The Creative Power of Misfits

Have you ever felt like an outsider on your team?

You may just be the most valuable person on your team, according to Adam Grant an organisational psychologist and the host of WorkLife with Ted a podcast about what makes workplaces not suck.

In this episode, Grant tells a story about how Pixar wanted to create another hit after the success of Toy Story, but they didn’t have any more good ideas.

Then Brad Bird, writer, animator and director from Pixar collected dedicated Pixar employees who other people said were a little odd, or difficult to work with, people who felt they had been ignored in the past, but still loved Pixar. Misfits.

This is key, as misfits who don’t care about your company’s cause anymore don’t give their best work or they might just quit.

Bird gathered these misfits and asked them what they wanted to do but hadn’t been allowed to do or hadn’t been able to do because the technology didn’t exist yet. Then told them, that’s what they would do.

The movie they made with this approach was The Incredibles. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it was a huge hit, their biggest hit at time of release, and is still beloved by millions.

When Should You Use Misfits?

Grant says the best time to shake things up at your company or in your team is actually when things are already going well.

When things are going well, you have the most time and resources, so you can afford to take risks in the hopes of higher rewards.

It is much more common to shake things up once a company or project is failing, but by then it’s often too late. The damage is done.

So when things are going smoothly, you should consider rounding up some misfits and breaking the status-quo.

Why Use Misfits at All?

Doing things the way they have always been done, will not get you anywhere new.

If you want safe, steady results, keep doing what you’re doing.

That said, your competitors are probably taking risks and finding ways to get ahead. Blockbuster carried on as they were and ignored the changing times and technologies, remember them?

Grant cites a study that says that listening to misfits and letting them work on their own ideas has been shown to be as valuable to the company, as an external consultant or expert, but much cheaper, as they already work for you.

How Do You Motivate Misfits?

Motivating misfits can be difficult.

These are likely people who are already disgruntled due to being an outsider or having felt overlooked in the past, so how do you get them to gruntled? Or better yet, excited?

Grant says the best way to fire up some misfits is to tell them that someone whom they don’t respect doesn’t believe in them.

To get a creative team like designers pumped, tell them that the “suits” upstairs don’t think they can do this, that those stuffy executives are having doubts.

This will make your misfits want to prove those people wrong and will do everything in their power to do so.

Don’t Tell Misfits Their Peers Don’t Believe In Them

If you want to discourage your misfits, then use the exact same method as above, but have the source be someone whose opinion they do value.

If you tell your misfit clan that their direct manager or an expert in their field doesn’t believe in them, they will be more likely to believe you and feel deflated.

So be careful with your reverse psychology, your choice of villain makes a huge difference.

How To Stay Motivated After a Big Win

You’ve just made The Incredibles.

You and your team are amazing. You’re no longer misfits, you’re now heroes. Now that you have nothing prove, how do you stay motivated to create your next win?

The key is to make the team underdogs again.

Proving to people you’re worth more than other people think, is what gets pissed-off-employees fired-up.

The difficult part is to make the challenge meaningful.

You can’t just create a faceless enemy, the team needs to believe their villain wants them to fail.

To believe in the goal they are trying to achieve.

Your team needs a purpose.

If this post made you rethink who to put on your next groundbreaking project, please let me know in the comments below.

Bouncing Back From Rejection

Being rejected hurts. Sadly, you can’t avoid rejection the rest of your life, but you can learn from it.

You can even improve because you were rejected according to Adam Grant an organisational psychologist and the host of WorkLife with Ted a podcast about how to make work not suck. Listen to the podcast for yourself, it’s got great advice and is told in an interesting and accessible way.

The Best Way to Take Rejection

You can react in many different ways to being rejected. You could cry, you could shout, you could be just brush it off.

Grant says the 2 most common reactions to being rejected are:

  • Blaming yourself
  • Blaming the other person

Blaming Yourself

Blaming yourself seems like an obvious choice. You didn’t get that job because you aren’t good enough. You didn’t get promoted because you don’t deserve to. You were fired because you’re garbage.

This option is not only hurtful, it’s wrong.

You will only damage your confidence and self-esteem by blaming yourself. You won’t actually learn anything useful.

On to option 2 then.

