What does Jack Welch believe is the ultimate competitive business advantage?

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage,” former GE CEO Jack Welch tells us.

Ultimate.  Competitive.  Advantage.

Spoken by one of the most successful CEO’s in history.

But how does an organization become a learning organization?

At PCI, we focus on two specific strategies.

First, we look outside for new ideas that will make us better.  We are big believers in reading and discussion groups.  Over the course of each year, we select several books to read and discuss and invite all 450 of our associates to participate.  Anyone who is interested can join in.  It’s a simple agreement: we buy the book, the person who volunteers agrees to read and discuss it.  

Note: I make this offer for any book one of our associates wants to read that will make them better.  Same agreement as above: we buy it.  They agree to read it.  

In recent years, we’ve read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey), Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck), The Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor), Well Being (Tom Rath and Jim Harter), and The Miracle Morning (Hal Elrod).  Last summer, as part of our social justice initiative, we read and discussed White Fragility (Robin Diangelo).  This summer we’re continuing our exploration of these issues with the reading of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  

Once every five years, we conduct a five week, company-wide reading and discussion of The Servant as Leader by Robert Greenleaf.  Participation is required for all PCI associates (vs. all other all-company book clubs which are voluntary).  While this commitment represents a significant investment of time and money, we believe the ROI is tremendous as it creates a servant-leadership mindset as well as a common vocabulary across our organization. 

In addition to company-wide book clubs, many of our teams and departments are involved in reading-discussion groups specific to their area throughout the year.

Reading, learning, and applying new ideas from books and thought leaders is smart.  There is, however, an even more powerful strategy to becoming a learning organization.  In addition to searching for ideas outside the organization, we create a mindset internally where we are constantly experimenting.  In every department.  In every area of the company.  Then, we pay careful attention to the results. 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular expression.  

It’s also not wise.  

Instead, we commit to a path of continuous improvement.  With this approach, mistakes and setbacks are expected.  

This concept is captured in our “Unlock Human Potential” value: “If you make a mistake, own up to it so together we can fix it, learn from it, and get better next time.”

We iterate.  We pay attention.  We stay nimble. We modify.  We learn.  We improve as we go.

The goal isn’t to be “right.”  The goal isn’t to “look smart.”  The goal is to learn, grow and get better at getting better.   

It starts at the top.

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Reflection:  How do I show up?  Is my goal to learn?  Or, to look smart?

Action:  Discuss with my spouse or a colleague who knows me well.

The Secret to a Happy Life?

“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period,” says Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the longest and most comprehensive study on human happiness.

Period.  Hard stop.

Robert tells us: “It’s not the number of friends you have; it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”

This week we are going to be explore the power of relationships and how to create moments of connection.

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares the results of the “Very Happy People” study which examined the shared characteristics of the 10% happiest people.  

Turns out there was only one shared characteristic: the strength of their social relationships.

People with close relationships are better at dealing with stress. They are less likely to view stressful situations as stressful. And, when truly bad things do happen, instead of turning inward, they hold on tighter to their social support network.

Shawn tell us, not only are these people happier, they are also more productive, engaged, energetic, and resilient.

What does this mean for us as leaders?

It’s counter-intuitive.

The more we encourage our team members to socialize, the more motivated they feel and longer they can stay focused on task.

Then there’s this: the strength of the bond between manager and associate is the best predictor of the length of time people will stay at a company.  

When we think of the best leaders we have known, chances are they went out of their way to make us feel cared for.

Shawn shares some suggestions on what to do to strengthen the relationships in our life. It’s not rocket science:

Look people in the eye.

Be present. When someone enters, put your phone down and/or stop typing.

Be curious.  Ask questions.

Initiative conversations that aren’t always task oriented

Seek to learn one new thing each day about our colleagues

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Reflection:  What’s in the way of strengthening the important relationships in my life?

Action:  Prioritize people and relationships.  

