change

Why comparison can kill your career (and how to avoid it)

Red leaf, yellow leaf – the same but different

Red leaf, yellow leaf – the same but different

It happens to the best of us. Even the sturdily self-assured. (And the nicest.) You’re going about your business when you suddenly encounter someone like you, but better. They might do your dream job, or live the live you seek. Or simply navigate the world with more ease. Whatever it is, your heart sinks. Welcome to ‘compare and despair’.

A brilliant business coach diagnosed me with ‘compare and despair’ when I was launching Chirp. I’d just Googled an old friend and, having discovered that she was now Very Successful, confessed to feeling a Bit Rubbish.

I’ve met plenty of people who’d rather you didn’t succeed because they perceive success as finite, rather than abundant. As if it’s ‘one in, one out’. But that wasn’t the problem here. I felt incredibly proud of my friend. And I knew the comparison was a) unsound, and b) unhelpful. But it still hit home.

As it happens, I was in good company. Comparison, it seems, is part of the human condition. The American psychologist Leon Festinger first coined the term ‘social comparison theory’ in the ‘50s, but the subject was widely researched before and has been since.

And the thing is, comparison isn’t inevitably bad. It can help you assess where you stand in the world. It can help you see just what's possible. And it can motivate you to get to where you want to be. (Of which, more later.)

But what isn’t helpful is serving your comparison with a large dollop of inadequacy. It’s so easy to conclude that, because someone else seems to be succeeding, you must be failing. Or at least falling behind. But that sort of muddled thinking can make you feel that there’s no point even trying. That you’re destined for mediocrity rather than meteoric rise. And to do so without working out what success means to you in the first place.

So how do you avoid despair when you compare? Here are some of the techniques I share with my clients (and use myself).

1. Name it

There’s something incredibly reassuring about acknowledging ‘compare and despair’. So I encourage my clients not only to recognise, but to label it. This can also be hugely freeing. Rather than ruminating and feeling rubbish, you can process what you’re feeling faster. And then move on.

2. Convert despair to share

Help yourself to whatever your chosen subject is doing. Focus on what's within your control, remember not everything will be, and ask for advice if you can.

This can be useful for big life changes, but comes into its own on a smaller scale. Look for the tools, techniques and behaviours that you think make the other person successful. It might be engaging particular colleagues, or asking for specific feedback, or being clear about expectations. Be curious and think laterally.

If you notice something you think is useful, try it out for yourself. Like anything new, it might take time to inhabit in a way that feels authentic. So be willing to adopt, adapt and discard depending on what proves useful and right for you.

3. Get started

Ever see someone doing something you could have done? And decide that ship has sailed? You might be right, of course. On the other hand, someone else might simply have done the groundwork for you and shown what’s possible. Which is actually quite helpful.

The only way to find out is to begin. Late so often is better than never. So start small, experiment lots, and learn as much as you can from the subjects of your comparison.

Incidentally, for me this means dipping my toe into online provision. Funnily enough, as soon as I gave it some serious thought an opportunity came my way. Serendipity is a marvellous thing. But more to the point, having the idea in mind meant I was not only scanning the horizon for opportunities, but then able to accept them with confidence.

4. It really is about you

Perception is (almost) everything. How you see someone may not align with their perception of themselves. And while you’re busily comparing, the focus of your despair is probably doing the same to someone else (or to you).

‘Compare and despair’ is never really about the other person. They just happened to be there at the right time to connect with your particular worry or desire. So, rather than racing an unwitting competitor, try to measure yourself against what you really want. If seeing what someone else has done gives you the proverbial kick you need to get going, then all good. And if it gives you pause and helps you work out what you really want, then that’s rather fortuitous too.

 

Why we should lean into risk in Brexit Britain

"Brexit tea"  by  frankieleon  is licenced under  CC BY 2.0

"Brexit tea" by frankieleon is licenced under CC BY 2.0

I was going to write a blog about risk. I’d whip through the theory, focus on the practice, and back it up with science.

Then the referendum happened. And now, depending on your view, the country’s either deep in the mire, or free to succeed. The markets have crashed, but might bounce back. Hate crime is up, but might be a blip. We're living in uncertainty, and we don’t even know how long it’ll last.

