Monday, October 15, 2007

Wackos unite!

Why does it seem that when people want to focus on doing good, or focus on the positive, they are labled as wackos? As we build the Greatness Project and dialogue with people about seeking greatness, it amazes me that so many people find the idea strange. Immediately they question me as to whether I have my eyes open to see all of the challenges and difficulty in the world (as if you could possibly miss it). They believe that focusing only on the negative will somehow achieve good things in the world. Well, if there is one thing I have learned is that if you look for something, you will definitely find it.

Yes, Virginia there is a crappy world out there. There is also a beautiful one right along side of it. I don't advocate ignoring the challenges of this world. But if you believe that we will achieve new inventions, development of culture, and interconnectedness by focusing on all the bad, I believe you are mistaken. There is a place for trying to fix that which is broken. And there is a place for making what is good even better.

On October 4-6 in Washington, DC the Positive Psychology Summit was held. The focus was how to create greater life satisfaction or well being in the world. Issues such as sustainability, poverty, employment, and more were identified. And also in the course of those days we talked about empowerment, passion and happiness. Of course some dismissed the conference as a gathering of starry-eyed optimists. Obviously they were not present. But even if they weren't there a question remains for me: why do we put down ANY attempt to make the world better?

If being concerned about the world is crazy, I'm in. If caring that people have the ability to create a life worth living is nuts, lable me nuts. If believing that we have the desire and capacity to elevate this world to a level as yet unknown is wacko, let me get in line. Where do you stand?

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Good or Great?

We just returned from two weeks in Asia. Our business in Hong Kong and Singapore was designed to help professionals communicate powerfully with their clients. Prior to our trip we spoke with experts about Asia; how people learn in Asia, how they use interaction in a training session, etc. We learned that the mindset is very different in Hong Kong and Singapore. No one likes to stand out because it might mean that another loses "face." Now, the concept of "face" that most of us westerners have is one of pride. However, the Asian concept of face is not necessarily pride for the individual, but pride for the group. Sure they do not want to be put down in front of a group. (Who does?) But they don't want to be highlighted. If they are praised then that means that others in the group did not do very well. Either praise or correction has to be given to the group as a whole, or in private.

But what struck us as more interesting is the expert on Asia told us the Greatness Project would not fly over there. He was right. We learned very quickly that individuals are not seeking greatness for themselves but for the whole group (whatever group they identify with). And more importantly, they don't like using any labels they consider extreme. Let me clarify that last statement. In a private session one of the professionals told me that the words "great" "fantastic" "wonderful" sound like a lie to him. "I don't believe you" he told me "when you use these words because nothing is perfect. There is always more that can be learned. To the Asian ear, we can't hear these words. Just say "good" or "bad".

So, are we just typically western because everything has to be grandiose? Do we use larger than life words to feel better about ourselves, or could we be honest and say we were "okay"? Speaking with friends when we returned we all agreed that in corporate America, no one just wants to be rated "good" as an employee. That's not good enough. We have to be rated higher. When some companies attempted to get correct rating scales for their employees it was challenging because as Americans we see good as average.

We still believe greatness, as a goal and concept, has universal applicability. What is more intriguing is that the word and concept can mean so many different things to so many different people. Maybe it means different things to every one of us. If we continue talking about it, perhaps we will come up with a better, broader concept. That would be... good.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Do You Hate Work?

When did work become a four letter word? (You know what I mean) Complaining about work is almost a competitive sport. People complain about housework, homework, work-work; we even relegate exercise to the same category so we can complain about our workout.

We sound like a society that hates work. A USA Today poll in 2006 related that 64% of those surveyed hated their jobs. That isn't surprising considering we have a mental model in this country that we are supposed to "get through" our work so we can relax. Think about it, we have "Hump day" (Wednesday) "So Happy It's Thursday, and TGIF, thank God it's Friday. Yet the reality is that we spend more time at work than almost any other activity. So, how can we become great if we don't want to work?

In his book Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses his research on where and when people experience "flow" (optimal experience) in their life. Surprisingly to most of us, flow is experienced more at work than at leisure. Why? Because we experience flow when we are pushed; when we have to think, or react, or get mentally stretched beyond where we have been before. We are tired, but elated. Yet even Mihaly acknowledges that his subsequent survey of individuals (even those who knew they had more flow experiences at work) uncovered that people still would rather have leisure over work. That attitude is rather obvious in many manufacturing, retail, and even hospitality businesses. Interacting with working people often is like negotiating a mine field of anger; they'd rather be home in front of the TV.

Mihaly also brings up an interesting point regarding our attitude toward work. He writes "As punishment for his ambition, Adam was sentenced by the Lord to work the earth with the sweat of his brow. The passage of Genesis (3:17) that relates this event reflects the way most cultures, and especially those that have reached the complexity of 'civilization,' conceive of work - as a curse to be avoided at all costs." (pg. 144) Perhaps this Judeo-Christian concept has tempered the enjoyment we might have around work.

God forbid if you really like (or even love) your work. There is nothing to talk about around the water cooler. You are seen as lucky, special, or weird. This reaction is natural because if you love your job then the other person can also. Maybe they don't want to.

Bringing life into work and work into life opens the possibility of flow experiences and creates the more important possibility we may do something great. Striving for something, straining to accomplish it, pouring out your sweat is what makes great things happen. And you know what, it feels good. Maybe we can save the word "work." Maybe it's good for something.

Monday, June 25, 2007

So what?

Who cares about greatness? Well, if you're here you do and we do. Since beginning this project, it fascinates me how quickly people want to hear about what we've discovered. There is something in us, as humans, that drives us to desire something more, something greater. But why? Why do we want more than just survival, or, once we've accomplished that, leisure? Perhaps Maslow was correct with his hierarchy of needs building up to self-actualization. We desire to reach outside of ourselves.

My interest is more plebeian. Greatness fascinates me. I wonder why some "make it" and others don't. I ruminate on the combination of characteristics that blend to give one person success and another mediocrity. I wonder if there is a formula and in the same instant, realize that there is not, cannot be a formula since there are so many different aspects of greatness.

So, welcome to the Greatness Project blog. You will find more questions than answers here, but hopefully you will also find a place where you can ruminate on the state of greatness; your own, and that of the world.