Be a Genius- Be Adaptable to Change

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Change is a dominant theme for me this time of year. As an educator, August has as much significance for ringing in a new year as January does for most people. A new beginning in the form of meeting new students, teaching new classes perhaps, and implementing new initiatives or policies are part of the way of life in academia. And, change brought about by a new school year impacts anyone with school age children. Kids make new friends, meet new teachers, and even find themselves in a strange place if they are in a new school. The adage “the only constant is change” is evident this time of year.

Change is Tough

Change may be prevalent when you embark on a new year, endeavor, or project, but just because it is expected or common does not mean it is easy to handle. Change is not only hard to handle, it is too much for some people to deal with. The result is they do not adapt to change and struggle to keep up as the world moves forward without their buy in. Why is change difficult to embrace? Three barriers to embracing change are:

  1. Disturbs our comfort zone. Change can elicit a negative response because it is just that- change. We have to do think or act differently than normal, and normal may suit us just fine. We have a comfort zone in which we exist and operate. It is called a comfort zone for a reason- it is comfortable! But, comfort and growth are often incompatible conditions. The photo below was taken at Middle Tennessee State University’s commencement ceremony recently. The message is powerful. I hope a lot of graduates were able to see that message!
comfort zone
Photo Credit: MTSU
  1. What if I fail? Related to the notion of upsetting our comfort zone is that change brings risk that we are subjected to if we fail in adapting to change. Could you get fired if you do not meet expectations in a new position? Yes. Could you go bankrupt if your business venture flops? Yes. Could you stub your toe when you walk across the room to sit on your sofa to spend an evening watching television? Yes. Risk is ever present, but it should not keep us from doing something that we need or want to do.
  2. What if I succeed? This barrier might seem odd given that the objective for trying something new is to succeed at it. If so, why would the possibility of success make us resistant to change? The answer goes back to the comfort zone in which we reside. Success in a new job might mean more responsibilities, greater demands on your time, and even travel that physically takes you out of your comfort zone. You may have heard the saying “be careful what you ask for- you might get it.” That sentiment applies here. Change can result in success that can bring about even more change that you must be prepared to handle.

Adapt to Change

This week’s One to Grow On quote spoke to me when I encountered it. I was not seeking out words of wisdom to deal with change; it fortuitously crossed my path. However, it could not have been timelier for me as a new academic year is around the corner, my department is going through a reorganization, and I have taken on a new role as interim department chair. Change is going to be a theme for me in 2015-2016, for sure! When change unfolds, we can try to resist it or modify it to suit our personal agenda, or we can embrace it and adapt so that we not only survive change but thrive from it.

I am not suggesting to blindly accept and go along with change when imposed upon you. In some instances, standing on principle and fighting for what you believe is the right thing to do must be done. But, do not confuse those behaviors with defensive responses that fall into the three areas described here. Consider Stephen Hawking’s words that infer a link between intelligence and adapting to change. How you approach dealing with change and leading or working with others through change can result in the impact on intelligence that Hawking suggests.

Avoiding the Double-Life Lie in Personal Branding

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One of the most daunting aspects of developing your personal brand is figuring out how to progress on the journey from where you are now to how you want to be perceived. This challenge can be further complicated by comparing our current state to others who have “arrived.” They have the success we aspire to attain, enjoy the benefits of position and influence that we long for, and in general have made it to where we believe we want to be. Looking to others as examples can be motivational, inspiring us to work harder and be more persistent. It can also be soul crushing, discouraging us because we cannot imagine ourselves worthy of the trappings of success.

Living an Illusion

Returning to the point about personal branding being daunting, comparing ourselves to others whose brands are far advanced in development can lead one to conclude that personal branding is an illusion. In other words, to become the brand we want to be and have, we must act differently than who we are. Could you imagine a product brand conducting business in this manner? A brand whose words and actions are inconsistent with how it sees itself is a recipe for failure. Branding is not a role play exercise, nor is it an endeavor in putting on a desirable face or appearance to please others. It is an ongoing management of your professional identity; there is no beginning or ending. Thus, you cannot engage in short-term behaviors that might serve your brand well but that are incompatible with how you see yourself.