All of that feels uncomfortable and risky. So to write about risk without acknowledging the uncertainty around us feels a bit absurd. We’re already awash with political analysis, so I won’t add mine. But whether you’re delighted, devastated or unmoved by these events, it’s an interesting moment to take a look at the parallels with organisational and personal change.

Major change throws the status quo in the air. Before it settles, as it inevitably will, we can make some choices. We can pretend it’s not happening. We can choose to step back and see where the pieces fall. And we can choose to take a risk and lean into uncertainty. These are decisions organisations are making now – as they’ve done before and will again. Individuals are doing the same.

Unless you’re very lucky, pretending nothing’s changed will leave you baffled, and your colleagues disengaged. It’s also, counter-intuitively, a lot of effort. Our ability to adapt is part of what defines us as human. So while adapting might be hard, refusing to is exhausting. Sometimes, of course, the wisest move is to hold your horses and wait for a new normal. But you forfeit the chance to shape it, and risk being left behind.

Choosing to shake hands with uncertainty can be complicated and uncomfortable. It can also be profoundly creative. If you can lean into that, there’s scope to experiment with new ideas and products, have different conversations and make unexpected connections. You might fail, you might succeed, you might create something a bit… ‘meh’. But you only find out if you take the risk. And whether or not it’s sparked by external events, embedding a culture of testing, adapting and improving will reap benefits well into the future.  

Thing is, it’s not easy. There’s a gap between intention and doing. And however much you want to, crossing it can seem boring, painful and hard work. And once you do cross it, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. Ugh. Why bother? It’s somehow easier to feel disrespected afterwards than to challenge in the moment. To feed back to your friends instead of your colleagues. To work within stasis than to venture an alternative.

But that 'ugh' is worth the bother. It’s when things shift, and when you learn. Plus you reinforce in yourself and colleagues that, whatever the outcome, you are people with the agency to create change. You’ll be more likely to do it again, helping build a culture of creativity in yourself and others.

So where to begin? Here are three initial suggestions.

1. Acknowledge fears, but don’t draw them out. Give yourself three minutes to project the potential range of outcomes from best to worst. Then begin, ditch or adapt. You’ll only find out what actually happens by taking the risk, so don’t waste time on the fundamentally unsound, or delay the great.

2. Solicit feedback; ask, listen, learn, adapt. And be specific: work out exactly what you want feedback on, and ask questions within a clear remit. This shifts the focus away from egos (easily crushed, despite denials) and towards ideas. Seeking feedback can feel like a massive risk in itself. But the more you do it, the easier and more useful it becomes.

3. Build networks. It’s exhausting taking a risk on your own and it takes ages. Talk to people who disagree: diverse opinion makes for robust ideas. And test the idea as soon as you can, drawing on your network for support. Make sure your network includes people unconnected to your idea, but who can help you reflect on progress and remain resilient. Action learning sets and peer mentors are ideal.

I’m not suggesting all ideas are sensible or risks worth taking. But change is definitely coming. New systems, new products and even new industries may emerge. I hope that as organisations and individuals we’ll be inspired to lean into risk when we encounter it. Start experimenting, adapting, innovating. The status quo has been shaken, and will rebuild. The space in between is yours to shape.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Risk-taking for Change Makers workshop at Spark 2016

My workshop for Spark the Change London is on Thursday 7th July. The session will help delegates exercise their risk-taking 'muscles' to create positive change within their organisations. The hands-on session will use singing and conducting to provide a practical experience of risk, and of leading and being led through change.

Risk series: Helen Walton on gaming and business

Gamevy-founder-Helen-Walton.JPG

In the first of our podcast series about risk, we talk to Helen Walton, Co-founder and Marketing Director at Gamevy. As an entrepreneur who runs a gaming start-up, Helen encounters risk in different guises on an almost daily basis. We talk to her about the human urge to gamble, the importance of knowing your bottom line, and the biggest risks she's taken. We also hear about one of Gamevy's less conventional investment decisions!