Blaming The Other

You are good enough, that company doesn’t know talent. You did deserve that promotion over Jeff. You aren’t garbage, the company that fired you is.

This feels much better.

You aren’t to blame. The world is. Screw you world!

Sadly, this option doesn’t help you grow either.

If you never see the part you had in your failures, you can’t learn from your mistakes. Learning from our mistakes can be one of the best ways to improve.

So, How Should You Handle Rejection?

The two options you just read about are only the most common, but not the best.

Grant tells us about 3 ways you can accept rejection, that are much more effective:

  • Focus on fit
  • Be Self-Compassionate
  • Take it in your stride

What If It’s Not The Right Fit?

Do you ever feel your job just isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing?

Fit isn’t something you can see on a job description or point at in the office. Fit has to do with the way you feel about the work you do, the people you work with and the places you work.

A bad fit can be:

  • A job that doesn’t let you be creative enough.
  • Colleagues who say you’re too quiet, even though you have lots to say, if they’d just let you.
  • Being stuck in an office when you love being outdoors and active.

It’s possible you were talented enough for a job or promotion but you just didn’t gel well with that team or in that environment.

You aren’t the problem, your fit is.

There will be plenty of places where you do fit in better, so think about why that job didn’t work for you and what parts did work for you. Then use that information to find a better fit.

Self-Compassion

Maybe you were to blame. That doesn’t mean you are garbage. People make mistakes, why should you be any different?

If you can learn to be kind to yourself, then making mistakes won’t be the end of the world. You can take the pain, soothe yourself, then learn from it.

Grant tells us about Post-Traumatic Growth, in which we become stronger because of a large failure or trauma we had in life.

This happens when we have the attitude of “I survived that, so I can definitely survive this“. Like you managed to write that dissertation despite still doing all your other subjects at uni, so you can definitely get through this project at work.

Take It In Your Stride

There are 2 approaches to taking rejection in your stride.

See Yourself as More Than Your Job

First, you can realise that the person rejected only one part of you.

You aren’t your job, or your painting or your dating profile.

You are made up of many different parts.

If you consider yourself a husband, father, surfer, knitter and accountant, then when someone doesn’t like your knitting, they have rejected 20% of you at most. That means 80% of you is left unscathed, which hurts a lot less than 100% of you being rejected.

Remember You Still Have Fans

The second way is to realise that one person rejecting you isn’t everyone rejecting you.

There could 500 people who hate your cooking but there could be 500 or 5,000 people who love your cooking.

Unless your contribution to the world is child-murder, you are unlikely to be rejected by everyone. Take comfort in knowing you still have some fans.

Please let me know in the comments below if this has helped you think differently about rejection.

Networking For People Who Hate Networking Part 1 – Work Life

Do you hate networking? Does it feel slimy to you? I’m the same. I love making new friends and meeting interesting people, but I hate approaching people only to see how they can help me.

Luckily, Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, has some great advice for this very situation, in his Podcast: Work Life with Adam Grant.

Become the Person People Want to Meet

If you have nothing to offer, people won’t want anything from you, so they won’t want to talk to you. Everyone wants to know what they get out of every conversation. It’s sad but it’s true. I imagine you’re only reading this because you want to know some networking tips, right?

If you build expertise in a subject, then anyone interested in that subject will be interested in what you have to say. Grant says this is just human nature.

If you want to know what it’s like to live in France, you ask your friend who lived in France for a year. They are someone you see as an expert on living in France.

So if you master a skill or become an expert on a topic, people who know this will seek your opinions and recommend you to others, so your network builds without you doing any slimy self-promotion.

Grant cites a study in this episode where the radiologists in a hospital that were the most knowledgeable in radiology made more friends in the first 9 months of working at a new hospital and went on to have better job roles than their less expert peers.

The second part seems obvious, but think of your workplace, I bet you have or have had terrible managers who got promoted for being an expert in their previous job. Sadly, being a subject matter expert doesn’t make you a great manager though.

What Kinds of Connections do People Make?

Grant describes 2 levels of connection:

  • Low Level: These tend to be transactional in nature. You do something for me, I’ll do something for you. You both get something, but a meaningful friendship doesn’t form.
  • Deep: You will help this person, even if you get nothing in return because you either care about them or share some core values with them. Maybe they want to save the turtles, you also want to save the turtles, so you are happy to help them. Or maybe they’re your mum and you would do anything for her.