44% of Doctors are Overweight?

That’s one of the more surprising facts Shawn Achor shares in his terrific book on positive psychology, The Happiness Advantage.

Knowing the right thing and doing the right thing are… two different things.

Aristotle tells us: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

So, how do we create good habits?

One strategy involves what Shawn refers to as “activation energy.”  The key is to lower the amount of energy required for the habits we want to adopt and raise it for the habits we want to avoid.  

Let’s say we want to stop spending so much time sitting on the couch channel surfing.  What if before walking out the door in the morning, we put the remote at the bottom of a box on the top shelf of our closet?  Seriously.  If our goal is to play the guitar more, what if we took the guitar out of its case and put it on the couch?

Voila.  More guitar.  Less TV.

The key is understanding the role of willpower. Turns out we only have so much each day. Our willpower is a finite resource: the more we use it, the less we have. As we go through our day, we encounter a stream of tasks that deplete it: saying no to the ice cream sandwich after lunch, staying focused during a 3-hour presentation, etc.  

To establish new habits, we want to take willpower out of the equation and make the new desired behavior the default option. By sleeping in his workout clothes and putting his running shoes next to his bed, Shawn shares he was able to increase his number of workouts.  Dramatically.

Here’s the kicker: “passive leisure” activities like watching TV and surfing the web are enjoyable and engaging for about 30-minutes, at which point they create what psychologists call “psychic entropy” – that listless feeling we all know so well.  

“Active leisure” activities like hobbies and sports engage our minds and our sense of enjoyment – but require more activation energy to get started.  

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Performance, asks: “Why would someone spend four times more time doing something that has less than half a chance of making us feel good?”

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Reflection:  Am I happy with the time I spend doing passive leisure activities vs. active leisure activities? 

Action: Select a goal where I want to make progress.  Take a specific step to “lower the activation energy.”

All or Nothing?

“You don’t understand, I want to run a marathon in a month…” said one of Shawn Achor‘s clients.  

This week we are looking at some of the key lessons to be learned from Shawn’s book The Happiness Advantage. We’ve probably walked (or in this case, run) in those shoes. We decide on a big goal and we want to achieve it now.  Right now. 

How’s that working out for us?

An all-or-nothing mindset often leads to failure. Instead, by focusing our efforts on small, manageable goals, we gain a feeling of control so crucial to high performance. By initially limiting the scope of our efforts, then watching these efforts work, we gain confidence to expand our efforts.

This idea is fundamental to Kaizan, the strategy Toyota uses to improve operational efficiency: each tiny fix adds up to over a million tiny fixes a year.  

In the 1990s, New York City reduced crime dramatically. Did they do it by hiring thousands of new police officers?  No.  Instead, they started by cleaning up subway graffiti, an example of the “Broken Windows” policing strategy where communities focus on the small things. As Shawn tells us, small successes can lead to major achievements.

We can use this approach in our lives as well.  When we feel overwhelmed, we can focus on small, micro-actions.  This allows us to build our confidence and motivates us to move forward in a positive direction.

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Reflection: When in the past have I used small actions over time to achieve a major goal?

Action: Consider a big project I’ve been putting off. Take a small step forward today.

Thinking about Thinking?

During the construction of St. Paul’s cathedral in London, British architect Sir Christopher Wren asked three men what they were doing.

The first replied, “I am cutting a piece of stone.” The second said: “I am earning five shillings two pence a day.”  The third man answered, “I am building a beautiful cathedral.” 

They were doing the exact same thing. But, one man had a job.  The second, a career.  The third man had a calling.

This week we are looking at some of the lessons from Shawn Achor‘s powerful book The Happiness Advantage, including: what’s more important: the facts, or how we think about the facts?  

Time and again, the research shows, it’s the latter.  As the story goes, while visiting NASA for the first time, President John F. Kennedy asked a janitor who was mopping the floor what he did.  “I’m helping send a man to the moon,” he replied.  

