What matters now: Excellence, being the Most, and playing up Strengths

This “installment” is on being the best you can be.

On Excellence, Tom Peters covers the 18 essential E’s key to being excellent. Here they are in my words, and with the connotations I believe fit. 1) Enthusiasm: be irresistible and excited about whatever you’re doing. 2) Exuberance: Be vibrant and “cause earthquakes!” 3) Execution: Peters says “Do it! NOW! Get it done! Barriers are baloney!” 4) Empowerment: Find out what irks people, and turn it around. Boost confidence. Motivate. 5) Edginess: Live ON the edge, taking risks, living life to the fullest. 6) Enraged: Challenge the squo. Be a bit reckless, break the rules that haven’t been broken, says Peters. 7) Engaged: In touch with the world around you. ALWAYS. 8) Electronic: technology is your friend and key to building partnerships. 9) Encompassing: Pursue diverse opinions in your focused field. 10) Emotion: The essence. Of everything. Acknowledge it. Embody it. 11) Empathy: Connect with the dreams and ideas of others. Walk around in their shoes “until the soles have holes,” says Peters. 12) Ears: Listen. Listen. Listen. Boom, strategic advantage! 13) Experience: Peters says “Life is theater!” I agree. Live large, be dramatic, make every moment as memorable as you can. “The standard,” he says, “Insanely great/Steve Jobs, Radically Thrilling/BWM.” 14) Eliminate: Less is more. Simplicity is golden. 15) Error-Prone: Try a lot and fail a lot. Then do it all again. That’s how you get better. 16) Evenhanded: Fair. Truthful. Honest. 17) Expectations: I can’t rephrase Michelangelo. As he puts it, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” 18) Eudaimonia: This one sounds like the Hippocratic Oath; Be of Service. Always. According to Peters, it’s “the core of Aristotle’s philosophy. Pursue the highest of human moral purpose.”
Next, William Taylor says “it’s not good enough anymore to be ‘pretty good’ at everything. You have to be the most of something.” To me, this is depth over breadth; do really well at one thing as opposed to okay at a variety of tasks. For example, in debate, they use this exact lingo to tell the debaters to focus on a few key arguments and not to spread themselves too thin. But this applies to general life goals too. Pick one area, be it a subject, sport, or art, to focus on, with the goal of being the BEST at it. Taylor reiterates that being okay at a lot of things, in his words staying in the middle of the road, is not beneficial. He quotes Jim Hightower as saying, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.” Why play it safe and spread yourself out too thin, when now the allure is in the outliers, those clinging to the sides of the road.

“Forget about working on your weaknesses,”says Marti Barletta. “Focus on supporting your strengths.” That’s not something you hear everyday: beef up your strengths and don’t worry about improving your weaknesses. It’s counter-intuitive to all we’ve been taught since we were little. In school, areas that “need improvement” are the targets, the combined focus of parents, teachers and the student. No one really pays attention to the places where you’re meeting or even exceeding expectations, sometimes to your detriment. But Barletta’s point is that in the context of team work, it’s more effective to combine everyone’s strengths than to have a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. She frames it nicely saying, “The beautiful thing about being on a team is that, believe it our not, lots of people love doing the things you hate. And hate doing the things that you love. So quit diligently developing your weaknesses. Instead, partner with someone very UNlike you, share the work and share the wealth and everyone’s happy.”

To me, these three values really go together. To be excellent, you have to follow your passion, be an outlier, aim at being the most exuberant and enthusiastic person out there. To be excellent you must develop your strengths and know how to use them in collaboration with others. Meshing these skills together results in a better whole. As Tom Peters says, “If not excellence, then what?”

What matters now: Connection, Vision, and Enrichment

Here’s a follow up on yesterday’s post. Let’s see how long I can keep this “series” up for :).

Howard Mann talks about our extremely connected, media-engrossed digital society. But he mentions an awe of how much time we put into social networks and blogs. He says “it used to be much more simple and, somewhere, simple turned into slow…..Multi tasking has become a badge of honor. I want to know why.” I think that as technology got better, faster, the world started to speed up with it. Speeding up, improving and growing technology have always been the norm. We’ve gone from horse mail carriers to instant texts but not overnight. The “to” holds many inventions, like email and cell phones, that gradually increased the speed at which we connected to others. Mann argues if we are actually more connected. I believe so. However, it never hurts to sloooow down every once in a while to catch your breath and disengage from the technology. I personally need to work on that; I need to unplug and tune in to the real world around me. I believe that’s what Mann meant about connection; we are too technologically connected and as such, we lose out on valuable, face to face, personal, human interaction.

“Vision,” says Michael Hyatt. “is the lifeblood of any organization.” And, he says, leadership is key to maintaining vision. I agree with him wholeheartedly. Without a vision, goal or purpose, work is mundane and useless. We aren’t going anywhere, just around and around in the circle of a grey economy. He sums up its value nicely, saying, “when times are tough, vision is the first casualty. Before conditions can improve, it is the first thing we must recover.”

Enrichment. It’s what we all seek in our lives and to give to the lives of others. But sometimes we have no idea how exactly to help give meaning to our lives. According to Rajesh Setty, there are 5 simple steps to follow. 1. Commit- Build lifetime relationships that span causes and boundaries. 2. Care- Really listen to and care about the concerns of others. 3. Connect- meet people and form relationships with those who will benefit both them and you. 4. Communicate- Be candid in speech. Don’t sugar coat things or say only what the audience wants to hear. 5. Expand capacity- Aim to help people give and get more from their own life. In summary he says, “you are only as rich as the enrichment you bring to the world around you.” I take this as a sort of call, as if it’s saying, “Go, make the world a better place. Enrich lives. Have a vision. Just Go.”

