The 3 Lessons I Keep Learning

1. Follow the energy

When I was 60K in debt from a failed business, depressed and low on hope I invested my time in something that made no financial sense…

I became a spinning instructor.

I had always wanted to be one since high school. I loved the combination of DJ, coach and speaker. So much time was spent on training and making mixes that I lost money. And yet, I had so much fun that I was able to use all of the energy to launch my next career.  Again, it did not make sense from a practical perspective, but I followed the energy.

For me, it’s often a distinction between what looks good versus what feels good…

It’s a date who looks amazing, but I don’t feel myself around her. It’s a house I’m looking at that has all the amenities, but doesn’t feel like home. It’s a speech that delivers on paper, but I don’t care about it.

It takes courage to follow the energy, but more importantly it takes curiosity and a sense of wonder.

All of this applies to culture as well, since culture is simply a bunch of people together. If the group is following what “should” matter (results, revenue, profit, new manager program du jour), and not what they’re passionate about (the customer, the values, the product, or even each other), then the culture eventually goes south.

2. Get back to the basics

Veteran pilots still use checklists. Yoyo Ma still plays scales. And the best athletes practice for hours.

I’m always amazed by how much it’s the basics that make the difference.

On the personal level it’s really about getting great food, sleep, exercise and meditation. I heard that neurosis is the result of denying our animal nature, and I can tell you if I don’t get exercise I anxious and neurotic. In fact, if I do boxing or martial arts I’m so peaceful I don’t even have thoughts in my head afterward.

On the corporate level it’s about meetings. Most companies are terrible at meetings. They’ll take on multi-million dollar change initiatives and yet everyday meetings are dysfunctional.

When I work with teams I start with the basics: Can you be on time? If you show up late and run over then you’re prioritizing your own personal agendas over the culture. But if you’re on time, you’re honoring commitments. There’s no point working on values if you can’t even be on time.

3. Focus is flow

Flow is “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.” (1) It’s when athletes are “in the zone.”

I have a million things on my to do list, and trying to multi-task is a joke. It just adds stress. I continue to learn that lesson. But focus is heaven. It feels like a luxury.

Getting totally absorbed with a task (even if it’s one I don’t like) is a pure joy.  A friend of mine who survived drug addiction started his life again by cleaning chandeliers. He said it was one of the most joyful times of his life because it was so simple.

The three temptations

Looking back on this list I see the lessons could also be re-written as temptations:

1. Follow the Energy
(Temptation: Choosing what “should” be done, or what looks good instead of what feels good)

2. Get back to the Basics
(Temptation: Going for the new shiny object)

3. Focus is Flow
(Temptation: Multi-tasking, letting texts, emails and facebook interrupt me)