I’m at a Networking Event, What Do I Do?

Networking events sound intimidating. Imagine a bunch of suits grinning, boasting about where they summer and handing out pristine business cards. Sounds hideous.

In reality, this does not have to be the case. Just approach the event as a way to meet some interesting people in your field or a field you want to be a part of. Simple.

Quality Over Quantity

You are better off aiming to have 1 or 2 quality conversations. People don’t remember the person who handed them a business card then disappeared the rest of the night.

People do remember the amazing story they heard about your travels through Iceland or the new system you started at work that saved thousands of pounds in admin time.

Be a “mini-helper”

“So what do you do?”. This is the most boring question. You will probably bore yourself by the end of the night if you keep asking it. Instead, ask what problems they are trying to solve.

If you can solve it in 5 minutes, you have made a meaningful connection at next to no trouble to yourself.

If you can’t help, maybe you know someone who can. The value you added then, is the introduction. Now you have made 2 people happy, the person who’s problem will be solved and the person in your network who you just helped meet a new connection.

Give More Than You Take

Grant actually has a whole book about this topic, I highly recommend it and may even do a post about it one day.

Focus on what you can give to other people.

Don’t match them.

Don’t take too much.

The more you give, the more people will value you. The trick is to actually care, people can sense insincerity. So don’t fake it if you don’t care, just don’t do that thing. Do something you do care about instead.

Do you hate networking? Have any of these tips made it seem less horrible? Let me know in the comments below.

Professional Advice on How to Make Work Better For Everyone

I watched The Way We Work, a TED Original Series, the following post will feature my favourite points, but I highly recommend you check out the whole series. Most of the videos are 3-5 minutes long, so you can watch them very quickly in one go if you like or just watch the odd one on a break.

Employees Are Adults, Treat Them With Respect

Most people want to do well at their jobs. Given the respect they deserve, they will perform better. People respond to the way they are treated, if you treat them like delinquents trying to get away with the bare minimum, they will do so. Treat people well and you can get great results from them.

The Job Of Management Is To Build Great Teams, Not To Control People

If your manager spends their time telling you off for little things, like a casual chat with a coworker or for slouching when a customer walks by, they are a bad manager. You manager is supposed to find ways to help you be better at your job, not pick at each little mistake you make. If you are a manager, you should be empowering your people, not knocking them down. Great managers build great teams.

Every Employee Should Understand Your Business

What does your company do? If you can’t answer that easily, how can you do the best work to support that company? How do you know what makes that company more or less successful? Not knowing, is an insane way to work. The leadership of your company, needs to make sure that everyone understands the business and their role in it. Know your business, know your worth.

Everyone You Work With Should Be Able To Handle The Truth

I love feedback, sometimes it can hurt, but it’s the best way to grow. Getting feedback once a year isn’t helpful. You complete work much more than once a year, so why only get feedback once a year? When you learnt to drive, did you get corrected once a year? No! That would be madness. So, don’t do this at work. If you tell the truth, then people should understand and respect that. If they don’t, maybe they aren’t the best person for the job. Feedback helps us grow and improve. Learn to love feedback.

The Company Should Live Out Its 
Values At All Levels

I once worked at a company where the CEO, whilst giving a speech to the whole company, was claiming that the most valuable asset his company had, was its people. In that same 5 minute speech, he publicly shamed a whole department. There is a time and place for negative feedback, in front of the entire company, is not that place. That does not show you value your people, it shows the opposite. The CEO can say whatever he likes, but if his actions don’t follow his words, employees notice.

All Companies Should Be Excited 
For Change

The world changes all the time, with the rate technology progresses, we are experiencing change faster than ever. Your company will change. If you don’t change with the times, you get left behind. So, it’s better to enjoy the change and figure out how to use it to your advantage, rather than wishing for the good old days. Change is good, embrace it.

