who look, act and behave like we do. We know we should be hiring for values, but often we confuse values for people who have the same interests.

That cultural conformity is terrible for innovation. Serial innovators are people who have lots of diverse interests, zig zag from job to job, often hold different kinds of roles within companies, experiment in different domains, read widely, experiment with hobbies, and often stay in contact with people who work in different lines of work. They are also often consistently counter-cultural in their efforts. Chuck House, who developed a number of innovative new products for Hewlett-Packard, was awarded a “Medal of Defiance” by the President of HP.

And because of this diversity and breadth of experience, these candidates appear on paper to be inconsistent in their work. On paper they look flakey, distracted. But they are also exactly the kinds of people who are more likely to borrow brilliance from other domains because of their experience, and become powerful innovators for your company.

Most job descriptions are overly narrow, and hiring managers focus on resumes that have predictable, consistent trajectories that align with the target abilities they are trying to hire for. Keep in mind this is a short-sighted approach. It’s a tactical hire, not a strategic one. When hiring, don’t just think about the task you are trying to accomplish, think about the kind of company you aspire to build.

Finally, make sure you have a diverse set of interviewers. Women are more likely to join a company when they can interact with women who are already there, and can witness a company’s commitment to diversity. As Katherine Swings points out, one of the biggest deciding factors on whether or not a female candidate accepts a job is if there was a woman on the interview panel.

Innovation isn’t rocket science. It can be deconstructed and learned by anyone. Try our course Out•Innovate the Competition to build measurable innovation in your workplace.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Win or Lose, Never Stop Learning.

The USWNT is exactly as unapologetically spectacular, or arrogant, as you perceive them to be. If you find team captain Rapinoe to be brash and cocky then you can find lots of articles out there that might agree with you. And if instead, you find her and the U.S. Women’s team to be confident, cohesive, joyful, and magnificent in their success, there’s an even bigger cheering section out there. As Alex Morgan and many others have pointed out, there’s quite the double standard when it comes to goal celebrations.

Yes, the U.S. Women’s National Team won the World Cup. It was tense, competitive and beautiful to watch. The Netherlands side held the U.S. team to a scoreless first half. Something that hadn’t been done throughout the entire tournament. Up to the final, the U.S. team had scored in each match within the first 12 minutes, sometimes within the first 5 minutes. In the end the U.S. side prevailed, and has not lost a match in the World Cup tournament since 2011 (They are 13-0-1).

But look deeper. The Netherlands did lose, but they played with excellence and determination, and lost with dignity. The cover of the Netherlands Times sports page today reads, “Disappointed, But Proud After World Cup Loss.” Proud they should be, because not only did they play with heart and tenacity against a U.S. side favored to win, they had sensational chances with Lineth Beerensteyn through the U.S. defensive line, and spectacular saves from keeper Sari van Veenendaal.

Van Veenendaal went on to win the Golden Glove award for best keeper at the tournament for save after save after save. And despite being dominated on ball possession by the US team in the first half, 62%-38%, the Dutch came out in the second half to gain time on the ball with 46% possession.

It wasn’t enough to win, but remember we will all lose at some point. I know it’s sacrilege to say, but the USWNT will eventually lose. Even the New England Patriots will lose. We’ll all lose eventually – an interview, a contract, a job, a promotion, or maybe even a date. The most important thing, of course, is to understand that the landscape is always changing. There is always a chance to learn, to change, to win.

Look at women’s soccer. The game has changed dramatically in just 15 years. In the 2007 World Cup semi-final, the USWNT lost badly against a Brazilian team and the dazzling superstar Marta. In the 79th minute of the game, Marta received the ball on the left side of the field with her back to defender Tina Ellertson. With Marta’s first touch she flicks the ball over her left shoulder, over the defender, while spinning right around the Ellertson. She gathers the ball, cuts right across another defender and strikes to the back of the net. You can see it here.