Helen Walton is a writer and marketing manager who enjoys solving problems, trying out ideas and making things happen. She started out in Unilever, (back in the glory days when advertising budgets meant long, boozy lunches). Since then her work has included a column in the Daily Mail, naming lipsticks, saving literature (a game that won a NIBBIE) and writing an IT course. Helen is Co-founder and Marketing Director at Gamevy, an award-winning company whose games combine skill, chance and life-changing jackpots for the ultimate in fun.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Why singing is for life, and not just for Christmas

As December settles in, some of you will already have had your fill of seasonal songs. If you work in retail, or have just left the house lately, chances are you’ll have encountered The Christmas Soundtrack.

Loved or loathed, festive refrains are almost inescapable this month – and not only the recorded variety. It’s a funny thing, but this time of year seems to coax even avowed naysayers to burst into song. (The flow of Christmas spirit(s) may help.)

Perhaps these winter warblers grasp instinctively that singing connects and unites, even if they’re not sure why. It’s certainly effective, and at the heart of Chirp.

As we’ve developed our work with leaders and organisations, we’ve examined why singing is so powerful. Below, we share three key reasons to dust down your vocal chords – and not just at Christmas.

 

Risk and exposure

Singing, particularly with colleagues, can be a touch unnerving. It requires us to step away from comfort zones, experience challenge, and feel a bit exposed. That exposure can be valuable, eliciting honest, engaged, and insightful discussion of personal responses and group dynamics.
 

Trust and connection

Singing develops trust, intensified by mutual reliance. Harmony is contingent on each individual fulfilling his or her role, and taking personal as well as collective responsibility for the team’s success. Singing together behoves each person to listen, support, respond and adapt in the moment so that everyone thrives.
 

Change and uncertainty

Singing unfolds in real time. The outcome is uncertain yet exciting, and not entirely within our control. Singing develops our capacity to acknowledge uncertainty while remaining focused and engaged – a critical skill in our rapidly changing world. How we manage that uncertainty in singing is often a useful insight into how we experience challenge, ambiguity and change at work.

 

We hope you enjoy a jolly good seasonal sing – with colleagues, friends and family, or even strangers. Drop us a line if you’d like to learn more about how and why we use singing to create skilled, dynamic colleagues all year round. After all, singing is for life, not just for Christmas!

 

Is risk the secret to success? We could always ask Prince...

'Prince!'  by  Scott Penner  licenced under  CC-BY-SA 2.0

I’ve been running some workshops lately to help colleagues be bolder, experiment, and take a few risks. And they've neatly coincided with the return of Prince. Or 3rdEyeGirl, or TAFKAP, or TAFKASquiggle. Now there’s a man who’s danced with risk/reward ratios in his time. Of which more later.

At each of these workshops the individuals were lively, capable, and pretty confident. They were good at their jobs and high achievers. Yet even the most assured had something outside their comfort zones. Some task or action perpetually consigned to ‘to do’ list purgatory.

It’s not really about productivity, nor whether you do your job well. And, luckily, these unappealing tasks are rarely the same for everyone – be they ringing clients, making new contacts, or pitching fresh ideas.

Most of us get by surprisingly well without having to do the things that make us nervous. We use e-mail instead of the phone. We network within established spheres. We take a deep breath, get on with it, and avoid a repeat for as long as possible.

Yet, as Prince arguably knows, change is often integral to success. Rather than stick to a reliable formula, he has continued to experiment, change, test, and play throughout his long career. Not simply with music, but with his very identity. Not every risk brought rewards – many did; others didn’t. Nonetheless, those bold decisions have been instrumental in his continued success.

Thoughtful experiments won’t always pay off – though experiments that don’t work can prove equally as valuable. Either way, it’s only by giving it a bash that we find out how much better, more exciting, even easier our work could be. By shaking things up, taking the odd punt on a possibility. (Don’t fiddle the LIBOR rates, though. There are limits.)

So, while no one’s looking, why not fish out that neglected ‘to do’ list? Pitch your barmy-yet-brilliant idea to the CEO. Pick up the phone to new clients. And long forgotten ones, too. If nothing else, you’ll at least be able to tick it off that list. I will if you will!

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.