Trust Your Employees

The Four Seasons, is known for having consistently amazing service. One of their tenets is to do whatever you feel is right for the customer. They trust their employees to make their own decisions about what could help a customer or make them feel better and this is key in their consistently high standards of service. When people feel trusted, they will feel empowered to make decisions that benefit your company and customers. If they feel they will be chastised for making a mistake, they will never take even the smallest risk, which will only cause harm for your company. Trust your employees and reap the rewards.

Treat Everyone Fairly.

People aren’t stupid. If you treat one group of people differently to the rest, they will notice. At one company I worked for, there was a health insurance benefit for all the departments, except the IT team. Once the IT team found out, they were understandably livid. They felt cheated. This was eventually overturned and the IT team felt better because they were now being treated as equal to other departments. Not everyone took the health insurance, but the fair treatment improved morale. Treat all your employees fairly or risk losing good people.

Watch the videos yourself, let me know your favourite parts below.

How To Improve Your Performance At Work In Just 10 Minutes A Day

If like me, your job comes under the umbrella of knowledge work (typically an office job when your knowledge is what contributes most to your job such as procurement, admin or accounting) then it can be difficult to objectively measure your performance from day to day. You could even go months or years and not have a real understanding of how or if your performance has improved.

It turns out, there is a solution that takes just 10 minutes a day, a Work Journal. I’m not talking about “dear diary, today at work I blah blah blah…”, I mean spending 10 minutes at the end of the day, reflecting on what went well and what did not go well that day and how you could possibly make improvements. There are several benefits that come from keeping a Work Journal.

You Will Learn More About Yourself

If you build a habit of taking notes what you did well and what you did not so well, you will start to see common themes in your journal. These themes can then be categorised into strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes.

If you focus on your strengths and do less of the things you are weak at, you will start to see your general performance at work increase. By figuring out what you like and dislike doing, you can let your boss know what kinds of projects you enjoy and hopefully they will let you do more of the work you like, so your work itself will be more enjoyable. If you tell your boss that you dislike keeping track of what work you need to bill for or how many hours you worked, they will probably tell you to piss off. No job seems to be free of admin. Maybe instead, you can say “I really enjoyed getting stuck into that problem the other day, I’d like more complicated projects like that”. Sounds much more proactive than whining about admin.

You Will Become More Patient

Learning happens gradually, but it builds. It’s is like compound interest, it keeps building at a faster rate, the more you do it, so it’s a great investment of your time. If you progress just a tiny bit each day, when you look back a year from now, you will see a dramatic increase where all those tiny improvements from each day have added up. This will inspire you to keep learning more, so you get even better. It’s a cycle of improvement.

You Will Learn To Plan better

If you start the journal today, then check your progress tomorrow, you will likely see no result. But, if you are keeping tabs on yourself each day for a few months or years, you can look back over your notes and see progress. You will be able to predict problems that used to seem random. As you look back over your journal entries, you will see that for example the phones go crazy at the same time everyday, so you can make sure to have a clear schedule and be ready for the ensuing chaos. Being prepared for a problem will make it so much easier to handle.

You Will See Personal Growth

Memory is imperfect and completely subjective. Things recorded in ink (or pixels) will stay the same forever. Having this objective record makes observing your patterns of growth that much easier. You will be able to read old journal entries and see how you overcame issues, you will see tasks you used to dread that you now handle with ease. Being able to re-read your own thoughts and feelings from the past will allow you to see how far you have come since then.

If you know of any more benefits of keeping a work journal, please let me know in the comments below.

An Experiment in Editing – 3: The Best Way To Avoid Burnout, Without Slowing Down

The following is the third in a series of posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.

One Line Version

A change is a good as a rest – My driving instructor actually told me that.

One-Paragraph Version

The instinctive way to avoid burnout is to slow down, to not work so hard or to take a break. This doesn’t have to be the case. To keep going, you need to do something that makes you think in a different way to the way you think at work. This is similar to working different muscle groups for your brain, if your arms are tired, your legs will still work fine. If you had some in-depth debates at work, take some quiet time and read a book.

Three-Paragraph Version

If you start feeling stressed and worn out, you know instinctively that you need to take a rest. You can’t keep going forever, your body requires downtime to be more effective in the up-times. So if you have worked too hard for too long you can take a break and go on holiday, then come back feeling refreshed. Maybe you could work less hard to begin with, but if you want to advance your career as quickly as possible and you know your peers aren’t going to slow down, then you could end up getting left behind. That said, I don’t recommend working late, just working hard within your normal working hours.