Today’s solution to Marta’s move would be to foul the attacker and concede a free kick. Ten years ago no one had seen such a move, and were flatfooted by her brilliance. The USWNT of that era played a simple, long ball-oriented game which relied mostly on simply having better athletes than their opponents. The plan was to play the ball deep and outrun your opponent. It worked, up until Marta.

“That was one of those moments where as an opposition player you were devastated because it was likely our worst loss in the history of the national team, but on the other side, recognizing that you just saw a glimpse of brilliance.”
– Heather O’Reilly, who started that match for the USWNT.

Enjoy the wins, but when you do lose, study that loss like a scientist. Because you can always change, and come back stronger.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Small Acts of Leadership: Nourish Your Team

Transcript
This is a true story. Rona Cant is an adventurer. She taught me something kind of fascinating about dog sledding deep in the northern wilderness of Norway. Each evening on her expedition, her team of three sleds and 28 dogs, they’d usually camp near a frozen lake or maybe a river, and while her traveling partner Cathy put up the tents, Rona, she’d build a fire and she would untether the dogs and inspect each and every one of them for cuts, for injuries, for soreness. And their guide, his name is Per Thore, he would take this huge auger and he would go out onto the ice and he would drill a hole through almost a meter of ice to retrieve fresh water and then Rona, she would hike out to the well through waist deep snow and ladle 40 liters of water into these plastic containers. She’d haul them back to the campsite.

Several more trips were required to deliver all the water to the spot by the fire, where Per Thore was busy sawing chunks of frozen reindeer meat to then mix with some dry food and the water to set over the campfire and make a stew, and it was all for the dogs. The dogs required more than 60 kilos of food every single day. And then finally, Rona would return to the hole in the ice one last time to retrieve 10 liters of water for the humans. You see, only after the dogs were fed and cared for would the three adventurers take their first sip of water and the reason is obvious. Without your team in the wilderness, you die. Without your team, you are going nowhere. They are the engine that makes the expedition possible and without their health, their well being, their rest, their focus, all is lost.

Nourish your people first. The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the strength and the conviction of our teams. Teams can take us places that we can only dream of alone.

You may not be racing a team of dogs through the wilderness, but as a leader, you must always nurture your team or your projects will be stuck and lost in the woods. Sanjay’s team has had many disappointments lately. Product tests have failed, systems crashed, and it takes a lot of time to get the operation up and running. What the team needs is support and lots of it. Sanjay knows he cannot solve these problems alone, and he needs to stop and support his team so they can be at their best. Play the video clip for your team. Ask them to think creatively about what nourishes them, what makes them strong and healthy enough to work together every day. Together, think of a few things that leaders can do more regularly to keep the team strong.

Your Stubborn Optimism Is Contributing to Your Success

One day, the farmer’s horse jumps the fence and runs off. The farmer’s neighbor stops by and says, “I’m so sorry. That’s terrible news.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

Several days later, the horse returns with six other wild horses who have followed him home. The neighbor stops by and says, “That’s amazing! What wonderful luck!”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

Soon after the wild horses have come to live in their pasture, the farmer’s son is thrown from a horse while trying to tame it. He breaks his leg in the fall and is bound to a wheelchair while he heals. The neighbor stops by and says, “What a horrible accident. I’m so sorry for your son and your family.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

While his son is healing in his wheelchair, the militia marches through the town, conscripting all able-bodied young people to serve in the war. The farmer’s son is spared from serving in the military. Again, the neighbor stops by and says, “What fortune that your son does not have to join the army.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

You get the point. This fable can go on and on. It’s about how our interpretation of events is a result of our view of the world, our innate sense of hope or despair. But hope and optimism aren’t quite the same thing. According to researcher Tali Sharot:

Hope is what you want to happen. Optimism is the belief that what you want to happen will happen.
– Tali Sharot, Ph.D.

