Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Not being afraid to change (Including your hairstyle).

In this era of hyper development and rapid progression, are we still right to dig our heels into the ground, and hold onto tried and tested methods when it comes to the way we work and project ourselves into the outer (and cyber) world? Or is it time to be more daring and take more risks? Can we still change things without feeling like we’ve jumped off the edge of the cliff of security into the ether of random chance? 

I partially have Seth Godin to thank here, as inspiration.For the record, I’m not a volte-face plagiarist and I'm referring to some of his influence at a subconscious level, in terms of writing this article. I’ve been a subscriber to his blog for a long time and I’ve watched a number of his video interviews including a TED talk on YouTube. I’ll also be dipping into some more of  his books soon, when they’ve arrived in the post. 

More importantly, he is where he is, because he refused to steadfastly adhere to the rules and effectively made his own, without turning into a dictator or criminal. There’s a lot of good karma there too somewhere, which has helped, although some may argue, including Seth himself, that he has made his own luck.

In any case, the point I’m trying to make, is something I’ve noticed for the last few years, but perhaps been too reticent...no, that’s not true. The reality is that for whatever reason, you can sometimes be afraid to say something that everyone else may well be feeling too.

It’s “elephant in the room” syndrome; everyone knows it’s there, but the level of disbelief is too great to risk being the one to talk about it. 

Everyone knows something's not quite right, but maybe it'll leave the room without any fuss.

The elephant in this instance, is a metaphorical whiteboard that has the following scrawled on it, in huge 72 point (that should be big enough) Arial or Times New Roman font (a familiar and comfortable font, which is helpful), maybe in bold type face.  It says:- 


Admittedly, it’s a large whiteboard. In real terms, if it were a motorway or highway sign, there is no way you would be able ignore it. Unless you were coming from the opposite direction, in which case you’d look in the rear view mirror and... You know what I mean. 

Glance back to check what you've left behind, but looking ahead is the only way to know what's coming up, so you can adapt and change course if necessary.

I’d never suggest mindless anarchy, cause that can create more problems that it ultimately may solve. But I will suggest what I personally do, which is to not always take the easy way out and just give up on getting a result with a different approach; simply try at least once more if you can, twice more if possible.  If you’re far too close to wipe-out in any important area ( i.e. mental, emotional, physical and financial), and the resources aren’t pulling together to get the project or plan into full motion or restarted, which is reflected by a lack of external throughput or “take on”,  then it may be time to stop.

It may also be that this isn’t the right time for it. You can always file it away for “maybe another time” or “tried, failed, and could use parts/concepts down the line”. The concept of failure isn’t a waste in my book; it’s part of the journey and par for the course. Time immemorial has shown (albeit retrospectively), how long and how much time, energy (and money), has gone into getting from the start to the pinnacle of something, with prototypes, revisions and even total fiascos on various levels, as part of many personal and corporate journeys. You must be open to defeat in order to win. 

For the pedants out there, this doesn’t mean, for example, walking miles on foot if a car journey can get you there more safely and quickly; if the car you own is roadworthy, then why bust a gut ( and your legs, feet and other organs) trying to go for gold, when there are no Olympiads to win? That’s just being different for more aggravation and eventual pain.

This is more about demanding better, but without breaking the other guy (or girl) in two, and without giving yourself a hernia or ulcer (apologies to those who already suffer) in the process. It’s about  the concept of win-win

When Both sides can reach an agreement, it's a win-win situation.

Win-win is about being smart enough to know that if you want something doing, be it getting others to agree to your viewpoint, salary raise, new song, new product and even a new hairstyle ( that count’s me out, these days),  you’re going to have to give a little  back yourself, too.

It’s about not just getting what you want, but trying and succeeding in getting the other person to believe in that and them getting what they want, too.  I mention this aforementioned strategy because as of now, we’re all mostly ensconced in the “me, myself and Irene” culture on the internet, (and in real life too, if slumping high street sales from established vendors and purveyors are to be accounted for.. even lowering the prices isn’t generating a “win-win”; maybe the feel good factor attached to internet shopping, is missing), due to all the wonderful ways we can promote ourselves using the social media tools. So if we’re all selling something, then why aren’t we all closing the actual deal? 

Some of us are in denial. No one wants to admit to getting things wrong and failing, due to the perceived sociological stigma of failing. Some of this is understandable as we all need survival skills that are workable so we can live our lives independently, but we can’t always be expected to get everything right each and every time we do something; it’s unrealistic and you probably wouldn’t learn any other way or method of doing anything. You’d also potentially be quite a dull, smug and self satisfied individual.

Now all of that is painful to admit to, but it’s nothing new if you think about it. There are a lot of sound bites and well written articles about this on the internet. Some, for example, mention a complete generation as being in denial, which I see as akin to a skewed interpretation of Irving Janis’ theory on groupthink. In effect, too many people having the same vision or solution to a problem can also make a bad decision collectively. It's akin to watching an army of lemmings fall of the edge of a cliff, because others are already doing so.   