This is where doing a contrasting cognitive activity helps. What is a contrasting cognitive activity? It’s an activity where you are still using your brain, but you are using it in a different way to the way you do at work, similar to how when you work out at the gym you use different muscle groups on different days. The contrast between the two ways of thinking has been shown to prevent burnout for much more time than doing the same kind of activity for the same amount of time.

This doesn’t mean you have to do something fun at home to offset doing something useful at work, although I do recommend this as well. It’s more about using your brain to accomplish a different kind of task. If you feel you must do something productive for your contrasting activity, you can do so. If you have a very sociable job with lots of talking to clients, you could read a book at home, it can be educational if you still want to learn. If you write code all day, you could write a journal or blog posts at home. Your brain is capable of many different types of activities, so the list is endless, just separate work and home.

Original Post

We’ve all been there, work is just droning on and on. from week to week. Today is no different. You wake up, hit snooze, wish it were still the weekend and slowly drift off to sleep, then 10 minutes later, do it all over again. You drag yourself out of bed and into the shower. That’s over, even getting dressed feels difficult right now. Then there’s the dreary drive, with the never-ending queues of traffic. You finally get to the office and hope nothing major goes wrong, you just want an easy day. You finish, some fuzzy amount of time later, only to realise it’s Monday and you have to do it all over again for the next 4 days.

You swear the job didn’t use to be this bad, that Sally in marketing wasn’t that annoying just a few weeks ago. Yet the spreadsheets you used to tackle with glee (for some people this is true, don’t judge) suddenly look like a grey pile of sludge you have to trudge through. You are stressed. Last week you were stressed. This is what being burnt out feels like.

You see two ways out of this funk:

  1. As soon as you get home, just do nothing. Relax in front of the telly and pretend the whole world away. Then tomorrow, you will feel refreshed.
  2. Don’t work so hard anymore, this feeling is horrible and you don’t want to repeat it.

Here’s the problem, you try plan 1. but you are still stressed the next day, you realise escapism isn’t working, you are just as burnt out as before. On to plan 2. this lasts maybe an hour, then you realise you don’t want to do the bare minimum, you care about doing a good job and you want to progress in your career.

What now? Your two plans have failed. Time to hand in your letter of resignation? No. According to Google’s in-house productivity expert, Lila MacLellan, there is a better way. Google has shown time and time again how successful they can be in cognitively demanding environments, so she must know what she’s talking about, right?

MacLellan recommends doing activities that require you to use your brain in a different way to how you do at work. It’s like when people who go to the gym have different days for different muscles groups, if you did leg day every day, 3 days in a row, your legs would be exhausted and perform more poorly each successive day and you may even injure yourself.

It’s all about using your different brain muscles (figuratively speaking) if you have a super social chatty job like making sales calls one after the other, try quietly reading a book once you get home. If you stay sat at a desk all day, go for a brisk walk in the evening. If you write code at work, try drawing in your spare time. The task can be equally demanding of your brain’s abilities, but it just has to be a different way of using your brain than what got you so fatigued in the first place. Research has shown this to be much more effective in refreshing you from day to day, than just trying to avoid the stress or doing nothing.

This makes your day-to-day life more fun and fulfilling. It will help you to be more resilient, making you feel fresher at work for longer and improving your mood as you will have more skills to handle stress. You can’t avoid stress forever (sadly), but you can become better at handling it.

If you have any stress-busting tips, please let me know in the comments below.

The 3 Types of Burnout And How To Prevent Them

Be like the happy matchstick, don’t burnout!

In my last post, I talked about the best way to avoid burnout without slowing down. I have been reading more since and have found out there are actually 3 distinct types of burnout, that have different causes and different remedies. In this post I will describe each one and the recommended ways to prevent them.

Overload Burnout

This is burnout classic. The most familiar type of burnout and the one I described last post. Overload Burnout is caused by working too hard for too long. The human mind can only focus for so long, focusing is best in short sprints, not marathon sessions. Imagine what trying to sprint for 8 hours straight, 6 days a week for several years would feel like, this is what your brain would be going through, if you worked relentlessly for the same amount of time.