Some people say the key to happiness is low expectations. The idea being that if we keep our expectations low, we aren’t likely to be disappointed, and therefore when things do go our way, we’ll be pleasantly surprised. But it turns out that most people aren’t pessimistic. Only 4% of us claim to be full-on pessimists, and that’s a good thing.

We (and by “we” I mean everyone – men, women, old, young, western culture, eastern culture, rich, poor…) commonly overestimate our own optimistic outlook of the world. Statistically we think we are more attractive, more likely to get promoted, more likely to stay married, and less likely to get in a car accident because we’re better drivers than most other people too. And through it all, we think we’re more modest than the next person too.

Privately, we hold more optimistic expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, and our children, yet hold more pessimistic expectations for strangers. Although the actual chance of getting some form of cancer during your lifetime is about 35%, most people think it will happen to the other guy.

This optimism bias turns out to be a good thing because – although it can lead us to underestimate our chances of developing illness, getting divorced, or getting in a car accident – it also leads us to be more cheerful and excited about our own future.

That innate optimism bias allows us to have more favorable expectations of upcoming events in our lives, which in turn, lets us be happier and healthier in the long term, in part because we expect it. According to the scientist Tali Sharot, it’s optimistic anticipation that keeps us cheerful, and that sunny outlook on life comes from the belief that we have control over our future.

The reason we are more optimistic about ourselves is because we believe we have control over our lives. And the reason we are more pessimistic about bigger ideas like the economy, climate change, or real estate markets because we believe we have no control. So when we think about the upcoming weekend, we can get excited about the plans we have made and when we think about the giant project we are on, we might believe it’s going to fail because we have little control over the outcome and success.

Here’s the big idea. When we take a moment to reflect on how our own decisions, efforts and emotions make a positive difference in the world around us, we are more likely to be optimistic about the outcome, which actually makes it more likely to happen, precisely *because* we take control. It can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Go forth and never apologize for your smile.

Start one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

You Can’t Build a Reputation On What You’re Going to Do

A little northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona is a desert of volcanic ash and rock from an eruption near the year 1065. It’s now called Cinder Lake. It’s a desolate, barren landscape with porous, ashen soil, pockmarked with divots and potholes.

In July of 1967, NASA engineers “improved” the landscape by blasting over a hundred craters in the middle of Cinder Lake to make it more accurately look like the moon. It was here for a couple years thereafter that NASA conducted a series of lunar training trials with Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and other astronauts and engineers. They brought in their space suits, vehicles, and crazy-looking apparatus to conduct experiments and stress tests on the lunar buggys.

One day they encountered a Navajo elder who inquired what they were doing. The astronauts explained that they were practicing and training for a trip to the moon. The Native American man was astonished at what he heard, and then fell silent, quietly contemplating what the astronauts told him. After a few moments he spoke.

“The people of my tribe believe that there are holy and sacred spirits that live on the moon. Would you please pass a message to them?” And then he uttered a few sentences in his native language, carefully repeating each line until the astronauts memorized and repeated it back accurately.

“But what does it mean?” the astronauts asked.
“That I cannot tell you. It is a sacred message for only my people and the moon spirits to know.”

When they returned to the training facility they found a Navajo translator who listened to their secret message, and then laughed and laughed. He said, “It means, ‘Don’t believe a word these people tell you. They have come to steal your lands.'”

We would all like a reputation for generosity and we’d all like to buy it cheap.
– Mignon Mclaughlin

It’s a cute story. It’s not true, but illustrates the point that your reputation precedes you. Like it or not, people talk. And your actions say much more about who you are than any marketing brochure you write about yourself. Which is why one of the most important things you can do to generate good will among those you have worked with, and high expectations for those who are interested, is to actively live your values.

It’s hard to live up to our own expectations. We know that mobile devices detract from the quality of our conversations, but we look at them anyway. We know that waiting to talk isn’t the same as listening, and yet it’s hard to quiet our inner dialogue. We know that self-compassion is important, and yet we beat ourselves up over the silliest things.

Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who received a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, was once pressed to say how much of the mind works unconsciously. He guessed between 80 to 90%. The broader point is that real change is difficult since much of our thought process is unconscious.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.
– Henry Ford

Pick one thing. About ten years ago I was so consumed with my work I would prattle on to anyone who would listen about what projects we were working on, what fabulous things we were trying to accomplish, what we were excited about. Some people were interested, but many weren’t. Many people would just tune out. So I started asking questions instead. It made a big difference in the quality of my relationships when I led with questions instead of statements – particularly more powerful kinds of questions.

Reinforce the change. Whatever small change we choose to act on, when we see it elsewhere in the world, reinforce it. In my own example, I wanted to lead conversations with questions instead of statements. Now, when I see other people around me begin conversations with questions (for example; “How are your kids?” or “You just went to Detroit. What did you learn about the city?”). I point out their considerate questions and say “Thank you for asking.” Or even better, “That was a thoughtful question.”

Build your reputation one small act at a time.

Building cultures of leadership, trust and innovation starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to move the needle a little in your workplace.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Keeping Score is a Losing Game

Maybe it’s a function of the age, of being 12 years old. I donno. But a few years ago, our son would keep score of everything. If I asked him to empty the dishwasher, he would say it’s his sister’s turn. If we’re stacking wood in the shed, he lets me know how many more pieces he stacked than his brother. If we go out to buy shoes, he would let me know he picked the ones that cost less, or were cooler, or some other metric of comparison.

Everything was counted as points for, or against. Nothing was out of bounds, “I ate more carrots“, and nothing was beyond his calculating gaze “He’s a faster runner, but I worked harder.”

If you are ever wondering whose turn it is to take out the trash, then it’s your turn. And you’re better off to do it without even knowing whose turn it might be. At work, if you’re keeping score on whose turn it is to proof-read the marketing copy, draft the proposal, assemble the meeting agenda, or edit the upcoming presentation, then you’re likely to feel ripped off when you do it, because making contributions based on reciprocation is always going to make someone feel like they aren’t getting a fair deal.

A workplace of zero-sum, scarcity thinking creates an environment in which there aren’t enough jobs, isn’t enough credit, and isn’t enough opportunity to go around. When work relationships are built on the basis of scarcity, we monitor the contribution of others, hoard credit, and harbor frustration at our work. Then we talk trash about our colleagues after work.

To counteract the negative effects of constantly keeping score at work, try hosting a Reciprocity Ring. Developed by sociologist Wayne Baker and his wife Cheryl, the exercise works like this: Assemble a group of people – anywhere from 8 to 50 people – and ask each person to come to the meeting with a request. It could be something as simple as an introduction, or as wild as a lifelong dream. The object of the group is to try to fulfill each person’s wish using their knowledge, resources and connections.

It’s also important to do this live, face-to-face, together. Research shows that requests made in-person are 34 times more likely to be effective and responded to.

The wonderful part about a Reciprocity Ring is that the team goal is to fulfill someone’s personal or professional wish, so it’s a great exercise in giving. The other wonderful part about the exercise is that it normalizes asking for help – everyone must arrive with their own wish. Wayne and Cheryl Baker say they see gender differences at work when it comes to giving. According to Baker, “Women are more likely to suffer generosity burnout. They help but don’t ask for what they need, hence, burnout. Men give and ask for help.” In a Reciprocity Ring, everyone has to arrive with a request, so it creates an environment in which it’s safe to ask for help.

Wayne and Cheryl Baker have tuned the exercise to try to achieve higher rates of granted wishes. They encourage participants to arrive with a wish that meets their SMART criteria – specific, meaningful, action-oriented, real, and time-bound. When a wish has these parameters, it’s more likely the group will come up with a solution they can deliver on.