Irving Janis' GROUPTHINK concept, illustrated above. In effect, this occours when a group of people get together and start to think collectively with one mind. The group is more concerned with maintaining unity than with objectively evaluating their situation, alternatives and options. The group as a whole, tends to take irrational actions or overestimate their positions or moral rightness. Janis used a number of historical political disasters, such as bay of pigs and watergate to illustrate the negative impacts. On a positive note, groupthink is the obvious way fans gather together, for example, to fund a project or support a recording artist, too.

If, for example, everyone of a certain age category thinks that due to the tools available, they have a much greater chance of becoming a media celebrity, that’s a potential combination of :-

a)      Misunderstanding the true nature of the game. It IS a game and the odds of making it vs those who don’t, are probably higher than the national lottery, in some instances. And that can be just to make what some could describe as “a regular wage”, too. 

b)      Misconception of the tools themselves BECOMING the skill set you’re touting or selling. The Social media networking site you’re using ISN’T there to solely promote you and you alone. It is up to you to decide how you’ll beat the competition using the same tools. Being different is a strategy, but is that enough in itself? 

c)       Confusion in the message from both the user AND the social media toolset used. If for example, you put “part time blogger, marketing maven, singer, writer, actor and poet” underneath your profile, is that worthy of a gold medal of your diverse talents? Or, is it blurring and diffusing where your REAL talents lie? 

I’ll use myself as an example. I can sing in tune, and in time. That’s great. But maybe my chances of being a professional singer aren’t as high as someone much younger, marginally more appealing to the target age demographic of 12 to 30 (ahem), and hence who has a better chance of making the millions (or hundreds of thousands, hopefully) of pounds or dollars etc, that would result from being easier to market to the suggested demographic.

Okay, so I can be self critical and analytical enough to suss out for myself, that i should put my energies elsewhere, or more importantly focus my energy in an area or areas that more accurately reflect where I have a better chance of being heard, contributing something worth listening to (I also make music for TV, film and other outlets too ), or reading about. But in today’s times, adaptability is something that is also a valuable tool to have. That has it's obvious plusses and some not so immediately obvious minuses. This is all ironically due to a possible variation of groupthink, which is a reflection of the open ended nature of the social networking tools currently available.

The banking crisis and economic slump we have endured en masse, has precipitated a lot of knee jerk “catch it all” style self titling, as demonstrated above. That’s understandable, as the thinking is that if we tout all that we’re good at, then we might get a better shot at being heard. Sometimes, however, it comes across as desperate.

Maybe that has to be with this transition phase, which reminds us of the child in us who is desperate to impress and be noticed, versus the specialist, such as a doctor or surgeon, who everyone respects, as they’re amazing at one thing and one thing only, to which they’ve dedicated almost a third or more of their lives already.  So where is the cut off line? 

In my humble opinion, if you have multiple skill sets, and they are related, it can be justified; maybe keep it to two or three maximum.  But if you’re an accountant, who is also an expert marksman, mandolin player and NLP coach... well, pick the ones that fit together the best as a sales prop, and leave the rest for a chat with friends in the bar, at the pub, or for the next barbeque social event with family and friends; especially when there’s new people around who you really need to impress, cause the others will already know and have heard it a few hundred times already.

Maybe the aforementioned bucks against the trend of being memorable, but if everyone is listing half a dozen or more skills as part of the signature line pitch, then the person with the least amount can stand out as a specialist. That in itself signifies confidence at another level. 

In effect, if we won’t settle for average or second best these days so willingly due to the massive swell in choice available to us on nearly everything we do or can do and consume, then we need to understand that if there is something we can change with a view to improvement, then it might be a good idea to take a chance and go for it. Innovation shouldn’t always stem from desperation, but sometimes our environments can change so drastically around us, that we go into freeze mode, as a side effect of “fight or flight”. There’s no need to throw the rulebook(s) away (at least not yet), but there is a need to instil or initiate change within ourselves, rather than always wait for our environment to change for us.

On a broader scope, things aren’t necessarily guaranteed to be cyclical anymore, in terms of socio-economic patterns, so we have to follow suit. Transition periods have occurred before and this is obviously one of them. Not all can be at the helms of ships, and some will just be passengers, but there has to be a willingness to change and at least to be adaptable. As Tolstoy himself put it years ago, “everyone wants to change the world, but no-one wants to change himself”. This has never been more resonant than now. In short, there’s never been a better time to take risks and initiate change for yourself and others. 

As for the hairstyle, I’ll carry on shaving my head using a conventional disposable razor and a special head shaving cream, as I have been for several years.

Some things are better left as they are.. at least for now.