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Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Volume 18 | # 413
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Change before you have to. » Jack Welch

Testing Our Resolve

I enjoy reading research and columns about coaching and motivating children. And one of the things I enjoy most is that the findings are almost always applicable to us slightly-older children.

One of my running jokes with managers is that they have to remember that life is high school.  Some of us may be in 15th, or 22nd, or 31st grade.

But when you look around at how folks interact with each other, you know not all that much has changed.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal by Ken Bain entitled, “Flummoxed by Failure – or Focused” struck a nerve. In it, Bain sites various researchers’ findings of how the way students deal with struggles and failure largely determine their abilities to eventually learn, grow and succeed.

One of the problems cited is our culture’s propensity to label people as “smart”… or not. We are programmed to believe that some folks simply have more smarts than others and that intelligence is fixed.

The only problem with that belief is that it is mostly wrong. (Aside from that, hey, it’s all good.)

Researchers are becoming more convinced that it is how children approach learning that is most important. Kids who believe they are either smart or not tend to more easily become helpless when stumped by a problem. They’re more likely to see a tough problem as being beyond their (fixed) abilities.

But others who believe that struggles and initial failures lead to eventual successes tend to, well, eventually succeed. In one particular study, two groups were given difficult math problems.

One group was then given supplemental material on how memory works and strategies for improving recall.  The other was given information about how you can grow your intelligence and that nerve cells in the brain make stronger connections after we learn something new.

That second group was more motivated to overcome obstacles in the weeks that followed. Failure was less likely to demoralize them.

I would suggest that this dynamic remains as we grow older and take on slightly bigger problems than math exams. Some are far too quick to accept that a difficult challenge is beyond them.

Others realize (consciously or not) that initial failure is normal and but a step on the journey to success.

Remind your team (and yourself) that success has a price. And that price is facing and overcoming failures.

Are you willing to pay it?

A Dog's Life

Last Friday was a pretty sad day around the Martin household. My dog of 15 years, Gumbo, finished his journey with us. He was likely 17 years old or so as he was a full-grown stray that turned up on my doorstep in 1997.

I’m guessing that the only things that had a worse Friday than me were the squirrels in heaven. I’m sure a red alert was issued up there.

Of course, Gumbo was pretty much 0 for 100,000 trying to catch one in the 15 years he lived with us. But maybe the odds are better on the other side.

Over the years, I had frequently used a photo of Gumbo in customer service presentations to ask a question. I liked to ask groups if they have a doglike or catlike approach to customer service.

I always pointed out that I wasn’t “hating” on cats. Some folks are “cat people”, and that is their God-given (albeit misguided) right. (I kid. I kid.)

I would respectfully suggest that the level of attention and affection you receive from a cat is directly proportional to how the cat feels at that moment. Sometimes, they are leg-rubbing, lap-sitting, purring bundles of love.

Just as often, they are aloof and not interested in even being in the same room with you. For some folks, that’s just fine.

But I like to kid that I can get indifference everywhere – family, friends, employees, bosses, etc. I’m not exactly looking for that in my “pet.”

Dogs, on the other hand, are all about you. Even when he got old and slow, Gumbo was always happy to see me, or my family, or a neighbor, or a stranger, or pretty much anything but a squirrel. We often joked that a burglar would likely get a pretty warm welcome from our “guard dog”… unless he had a squirrel in his pocket.

My point to folks is that dogs are known as “man’s best friend” because they are all about you. It’s pretty obvious when you spend time with them that you are the highlight of their day.

Whether a dog is having a good or bad day, it seems to become a better day for him when you spend time with him. And that just makes folks feel good.

Maybe you’re having a great day today. Maybe you aren’t.

But try to make the next customer in your presence feel that it just became a better day because he or she arrived.

Well, unless they have a squirrel with them. In that case, chase them off.

Gumbo would approve.

Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends. » Alexander Pope

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