Go on, give it a try. It’s an easy exercise in creating a culture of trust and giving at work.

Building cultures of leadership, trust and innovation starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to move the needle a little in your workplace.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Don’t Let Your Grit Become Workaholism

What comes easy to you? What do you love? After you’ve sat through 4 meetings, done the dishes, taken out the garbage, or stood in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles, what are you excited to escape to?

I have friends who find solace in yoga, escape into reading, or immerse in deep conversation. Their version of self-reward is to get a group together and share ideas over lunch. I also have introverted friends who dread the idea of hosting a big meeting. My friend Chris’ idea of joy is to curl up in a chair and knit and knit and knit. She says they will find skeins of yarn untouched after she’s gone. She can’t get enough. My friend Jeff clocks whole afternoons lost in his workshop shaping cabinets. Hopper can spend an entire week swimming in the open ocean.

In order to get good – really good – at something we have to work at it, put in the long hours, maybe even ten thousand of those hours. And if you’re going to put ten thousand hours into something, you deserve to enjoy it. So start with something you feel drawn to, something that comes easy.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
– Richard Bach

If you start with what comes easy, the work becomes passion. “Grit is the combination of perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Angela Duckworth goes on to say, “It’s not simply working really hard and being resilient, it’s working toward something that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning.”

Workaholism, on the other hand, is working compulsively at the expense of other pursuits, and possibly at the expense of physical or psychological health. A work-obsessed individual pursues power or control until it becomes a compulsive addiction to gain approval or public recognition of success.

The primary difference here is that workaholism is work for work’s sake. It’s also work for external validation – like getting affirmation or money or power. Grit involves the pursuit of a higher calling, a striving to achieve something of meaning beyond the work itself.

Choose what comes easy. Then the work becomes joy.

May you and your loved ones have a joyous holiday season, and a wonderful new year.

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My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Last summer, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored this with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Don’t Let Someone Else Define Who You Are

Right now, over 2 million high school seniors all around the United States are applying to college. And many of those apply early, to receive an early response, and to possibly increase the odds of getting in to their dream school. Those who applied for Early Decision or Early Action, are hearing the news right about now. Hope abounds, and I understand. Our son, a senior in high school, understands.

If you are a high school senior, or have a high school senior, you should know something that matters much more than acceptance at your dream school. The choices you have made, and who you have become by the time you are 18, matter way more than any decision by a college admissions board. And whatever acceptances or rejections you receive, they are temporary and they do not define who you are or who you can become.

The friends you have made, the adventures you have embarked on, the books you have read, the challenges and adversities you have confronted, and the small acts of kindness you have given over your years leading up to age 18, define you far more than the seemingly arbitrary and confounding decisions of college admissions professionals. Don’t let a small group of people who have never met you, define who you are. You get to decide that.

There are a lot of schools you can attend, and have an equally marvelous experience. What matters, of course, is not where you are, but what you think, and who you play with, and share time with. So remember, whatever school you are accepted at, choose to attend, or life choice you make, the most important thing you can do is to make a difference where you are. Solidify your intentions. Light a candle where you are, and let it burn brightly.

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Last summer, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a book about it called Chasing Dawn. (Because, you know, we were cycling east. Get it?) I co-authored this with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Our company Mindscaling, builds powerful leadership development experiences, and curriculum, for companies big and small. My other new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post #5 bestseller. Woot! You can grab a copy on Amazon. Have a meeting coming up? I can help. Let’s talk.

You Don’t Suck. Give Yourself Compassion.

We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough. Pharmaceuticals are dispensed, and therapist calendars are booked solid. Most people, when asked, say they are more kind to other people than they are to themselves.

I’m such an idiot…why did I say that?…I look fat and ridiculous…I’ll never succeed…It’s so obvious I have no idea what I’m doing…

If your close friend starting talking like this, what would you say to them? You would build them up, and tell them they are worthy. You would tell them they were smart, talented, and resourceful. You would tell them to stand tall, take a deep breath, close their eyes and envision a stronger, more resilient self. You would send them on their way feeling emboldened.

