What Really Matters

Valeria Maltoni recently posted two articles on her blog, Conversation Agent, that are worth reading and repeating.

Dan Pink on the Value of High-Concept and High-Touch

A Whole New Mind mindmap

When Dan Pink wrote A Whole New Mind, he presented six aptitudes that are highly subjective, socially- and culturally-dependent. In his view these fundamental human abilities are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment. In his view:

  • Design is an asset above function
  • Story is an asset above argument
  • Symphony is an asset above focus
  • Empathy is an asset above logic
  • Play is an asset above seriousness, and
  • Meaning is an asset above accumulation

In the book, Dan uses neuroscience to create a metaphor to articulate the value of what he calls high-concept, high-touch work. He says R-directed is about big picture, contextual, expressive synthesis and L-directed represents logic, sequential, literal, and analytical thinking.

The premise of the book is that we live in the age of Abundance, Asia, and Automation and need R-directed thinking to navigate these forces successfully.

“Design — that is utility enhanced by significance — has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success for at least three reasons. First, thanks to rising prosperity and advancing technology, good design is now more accessible than ever, which allows more people to partake in its pleasures and become connoisseurs of what was once specialized knowledge.

Second, in an age of material abundance, design has become crucial for most modern businesses — as a means of differentiation and as a way to create new markets. Third, as more people develop design sensibility, we’ll increasingly be able to deploy design for its ultimate purpose: changing the world.”

In business design is taking a whole new meaning. Once the province of geeks and designers, the argument that creating better experiences is a competitive advantage has gone mainstream thanks also to Apple’s market success.

“Think about cell phones,” says Pink. “In less than a decade, they’ve gone from being a luxury for some to being a necessity for most to becoming an accessorized expression of individuality for many. They’ve morphed from ‘logical devices’ (which emphasized speed and specialized function) to ’emotional devices’ (which are ‘expressive, customizable, and fanciful’), as Japanese personal electronics executive Toshiro Iizuka puts it. Consumers now spend nearly as much on decorative (and nonfunctional) faceplates for their cell phones as they do on the phones themselves.”

Steve Jobs understood, and made sure that his team aligned behind this understanding upon his return to Apple, that the only way to survive is by constantly developing new innovations, inventing new categories, and giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing.

As we increasingly admire companies like Apple and its digital hub system execution and Amazon and its collection of businesses sharing resources, we come to appreciate the value of symphony, or the ability to see and harness the power of relationships between things. Says Pink:

“Most inventions and breakthroughs come from reassembling existing ideas in new ways.

[…] What conductors and composers desire — what separates the long remembered from the quickly forgotten — is the ability to marshal these relationships into a whole whose magnificence exceeds the sum of its parts.

[…] The boundary crosser, the inventors, and the metaphor maker all understand the importance of relationships. But the Conceptual Age also demands the ability to grasp the relationship between relationships. This meta-ability goes by many names — systems thinking, gestalt thinking, holistic thinking. I prefer to think of it simply as seeing the big picture.”

We call the businesspeople who see the big picture visionaries who can integrate and imagine how the pieces go together. All great entrepreneurs, according to Michael Gerber, are Systems Thinkers.

And talking about systems. Daniel Kahneman labeled the fast, instinctive and emotional “System 1” and the slower, more deliberative, and more logical “System 2.” For a deeper dive on our two modes of thought, read Thinking Fast and Slow where Kahneman provided research and information on the cognitive biases associated with each.

[mind map courtesy of Steve Richards]


Valeria followed up this post with another gold nugget:

The Importance of Learning to Make Trade-offs for Performance

Sustained High Performance_LGE
In economic terms we call them opportunity cost. They involve sacrificing something to do something else. Every day, we trade our time, attention, and resources as we go through our day. As individuals and organizations, we are reservoirs of potential energy that can be recruited to do things. How we spend our days does end up creating our lives.

As Jim Loher and Tony Schwartz say in The Power of Full Engagement, a book I read a dozen years ago, managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. The book’s central thesis is that to be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned.

To make smart trade-offs we should start by defining our purpose, then distilling our truth, so we can identify the gap between the two. For example:

Purpose — “How should I spend my energy in a way that is consistent with my deepest values?”

Truth — How am I spending my energy now?

Action — bridge the gap between the two

Loher and Schwartz explain how to increase your energy levels by tapping four primary sources:

1.physical — including strategies for balancing stress and recovery, fueling the fire with nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise

As a long time, long distance runner, many of the suggestions on building strength, endurance, flexibility, resilience, and recovery helped me improve my form, speed, and enjoyment. I also learned to work in 90-minute bursts and have been experimenting with naps for the last dozen years.

2. emotionaltransforming threat into challenge and developing depth and resilience through active engagement with others and with our own feelings; habits and skills are patience, openness, trust, and enjoyment

3. mental — as in learning visualization and mental preparation with appropriate focus and realistic optimism, learning to manage time and harnessing creativity

4. spiritualhaving a ‘why’ to live with honesty, integrity, courage, and persistence, developing capacity through passion, commitment, and service to others

Developing supportive habits and skills is a good first step toward building capacity for stronger and more established competencies in all four areas [see image above.] Relationships play a role in building capacity and activating potential:

A relationship in which you do most of the giving and receive very little in return ultimately prompts a sense of deficit and emptiness.”

We may or not may not be aware of the trade-offs we make between immediate benefit, cost, and long-term consequences, including unintended consequences. A few examples in the book (adapted):

A pessimistic attitude creates less disappointment, is less risky, and involves less vulnerability now, yet it carries reduced positive energy, undermines interpersonal effectiveness, and thus happiness and reduces performance, health and happiness over the long haul.

Poor work/life balance characterized as long hours away from family and limited time with friends means accomplishing more at work, having less emotional risk, avoiding responsibilities outside work and comes with a cost to intimate connection, which leads to resentment of family and friends. Over the long run unfulfilled relationships affect a tendency to impatience, anger, and escalate into burnout, regret, guilt, and loss of passion.

Multitasking like answering emails while talking on the phone may give the temporary illusion of accomplishing more in short term, with a feeling that you are being productive, however it leads to divided attention, likely lower comprehension, and thus lower quality of work. Being less fully engaged with people creates shallow connections with others.

Poor diet like high fat and sugar, for example, creates immediate gratification, and is often the product of convenience. However, it may result in high cholesterol, increased weight, and less sustained positive energy. Long term, this may lead to an increase in risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and early death.

Some of the trade-offs above may seem obvious, yet bad habits are hard to break because they are automatic. Self-control and self-regulation, before we create better habits, require we make conscious choices. Change, like choices requires a higher investment of energy, and commitment.

We can experience pleasure without any investment in psychic energy, whereas enjoyment happens only as a result of unusual investment of attention, said Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In his work, Csikszentmihalyi contrasts pleasure with enjoyment. He says pleasure feels good, but it’s conservative, and leads to status quo. While enjoyment is like happiness in action, leading to greater skills. Enjoyment leads to a “triumph over the forces of entropy” and is like building psychological capital.

Learning to make smart trade-offs is important for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and it comes with a long-er term benefit of improving our performance.


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About Arek

just a common man
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