Your Own Worst Enemy

As I reflect on the evolution of my brand, it is clear that one adversary stands above the rest in holding back my development: Me. Inconsistency between how I see myself and where I want to be often keeps me stuck right where I am. Perhaps you know that adversary, too. Fear, self-doubt, and lack of confidence can thwart well-conceived personal branding strategy faster than a weak economy, strong competition, or any other external force. The threat to our growth is looking at us in the mirror, becoming our own worst enemy.

Strive for Congruence

Take the One to Grow On quote personally this week- I am. Make it a point to achieve consistency between the personal and professional growth you desire and self-concept. Don’t let the “stinking thinking” that Zig Ziglar talked about (e.g., “I’m unsure if I can close this huge deal” or “I can’t be any more successful than where I am now”) drive a wedge between performance capabilities and the heights to which you want to take your personal brand.

One to Grow On: Content Creation with Purpose

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This week’s One to Grow On quote is more practical than philosophical, and it is advice anyone who is tasked with being creative on the job should take to heart. The source of this advice is someone who knows a thing or two about creating content. Ann Handley is a writer (author of Everybody Writes and co-author of Content Rules) and Chief Content Officer at Marketing Profs. In marketing, the shift toward content has been swift and dramatic. Brands and individuals alike recognize the benefits of leveraging content channels to build a community, educate customers, and yes, even generate revenue. Recognition of why you should be concerned with content creation is the easy part; implementing a system to plan, conceive, create, and distribute content is where most of us are baffled.

Start with Motivation

If you find yourself struggling to create content in any form (photos, video, blog entries, articles, social media posts), a logical question to ask is why do you want to create content in the first place? Perhaps your employment security depends on it, meaning that content creation is in your job description. While that is true for many people, even more people realize content could make their work more distinctive and make their personal brand stand out. Start with the why of content creation to make the what and how easier to answer. Consider these motives:

  • Create to help others. The best content is based on what recipients consider useful to them. Does you content solve problems? Teach a skill? Give people comfort? If you are driven by a desire to make a positive impact on those who consume your content, you will find instances of “writer’s block” or its equivalent diminishes as you are inspired to create content that benefits your audience. The information or education benefit for the audience could in turn become an economic benefit for you if people are moved to buy from you or your company based on the utility of your content.
  • Create to help yourself. A funny thing about content creation is that when you set out to help others, you often help yourself, too. For example, I began blogging in 2007 because… well, no particular reason. However, I soon discovered that the exercise of writing blog posts strengthened my writing and editing skills. My confidence increased the more engaged I was with the craft. Audience metrics? I did not look at them for years because blogging was more therapeutic and recreational than it was a commercial endeavor. I write for others’ consumption as well as my own release, and if the former does not occur the latter still does.

From Work to Want

Whether you are motivated to write to serve others or for self-fulfillment, you may still be challenged in finding how to put joy in creating content. Based on the external/internal motivations discussed earlier, joy in content creation can come from the following sources:

  • Being a resource. If you enjoy helping other people, consider how you can use content to make that happen. How-to videos, best practice articles, or step-by-step blog posts are examples of information that could benefit your audience.
  • Making a difference. You may go beyond merely providing helpful information to content that could be life changing in some way. An open discussion on a sensitive topic, being willing to be vulnerable and share your own stories of mistakes and redemption, or providing encouragement to people who need it could give wings to any content creator in search of ideas.

Regardless of the scope of impact you seek to achieve with your content, when you are driven by wanting to do something for someone else (educate, inform, or inspire) or for self-improvement your outlook changes from “have to” to “want to.”

Go Forth and Create

Online channels give everyone a voice today. You have a platform; the choice is yours whether you step up to the platform and use it. It is a privilege prior generations did not have as content creation and distribution was reserved for people who had access to mass media outlets- TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. The goal is not to become the next celebrity; it is to impact your network in a positive way.

One to Grow On: Eating Elephants

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Dreams are essential to our existence because they inspire us, breathing life into taking on new projects or forcing us to go beyond our comfort zone. We imagine possibilities for our life that stand to make us happier, wealthier, healthier, or wiser. Dreams can be the catalyst of growth, but our dreams can end up overwhelming us if we are apprehensive in pursuing them.