Prolonged burnout, essentially stress, has been linked to serious health issues both mental (depression and anxiety ) and physiological (heart disease, tension, headaches) the list goes on. So preventing burnout, isn’t just something that feels good, it could save your life!

The usual way to deal with Overload Burnout is exercise and taking breaks. Taking a break allows your mind to rest and recuperate. Rest allows your mind to recover, you can approach tasks feeling refreshed and ready to go.

Exercise releases endorphins that are natural stress relievers and feel-good hormones. A repetitive exercise like running allows your mind to focus on something other than work, giving you that contrast between work and non-work that your mind craves.

Under-Challenged Burnout

Ever had the feeling that you aren’t utilising all your skills at work? That you’re just going through the motions and the challenge isn’t there anymore, or maybe it never was. As humans we crave challenge, that’s why we create, why we solve problems, why we compete. Take away our challenges or our creative pursuits and we start to deflate. Life loses its colour, its flavour, you get bored and lose motivation.

If you haven’t learnt anything new at work in the past couple of months (or ever) you may start to feel Under-Challenged Burnout. You’ll notice yourself procrastinating more, not because you are scared of the workload but because it simply bores you, your mind is searching for distraction from the drudgery. You can’t bare to comb through the same set of files, write the same document, or whatever it is you find dull and easy at your job. If this goes on long enough you will start feeling cynical, disengaged and just plain moody at work. You will be less pleasant to be around, you will be rude to your friends and snap at people who don’t deserve it.

Taking breaks or exercising isn’t going to fix this, you need to speed up, not slow down. You need your mojo back. If you want to be inspired at work again (or for the first time), reflect on what drives you as a person. Do you thrive on solving problems others give up on? Do you get a little warm feeling when you make a customer’s day? Think about how you could do more of this at work.

If you love to be creative, find the creativity in your projects, if you get a rush from solving huge complicated problems, find more complex problems to solve. Ask your boss for more challenging projects, no company is short on problems and your boss will probably love to unload some of their problems on to you.

If you can’t find your inspiration at work, consider doing something creative or exciting in your free time, start woodworking, learn to repair bikes, write a blog…

Neglect Burnout

What if you haven’t been slaving away for too long, you haven’t been doing easy, dull tasks for too long, but you still feel burnt out. Maybe you struggle to juggle, all your work and social commitments. You just don’t have the hours in the day to complete all your tasks. You’re putting out fires all day and when you go home, you don’t feel you’ve accomplished anything meaningful. In fact, you swear your task list is longer than when you got in. You feel the responsibilities growing, the pressure rising, the weight of your task list crushing you. It’s hard to breathe and getting harder – you may just have Neglect Burnout.

Neglect burnout is caused by having too much work and/or too difficult work for the level you are currently able to handle. Many people believe asking for help will make them look weak and turning down extra tasks will anger their bosses. So they keep going, saying yes to everything and plugging away. Struggling more and more every day, making no progress, so the work keeps piling on.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to do every task you are assigned. Your boss is (probably) human. Talk to them. Humans love talking. Tell your boss you are struggling with the workload or that you are insufficiently trained to deal with certain types of work and you want to learn how to better achieve those tasks. Together you can work out a training plan to be better prepared for such projects or reduce the number of projects you have going, so you can focus on a more narrow set of objectives, allowing you to make significant progress.

This seems so simple. That’s because it is. I have had a situation where I had more projects than I could meaningfully progress with at work. I was stressed out, because I just didn’t seem to be able to please everyone and as a result I wasn’t pleasing anyone. I couldn’t go on like this. I plucked up the courage to tell my boss, expecting her to tell me that I just needed to work harder and figure it out, only for her to say that while being challenged is good, she didn’t want me to feel overwhelmed. As a result, she prioritised my work for me, delayed some work or passed tasks on to other team members and left me with fewer, more urgent and important tasks to deal with. My stress levels decreased overnight. Try it with your boss, I bet they will react the same way.

If you have any more tips for preventing the three types of burnout or even know of some I wasn’t aware of, please feel free to tell me in the comments below! This post was inspired by Melody Wilding’s post on inc.com