As human beings, we are wired to viewing others’ lives, jobs, education and possessions with rose tinted glasses. The proverbial grass always seems greener on the other side. And, we generally assume it is something about the other side that makes the grass grow better.
While that is true sometimes, there are often two other reasons. For example, things often look great from a distance. It is only when we get close do we notice the less flattering details.
Or, more likely, the grass might be greener because it is mowed, watered and fertilized better. Most things worth their while take work.
In the long run, it always amazes me as to how much our attitude toward mistakes shapes our well being.
Our ability to accept mistakes enables us to reduce stress and get more done.
And, our ability to consistently replace fear in our response to them with creative, constructive and corrective action shapes our confidence.
Wired had an article recently about how China became a tech superpower by moving from imitation to innovation. Many of the observations in the article – especially that about the West being stuck in a perception that all China does is copy Western ideas – ring true.
But, this isn’t an article about technology.
Instead, it is to say that the process of moving from imitation to innovation is a principle that is widely applicable. Jack Welch used to say that copying their competitor’s best ideas was a key part of GE’s ability to innovate. GE’s innovation approach frequently involved copying the best ideas and tweaking them to suit their own style.
It works wonderfully well in personal development as well. Admire how someone stays organized, makes presentations or organizes a team? Copy them. Over time, you’ll figure out your own style.
Innovation is rarely a big leap we need to make. Instead, it is often a series of little steps we take that cause a cumulative step change in results – the first of which is generally imitation.
I am reminded of a classic Derek Siver’s post on Drama where he shared a lesson from a talk by Kurt Vonnegut. I think of this post when I find myself over reacting to a piece of news or data.
Kurt Vonnegut contrasts the arc of the stories with that of our life. For example, here are two common popular story arcs – the Cinderella story and the common disaster story.
Kurt Vonnegut contrasts this to our life’s story arc.
You can see the problem.
As Vonnegut explains – “People have been hearing fantastic stories since time began. The problem is that they think life is supposed to be like the stories. So people pretend there is drama where there is none.”
This is partly why we invent conflict, fights, attempt to save the day, and over react to what happens to us. We create drama where this is none.
Or, as Derek observes, we try to make our life into a fairy tale.
If you’ve ever attempted ice skating, roller blading or skiing, you learn quickly that it is impossible to get good if you aren’t willing to fall.
In fact, learning to fall safely and get up quickly is a key part of any first lesson. Since you are expected to fall, you might as well learn to do it well. And, if you want to learn quickly, you better be willing to experiment and fall often.
As part of this process, you learn that willingness to fall is very different from willingness to fail. Failure, it turns out, is not the falling down. It is the staying down.
There’s a life analogy here somewhere…
On his new podcast, Seth shared a story from a conference 20 years ago. They were going around a circle and introducing themselves. One of them was the co-founder of a then lesser known search engine.
He said – “My name is Sergey and I have this little search engine called Google. We don’t do any outbound marketing, promotion or hype. We figure that, one day, everyone will use Google. We also know that Google gets better every day. And, since it gets better every day, we are in no hurry for people to try us the first time.”
It is a profound way to think about your product.
However, I think it has just as much applicability in our lives. We can sometimes find ourselves in a hurry to meet that next important person (“network”) to get access to new opportunities.
But, if we acted on getting better every day, maybe there’d be no reason to hurry at all?
Every book has co-authors. These co-authors are spouses, kids, parents, editors, friends, heroes, and even other authors of the same genre – all of whom play pivotal roles in creating the final reading experience. Every author stands on the shoulder of giants. And, as is often the case, the most important shoulder tends to be that of the spouse.
Of course, the book is just a metaphor for life and every project we have the privilege to work on.
It is easy to forget this and get caught up in the “self made” myth. It is also easy to over estimate our capabilities and the roles we play on the journey.
This is a thank you to the many co-authors of this blog – with a special nod to that most important shoulder. I am more grateful than I can possibly express.
I hope you find time to send your co-authors a thank you this weekend as well.