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Heresy and Progress

Heresy and Progress

We live in world full of pressures to conform: to believe what others tell us is true, to toe the line, to accept the values of those in positions of power, and to follow conventional, approved paths. That’s the way to get on in life and business, we are told. You need to fit in, play the game, and avoid rocking any boats.

Fitting in and following generally accepted views on most matters may produce a quiet life—you will rarely upset anyone that way—but it won’t give you a life that includes much real progress or any fresh ideas. Heresy is progress. Nearly every advance in human thought is loudly denounced as a heresy at the start—only later does it, in turn, become the new orthodoxy. And if that is true of politics, religion, and matters of social justice—as I believe it is—it is doubly true of the world of work. As Kathy Sierra wrote this week in her article Knocking the exuberance out of employees, corporations claim they want creative, smart, passionate, and independent people; but those that they typically favor and promote (obviously because they find them more acceptable) are usually people who are obedient, cautious, methodical, and risk-averse.

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This has all been much on my mind, and so my articles this week have looked at three specific aspects of organizational heresy. In The Perils of Avoiding Risk, I noted that mitigating—or, better still, completely avoiding—risk of any kind has reached number one in most executives’ list of desirable outcomes. The result is predictable. More and more decisions are restricted to people at senior levels, so that middle managers—the group most likely to include truly innovative and creative thinkers—are shut out of important decisions. It’s revealing that one person who commented on this post explained how, in his organization, a program to move decisions closer to the customer merely resulted in top executives taking over formerly middle management roles. It seems that it was inconceivable to allow middle or junior ranks to use their judgment and forego executive oversight.

Earlier in the week, I put forward a heresy of my own, suggesting that today’s cult of “leadership by numbers” is both foolish and harmful. As I wrote:

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The temptation to reduce the functioning of a massive corporation to one to two headline figures is too much of an attraction for some journalists to resist, but that doesn’t make it right or sensible. Such information is more likely to represent media spin than any genuine understanding of what is happening in the business. Worse, it concentrates attention on spurious, short-term goals at the expense of the long-term health and viability of the business. It doesn’t even question whether the “achievements” so avidly reported are sensible uses of corporate time, attention, or money. And all that is assuming that the figures being used are (a) a rational choice, (b) correctly calculated, and (c) understood properly by the people in charge.

Why simplify the messy, complex, demanding, and fascinating process of running a successful business to meeting a few simple, numerical goals—as if those figures accurately represented the business as a whole? In reality, such “indicators” and “key ratios” are no more than numbers dreamed up by accountants and financial markets, often for some entirely different purpose. The figures are not the business. They are, at best, inaccurate and blurred pictures of the business as it was at one fixed time, and given a number of dubious assumptions.

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Finally, I returned to the whole question of what makes for a successful life, at work and elsewhere. In Doing Well . . . or Living Well?, I question a basic tenet of much of today’s business thinking: that a good life means earning a great deal of money. I believe that what we are facing today is a direct conflict between what it takes to be seen as “doing well,” (in an economic sense) and the kind of lifestyle that constitutes “living well” (in the wider sense of enjoying a good life). Many professionals and executives earn large amounts of money and have little time to enjoy any of it. Because I suggested that Western, capitalist, industrialized society would likely collapse if a majority of people began to reject economic well-being and advancement as the sole basis for a good life, I was soundly taken to task for giving in to conventional thinking myself: a case of the heretic being accused of conformity! Well, maybe that was right, but the point remains that much of today’s economic prosperity is based on persuading a majority of people to consume what corporations want to produce. That takes money, and lots of it, so the result is a hectic lifestyle composed of equal parts of getting and spending—with much too little time left over for rest, relaxation, quiet learning, having fun, enjoying sex, spending time in the open air, or engaging in thoughtful reflection.

What I see happening is a growing imbalance in our lives, because “doing well” (in the economic and financial sense) is pursued to the detriment of “living well” (in the sense of enjoying all those other aspects of life). That imbalance is the source of most of the stress, frustration, and dissatisfaction that currently plagues us. Conventional thinking won’t show the way to find a new balance. Such progress as we can make will only come from heresy on a grand scale. It is time to make a start.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnancy in life, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help.

Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

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1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths.

Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation.

What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem.

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If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave.

Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future.

These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

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4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’re 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward.

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Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years.

On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

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Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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