Your life has a limit, but knowledge has none. If you use what is limited to pursue what has no limit, you will be in danger.
Having had the chance to be schooled, taught the virtue and importance of academic success, it is easy to think that the pursuit of knowledge is in itself a good end. Learning of course is a virtue and part of the whole process of growth. But it is probably important to recognise that knowledge is unlimited; and in fact, even the pool of useful knowledge that we can access in our lifetime is infinite. And so all the more wisdom is so important, the ability to discern, to make decision when rules are unclear or not prescriptive.
Setting up for ourselves the ability to take on knowledge and see immediately how they apply rather than just take it at face value is such a valuable habit.
The post I wrote yesterday about emotional proofreading is so much about the ability to communicate not just clearly, but to provide more certainty. If the plan for a face-to-face chat is for someone to take you through some materials, then say so. The use of power and authority in the workplace can be intimidating particularly when we bring to our workplaces echoes of our experiences in school when we receive a marked assignment with a poor grade and the words in red ink ‘See me’.
This psychological safety at work is completely underrated especially in Asian working cultures as something that helps us all thrive. There’s this sense that work is about being serious, about casting aside one’s emotions like a stoic, and that displaying emotions, especially panic is bad. The thing is that feeling the emotion and being able to flag it out isn’t the same as expressing it and going hysterical. Yet people are unwilling to even name or admit to feeling what they exactly feel.
Then something is wrong here. Being able to communicate emotions, clear the air properly and eliminate tensions are important. I’ve been in workplaces where the boss actually thinks some kind of tension in the air is good and keeps everyone on their toes. Eventually, we had meetings that were just pre-rehearsed and almost staged because the tension was so much no one could really be creative and think on their feet. Genuine brainstorming was replaced by people just rattling off points that were prepared before hand.
Without clear communication and ability to project certainty for the people, the office descended into lots of mind-reading, guessing what the boss wants or how a presentation ‘actually’ went. There were multiple versions of the same event as experienced intellectually, emotionally, as witnessed physically and so on. People just weren’t the best versions of themselves anymore. It was sad that several different people were actually seen as incompetent rather than being unable to function in such a dysfunctional environment.
“Can you arrange a time to come and see me?” shoots the reply from the boss after you hands in a piece of work. You then feel your heart rush, and you look through your bosses’ calendar and it is so packed; you have no choice but to book the Friday 6pm even though you had wanted to meet your spouse for dinner that night after a busy week. The email sure felt important. You spent the whole week being uncertain and anxious. Was the piece of work good or bad, or what did you do wrong? Why did the boss want you to see him?
You meet the boss down the hallway and you tried to smile; he didn’t smile back – in fact he looked like he didn’t see you. And you thought about the email you received.
When Friday comes, you shuffle into his room; and he thank you for the hard work and told you he hasn’t got a chance to look at it because of his busy schedule. He appreciates that you’ve set a time to meet with him and take him through the work. You have a whole mixture of emotions welling up inside you but quelled it and just went through a quick 10 minutes presentation to run the boss by the work. He is happy with it, thanks you again and tells you he’s going to use it for next Wednesday’s reporting meeting. Then he tells you to have a good weekend. You look at your watch, 6.30pm and then call your spouse. What a week.
I went through a couple of Liz Fosslien’s talks and a lot of parts about teaching leaders to reduce uncertainty and anxieties for their staff relates to these sort of experiences as I described above. She advocates what she calls ’emotional proofreading’ one’s email before it gets sent out because it saves the staff a lot of unproductive anxieties and creates unnecessary stress. We have seen her ‘No Hard Feelings’ cartoons around and you probably really like it. I think I’ll have much more to write about their ideas.
Most growth are non-linear. But we humans struggle to think about non-linear things because we use linearity as a simple, short term approximation, just as a tangent is a suitable estimate of the trajectory of an object in the air for a tiny moment despite it being affected by gravity. Nature is kind of discontinuous, and also if you consider fractals, you’ve seen how a lot of nature unfolds non-linearly even though in smaller steps, they do seem somewhat linear.
And because of that, we cannot always measure our actions against the results immediately and directly. We cannot get the full measure of results from the work that we put in at any point of time. There’s the dimension of time that we have to consider. The exams that we sit for by no means measure the full extent of our learnings in school! And we all know that even though we imagine our assessments and measures are perfect, they cannot be.
The important thing is that we must not be caught up with trying to make measures perfect, but to go back to the root of things that helps us growth. It will be lumpy but just trusting in the practice, in the small steps, seeing that you’re putting one foot ahead of another is enough. The distance you eventually cover will be more phenomenal when you don’t take too much effort to figure out how far you’ve come.
We’ve kind of convinced ourselves that indulgences are mostly sinful; that comfort food are mostly junk-ish food, that relaxation which tend to mean loss of productivity is bad. Our mental accounting systems and association of life with transactional relationships are almost completely distorted by our market-based interactions with the rest of the world.