When Dreams Remain Dreams

A dream can be little more than an unfulfilled longing if not acted upon… and if we could stack all of the dreams left unacted upon they would likely touch the stars in the sky. If dreams reflect a wonderful state we would like to reach, why do they often go not only unfulfilled but untouched? Among the most common reasons that we fail to take action on our dreams are:

  • Fear. You may have heard that fear can be thought of as an acronym for “False Evidence Appearing Real.” In other words, most of the fears that we feel are not actual dangers or risk to us. But, if we perceive danger or risk it is real in our minds, and the antidote for our fears is to avoid whatever it is that causes them. “What if my business idea fails and I go broke?” “What happens if I apply for the promotion and get passed over?” Why would anyone want to invest in my venture?” These negative thoughts are dream killers, even if based on false evidence.
  • The wrong dream. Sometimes we never act on our dreams because the outcomes we want may be wrong for us or are based on someone else’s dream. When I was a young boy, I thought about becoming a lawyer when I grew up. The reason was that all of the lawyers in my small hometown seemed wealthy and successful to me. If I wanted to be wealthy and successful then being a lawyer would be the ticket, right? Thankfully, I was able to shake that dream on my own, recognizing it was not my dream but the dream of others. Unfortunately, too many people become lawyers, accountants, engineers, or some other professional because it was the dream of their parents or someone else influential in their lives.
  • Lack of an action plan. Even when you defeat fear and have the right dream, you could remain stuck in dream mode if you do not have an action plan to turn your dream into reality. In most cases, I don’t think it is laziness or indifference that is creates this roadblock to pursuing a dream. It is lack of understanding about the route to take to get there.

Small Steps on a Long Journey

The lack of an action plan to act on a dream could be due to fear or that the dream is not energizing because it is not our own. Often, lack of an action plan can be attributed to a simple reason: We have no idea where to start or how to plan. The task of moving from point A to point B seems overwhelming. Perhaps it is here that fear is fed and becomes a convenient reason why not to pursue a dream.

Rather than being overcome by the enormity of the requirements of fulfilling a dream, we should heed the advice of General Creighton Abrams. He (along with many other people) have used the illustration of eating an elephant one bite at a time to make the point that grand undertakings are completed through a series of small steps. Recently, I had a dream for a book I wanted to write to help people transform their personal brand over the course of a year. The challenge: Writing 52 essays, with each essay being 600-700 words, and write them by the end of October. It would have been easy to stop right there and blow off the dream as unattainable (I know that because I have done so many times in my life). Instead, I broke down the project to pinpoint the number of essays I would need to write each week to be finished by the target date. To my surprise, I realized the goal could be achieved if I stuck to the plan I devised. I am pleased to report that I met my writing goal for the first week. The feat must be repeated over the next twelve weeks, but the combination of having a plan and evidence that I can do it is energizing me to keep building momentum.

Are You Hungry?

This week, take General Abrams’s advice and eat the elephant that is your big dream or project one bite at a time. When you go to a restaurant and the server brings out a plate filled with generous portions, you probably don’t say “take it away- I can’t eat that much food.”  If you are like me, you dive in and take one bite at a time, enjoying the moment. Do the same to make your dream a reality.

One to Grow On: “It Might Have Been”

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Growth entails taking risks, with the degree of risk ranging from taking us slightly out of our comfort zone to significant financial, emotional, and perhaps even physical risk. The thought of facing the consequences of taking risk is simply too much for some to bear, so they protect themselves by not taking risks. In a way, it is like protecting yourself by staying close to home and not venturing out because you feel safer. That is, until you learn that over 50 percent of auto accidents occur within five miles of home and seven million disabling accidents occur within the home each year. So much for playing it safe.