What Matters Now: Generosity, Fearlessness, Meaning and Ease

I’m currently reading a very informative PowerPoint slide deck titled What Matters Now, that Seth Godin put out, partly for brand marketing and partly for spreading ideas. I find a bunch of these ideas intriguing, so I decided to share my thoughts on a few of the concpets mentioned. This might be an ongoing thing, I’m not sure. For now, I just wanted to put my ideas out there.

First up, Generosity. Seth Godin talks about how being connected, and giving to others is actually maybe better than focusing on yourself in rough times. He says, “If you make a difference, people will gravitate to you. They….want to get you more involved. IN a digital world, the gift I give you almost always benefits me MORE than it costs.” That last sentence really stuck with me. Cost doesn’t matter. Value does, and the best gifts benefit both parties, the giver and the receiver. As holidays are approaching, this applies to literal gift giving. Don’t worry about the cost, focus on what matters. Focus on giving somethign impactful, such as an idea, or a gift with practical purposes for that specific person. But you can also give in a broader sense, like money to charities, time in voluteer work, talent at a local nursing home, just in general being philanthropic. In that giving, you make a differerence in someone’s lives, creating a bond. This interaction sometimes makes huge changes in people’s lives. THAT, in my opinion, is the power of giving and being generous.

Next, Anne Jackson, the author of Permission To Speak Freely, wrote about the power and impact of fear. She asks, “why are we so insipired by [those who appear to be fearless]?” Her answer: “Because deep down, we are them.” We can do everything those who appear fearless do. After all we are all human, just like they are. Fear breeds courage. And courageous people write the story of the world. Be courageous, take risks, and combat your fears. Just in doing so, you add a bit of “oomph” to our world.

Hugh MacLeod’s bit contained a graphic with witty quips on what to do with your life. The words give perspective to life and our actions; focus on meaning not outward appearance. My favorites: Meaning scales, People Don’t. Everyone is born creative; Everyone is given a box of crayons in Kindergarten. You have to find your own schtick. If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you. And lastly, Ignore Everybody (the title of his book). In summary, I feel he’s saying, be creative, be willing to work hard, ignore those who tell you your passion is stupid and take control of your dreams/life.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, opened her bit with saying, “we are the strivingest people who have ever lived.” By this she means, we work our butts off daily, and she questions this work ethic. Where is our extreme ambition getting us? Not a sense of accomplishment that’s for sure. We live in what has been unfortunately termed a rat race. Gilbert proposes taking a break from constantly being on the go. In her words “My radical suggestion? Cease participation, if only for one day this year–if only to make sure we don’t lose forever, the rare and vanishing human talent of appreciating human ease.” By human ease, she means taking a step back to clear our head. If you’ve read my posts before, I’ve said a bunch of stuff along the same line; we need to chill in order to improve and have a clearer view on our goals.

And those are some of the things that matter in our ever-changing 21st Century World.

Getting Lost to Find Yourself

I’ve decided that high school is about finding yourself, about shaping your identity. It’s discovering how you want be thought of and what you want to remember about yourself years from now. In reaching this conclusion, I’ve realized that it’s okay to feel a bit disoriented every now and then. Because it’s in those moments away from the beaten path that you find what you really want and get closer to who you truly are… You start to see who you want to be.

So getting lost isn’t bad. I’m sure I’ve heard a saying before, that goes something like “in getting lost, I found myself”. Well, I can attest to the truth in this saying.

I feel like although this is a bit of a revelation on my part, this concept has been around for ages, especially in education. Sabbaticals anyone? In my eyes, the point of sabbaticals is to get away from the daily routine so that one can explore passions and assess life. These excursions into grey area, the land of the semi lost, provide a key opportunity to rethink the path you’re on. And I think that it works pretty well. Most teachers I’ve known who went on a sabbatical seem to have a rejuvenated sense of purpose, a new zest for their work and their life.

So on that note, I wonder if incorporating such a thing into a student’s school life would be beneficial? Maybe like a gap year between middle school and high school? Gap years (normally taken between high school and college) are an example but they occur after initial schooling is done. They DO serve to open up minds and help students think about what they want to do in their future, as it is rapidly approaching. But would it be a good idea to force students to get lost in order to find themselves or merely let that happen on it’s natural course?

I’m not sure on that point. For now, all I know is that next time I feel slightly disoriented and a bit lost, I’ll take the time to reflect and profit from what seemed like an unfortunate situation.

Standards Based Grading

I love the concept of standards based grading (SBG), the idea of a representation of progress without being limited to concrete numbers. The idea of grading on a scale of comprehension versus numbers with no meaning behind them sounds good to me. But when it comes time for report cards, teachers using SBG are compelled to translate those benchmarks into numbers for the gradebooks and the parents.

Unfortunately, sometimes this translation can turn what seemed like a fine place to be (your child understands all concepts up to level 3, but is having some trouble on level 4 problems) into a lower grade than usual (a B where most would expect an A or at least an A-). When these grades come home to parents, it is possible to instigate worry and confusion. The parents accept the practice but just don’t know what to do when their kid is scoring lower than usual. Suddenly the practice is the scapegoat for the cause of the bad grade, and parents turn against it. What can be done to prevent this?

What needs to be done to eliminate confusion between parents and teachers on the system? Would showing the system and translation on parents night or during conferences ease the possible worry? Would writing a little blurb on how the child can improve and move to the next benchmark help the parents not blame the practice? Do you have a system the works well? If so, it would be really neat to hear about it! And to reinforce the beginning, I am all for SBG but I’d heard about a few concerns, so out of curiosity I decided to voice them.