It’s mostly cultural, and the mental wiring that is cultural can be changed. Look at how hailing a cab now involves using an app; and look at shopping, it’s mostly looking at screens too. That changed in less than a decade. We’ve become increasingly conditioned to love ‘convenience’ and ‘cheap thrills’.
This combination is a complex; because convenience is for the sake of saving time, of saving ‘hassle’ but those hassle that we imagine can be what true life is mostly made of – that we can have serendipitous moments and discovery because of the hassle we go through. And then the time saved is spent on cheap thrills, doom-scrolling through instagram and TikTok. Is that what life has come to be about? What are we running away from?
We’ve turned away from healthy life and healthy comforts. Comforts beyond the kind of physical pain and pleasure can mostly be slowly conditioned and acquired. And there’s goodness and richness in the healthy. If only we can work out a self-reinforcing loop and complex to achieve that. Pause for a moment to think through the healthy things you want to do, put them into a nice loop, a great cycle. Listen to James Clear on Dare to Lead podcast.
I wonder, as a leader of an organisation, are we supposed to apply policies when it comes to various decisions which comes to play, or whether we should be applying wisdom. I think policies are often in place to help reduce the need to apply wisdom but the end goal of policies and laws are really to help enable leaders to be wise.
The question then is, whether policies are now in place as an excuse for leaders not to exercise wisdom? And when you uphold policies in a way that is at the expense of people whom you should be caring about, what does it say about you? Who do you think policies should be serving? The organisation, or its people? Why are we always creating this false dichotomy and pitting the organisation against its people?
Caring for people, is part of being an organisation that is worthy of its existence. After all, you definitely should not be retaining people who are leeching from an organisation but with the right set of people, caring for them and letting them take care of the business is a winning formula.
These days, it’s so easy to assert your identity through your words and expression in public, online, on record somewhere. More so than taking real action and working on this. Speaking up is important but people have made just merely speaking up such a heroic act it is beginning to worth less. I was surprised there was this concept of performative outrage, and the fact that people are increasingly pressured to perform that kind of thing. It has almost become some kind of social pressured religion of sort.
Tribalism works, and that’s where we have to learn to be careful with it; and I think the erosion of faith from mainstream and the desire to avoid moralising have made it harder and harder to stand up against the use of tribalism to manipulate people.
The future we want to create cannot be divorced from the culture we want to build, the constructive, creative people we hope could populate it. Thoughtfulness, gratitude, love and humanity needs to be in there; and these values never run out, they are only scarce to the extent we allow the market mindset and scarcity from economics to govern our supply of these acts.
Have you been asked this question? How do you usually choose to answer such a question? Is it based on technique, or wisdom? Majority of the training industry today is about convincing people that many things in life, the way to work, live and play are just about techniques that can be learnt, sorted through training and then you’re good to go, set for life. Yet that is simply not true. How we accomplish or do things involved not just techniques but also wisdom accumulated through having done different kinds of things.
What about the story you’ve been telling yourself about how you grow, about how you accomplished things? Was it because you mastered some kind of technique or gained expertise and experience?
Techniques are unnatural; they are discovered probably by some kind of accident or deep logical deductions followed by trial-and-error. And it might not always be the most straight-forward or easy way. That’s why they are meant to be perfected, mastered through practice. This is an idea that I got from Seth Godin.
Insights, wisdom are not techniques. You can become really good at something because you master the techniques. For example, you can go quite far with some really good scripts to be used for sales. But more often, you need to know what to do when new situations arises, when new questions you have not anticipated arises. And wisdom is by definition the sort of intelligence involving application of knowledge, awareness from older, historical contexts into new situations and contexts. You cannot master wisdom, you can only grow it through encounter, by going through different experiences, dealing with different things.
In that sense, wisdom is natural. It is like a landscape formed by the elements, the rinsing and washing from the water, the blowing of the wind, the changes in the temperatures, the shifts in the plate tectonics. You cultivate wisdom also through observation and studying the patterns in the way nature is ordered. This is why even the uneducated can be wise. In fact, often, education can stand in the way of cultivating wisdom.
We need good quality people at work. We need them to be serving one another, to do the work that needs to be done. And corporate cogs, people who just follow the script, who push buttons based on a set of instructions neatly put down by someone else tend not to be the good quality people I’m referring to. And in recent conversations, I found out that the excuses that the cogs had for poor work includes, “I can’t find my notes”, “But this is different from what you told me”, “But we are not allowed to change this setting”.
When the conversation does not go towards, “I was wrong, let me take over and correct it.” then to me, the person is just not taking ownership of the work. And it is important that we are allowing people to take ownership; to not just leave the end product to others. When people fail to take ownership of their work, they need to be questioned. What can help them make sure that mistakes are corrected before work submission? What do they need to do to make sure they are applying the knowledge or instruction with understanding and not just blindly.
And more importantly, how would they be able to respond autonomously to a change in situation? Taking ownership, adopting a common sense approach to situations, and being willing to stand up to the rules, and produce results independently is so important. Hence it is important when people bend and break rules, we understand the intent and purpose rather than just go on a finger-pointing spree and miss the opportunity to praise someone for taking charge and not just being a cog.