“I Couldn’t Do That” and Other Lies

One of the most effective tactics for risk avoidance is to simply not let risk into your life. In other words, just play it safe and you will not fail or get hurt. For most of my life, I excelled at risk avoidance. Then, the tide turned in 1994. While taking classes toward an MBA degree, I  admired the work of some of my professors and got the idea for the next step in my career: Earn a PhD and become a college professor. I went to the library to look at catalogs of different universities to learn more about what it would take to become a PhD. My heart sank as I gathered the information. To complete a PhD program, I would have to do the following:

  • Complete two years of course work (“That would probably be very hard- I don’t know if I could do that”)
  • Pass a written comprehensive exam (“That, too would be very hard- I don’t know if I could do that”)
  • Pass an oral comprehensive exam before a faculty committee (“I couldn’t do that”)
  • Defend a topic for dissertation research and gain approval from a faculty committee (“I couldn’t do that”)
  • Defend completed dissertation to a faculty committee (“I couldn’t do that”).

Simply put, if I had listened to the voice calling for risk avoidance, I would not be a college professor today. Thankfully, I persevered over the self-doubt that tried to “protect” me on at least five different occasions… months before I took my first doctoral level class.

You may have never contemplated whether to pursue a graduate degree, but you probably find yourself needing to make a stretch decision occasionally, forced to confront that voice that wants to protect you from failure. You know the voice- it says things like:

  • I’m too old (or too young)
  • I don’t have enough experience
  • Only people with connections get chosen
  • I need to save more money

The voice means well, but in many cases it is lying to you. The decision to avoid risk has a dangerous side effect: Regret. The short-term relief of being spared embarrassment or disappointment may be eclipsed later by sadness and disappointment that you did not reach your potential.

No Regrets

The One to Grow On quote for this week has special significance in my life. It was my mother’s favorite quote. I never knew the source or context for “of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “It might have been.” It comes from the poem “Maud Muller” by John Greenleaf Whittier, and is a timeless message about the regret of not taking action because of risk avoidance. My mother left this world thirty-five years ago, too soon and before I could ask her what regrets of inaction she had. She no longer exists in a  physical presence, but the simple message passed down through Whittier’s quote is vivid in my mind and helped me in 1994 and many times since then..

Don’t be boxed in by limitations imposed in the spirit of avoiding risk. And, we owe it to those around us influenced by our words and actions to pass down Whittier’s lament. In the end, I would prefer to look back and proclaim “how great it was” instead of acknowledging “it might have been.”

Setting Goals to Take You to the Top

Author and speaker Micheal Burt says “everybody needs a coach in life.” For the past 22 years, my coach has been Zig Ziglar. My coach passed away this week at age 86. Zig was a coach to millions of people worldwide. I discovered Zig Ziglar in 1990 when I was struggling to make a career of life insurance sales and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. While Zig was known as a motivational speaker he was truly a teacher. His books and seminars were not “pump up” fluff but rather provided a framework for implementing meaningful change and improvement. Zig Ziglar’s influence molded my attitude and determination to accomplish all that I have done professionally.

My tribute to Zig Ziglar will not be some long essay about how he has changed me life, although I could easily do that. Instead, I will share with you one nugget from Zig’s teachings that have relevance to individuals and organizations: the importance of setting goals. As we enter the last month of 2012 and prepare to hit the ground running in January to take on a new year, now is a good time to consider the role setting goals can have in making 2013 successful for you and your organization.

One of Zig Ziglar’s well known quotes on this topic is “a goal properly set is partially achieved.” When we have sound goals, we are on the road to achieving them if for no other reason we understand what it is we are trying to achieve. After all, as Zig asked “how can you hit a target that you do not have?”

To address the “properly set” qualifier when setting goals, assess whether your goals SMAC. Are they:

  • Specific – Stating a goal of “5% increase in sales” is preferred to “increasing sales”
  • Measurable – If a goal is specific it tends to make it measurable so that it can be determined if the goal was attained
  • Achievable – If a goal is unrealistic it can demotivate, not exactly the idea in mind when setting goals
  • Challenging – In addition to giving direction, goals should force people and organizations to “stretch” in order to grow. Even if a goal is not attained, the process of pursuing it should result in improvement.

I was saddened to learn of Zig’s passing this week, but I take comfort in two things. One, his impact will be felt for a long time beyond his 86 years on earth. Two, while he is no longer serving us with his gifts he has moved on to take a seat in the “sales meeting for the ages,” a reward he spent most of his life earning. See you at the top, Mr. Ziglar.