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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 March 13, 2019

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

1. Work on the small tasks.

When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

2. Take a break from your work desk.

Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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3. Upgrade yourself

Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

4. Talk to a friend.

Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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6. Paint a vision to work towards.

If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

7. Read a book (or blog).

The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

8. Have a quick nap.

If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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9. Remember why you are doing this.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

10. Find some competition.

Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

11. Go exercise.

Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

12. Take a good break.

Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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