And if your child came home with a poor test grade you would ask, “How can I help? What do you need? Can I find you a tutor?” You wouldn’t belittle and degrade them. You would be kind, understanding and compassionate.

So why do we talk to ourselves differently? We should use the same internal self-talk we use with our closest friends, our family, and our children. People who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, or stressed out, and are much more likely to describe themselves as happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.

In one study, combat veterans who practiced self-compassion suffered less from post-traumatic stress after returning from combat zones. These combat veterans with higher levels of self-compassion showed better functioning in daily life, and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In fact, self-compassion has been found to be a stronger predictor of PTSD than level of combat exposure. That’s right: PTSD rates are higher among those who tell themselves they deserve it, or are not worthy.

Self-compassion is not self-esteem. Our self-esteem is our sense of worth and value, and is often derived from external validation factors such as comparing ourselves to others. Comparison is the death of joy. Even being referred to as “average” feels like an insult these days, which is why the most negative form of chasing self-esteem often involves putting others down to create a manufactured sense of self-worth. Narcissism has recently been described as an epidemic.

Self-compassion is kindness to ourselves when things go sideways. It’s a caring, thoughtful response to difficult circumstances or adversities. Self-compassion is the act of mindfully acknowledging whatever pain, ill thought, or difficulty we are confronted with, and treating ourselves with humanity and care. It’s the very opposite of the harsh, critical language we often use on ourselves. So stop telling yourself, “You suck! Come on. Pull it together, you loser” and start giving ourselves more thoughtful and compassionate counsel when we feel beat up by life.

For more on the power of self-compassion, follow Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who has been studying the positive effects of self-compassion for over ten years.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

How Do You Create Something Special?

Almost anything I have ever created, built, designed or written that anyone else in the world cared about, I did on my own initiative, out of love of the work, love of the process, love of the team, and the sheer enjoyment of the experience of creating something new.

I’m not saying everything I’ve ever created of value was easy or fun. Creating something that didn’t exist before is hard. Building a company is hard, frustrating, yet sometimes deeply rewarding. Cycling across America can be difficult, exhausting, yet interrupted by moments of elation. Writing a book about the experience is time-consuming yet gratifying.

Robert Berger is a strategic planning professional who has spent his professional career building teams, running successful government initiatives and projects. But the most gratifying and engaging work he does is pro bono. Through the Taproot Foundation he gets engaged with projects he cares about and applied his project management skills for free. He has dedicated over 800 hours of time, and says it’s the most rewarding work he has done in his entire life.

When we do things that we aren’t expressly being paid for, we are more creative and engaged in our efforts. If we are being paid to deliver a specific piece of work, we ask our client lots of questions about what they want. We ask how long the article should be, or what color the image should be, or where the painting will hang in the house when we deliver it.

In other words, when we work for someone else, we are working to their expectations. And the result is that we stifle our own curiosity and creativity in the process. We subsume our own creative inclinations and instead try to figure out “what the client wants.”

I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
– Stephen King

Almost twenty years ago, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her colleagues conducted an interesting study. They asked 23 artists to randomly select 10 of their commissioned works and 10 of their non-commissioned works. That is, 10 works of their art that they were paid to create, and 10 works of art they created entirely on their own initiative.

They then took the 460 works of art to a big room where they could be displayed and evaluated by a team of art curators, historians, and experts. All of the experts evaluating the art had not been told which was commissioned (paid) art, and which art was created at the self-direction and initiation of the artist.

Amabile and her colleagues reported their findings:

“Our results were quite startling…the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works, yet they were not rated as different in technical quality.”

It was the non-commissioned, self-directed art that was found to be more creative, interesting, and valuable to the experts. Do more work you care about, and other people are likely to be more interested. If you care.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.