There are plenty of doctors who have a “job” and janitors who have a “calling.” 

How we think impacts not only ourselves, but others as well. In one study, elementary school teachers were told at the beginning of the school year which students were gifted. At the end of the year, the achievement tests confirmed this fact. The only problem: the students in the gifted group weren’t gifted. They were randomly chosen. The teacher’s beliefs had been unknowingly communicated and transformed into reality.

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Reflection:  Is there an aspect of my life that would benefit from “thinking about my thinking?”

Action: Challenge ourselves to think differently.

Do I consider myself lucky?

Turns out the answer to this question is a tremendous predictor of overall success.  

Why?

This week we’ve been looking at some of the key lessons of Shawn Achor‘s terrific book The Happiness Advantage which summarizes many of the tenants of positive psychology.

People who think of themselves as lucky:

* Set more (and more difficult) goals

* Put more effort into achieving those goals

* Stay more engaged when faced with difficulty

* Rise above obstacles more easily

It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy: because we think we are lucky, we work harder. When we see our hard work paying off, our belief in ourselves grows stronger.

Turns out one of biggest drivers of success is our belief that our behavior matters – that we have control of our future. Researchers call it an internal vs. external “locus of control:” my actions have a direct effect on outcome versus what happens to me is dictated by outside forces.

The reverse is true, too.  It’s called learned helplessness and it impacts not only our happiness but also our health. In one study of 7,400 workers, those who felt they had little control over deadlines imposed by others had a 50 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease. In another study, researchers asked a group of nursing home residents to take charge of watering their own plants and other similar tasks. Not only were they happier, but their mortality rate dropped in half.

What?  

Wow. 

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Reflection:  Do I consider myself lucky?  

Action: Intentionally take charge of one specific area of my life.  

What is the Tetris Effect?

I love this story…

It’s the early 1900’s and two shoe salesmen are sent to an undeveloped country to assess the opportunity. One sends a telegraph back home: “Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes.”

The other wires: “Glorious Opportunity. They don’t wear shoes!”

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor labels these patterns of thinking “The Tetris Effect” after the 1980s video game. The research shows (yes, someone studied this…), that if we play Tetris for multiple hours a day, we will notice geometric shapes wherever we go.  

And what exactly does this have to do with you and me?  

Everything.

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, tells us, “The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”

Essentially, if we become accustomed to scanning the environment for the negative, we will see negative things, a cognitive pattern that decreases our success rate, undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation.

Versus… 

When we scan for the positive, we benefit from three of important tools: happiness, gratitude, and optimism. The better we become at scanning the world for good things, the more good things we will see.  

One specific strategy we can use to help train our brain is keeping a gratitude journal. Once a day, write down three things you are grateful for and why. I’ve done this for more than nine years and I can tell you there are many benefits. Not only do I get to re-live the very best moments from yesterday (that’s cool!) but in time I began to scan the environment for things to be grateful for (hello, Tetris effect), and in the moment, I sometimes think – how cool is this?  I can’t wait to write about it tomorrow.  

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Reflection: Am I scanning the world for the negative or the positive?

Action:  Write down three things I am grateful for and why for 21 consecutive days.

Who’s happier? Lottery winners or paraplegics?

The answer is neither, according to the research of Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.

In his popular TED talk, Dan tells us that if it happened over three months ago,  major life traumas have little impact on our happiness.

In fact, his research shows external circumstances predict only 10% of our overall happiness. 

This week we’ve been looking at some of the lessons from Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage

One key takeaway: we are much more resilient than we realize. 

Shawn shares research that shows a majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer report an increase in spirituality, compassion for others, and eventually, overall life satisfaction.  

What?!?

And, following the horrific 2004 train bombings in Madrid, researchers found many residents experienced positive psychological growth. 

Our ability to persevere through trauma in many cases results in a greater sense of our strength and self-confidence as well as an appreciation for people and relationships.
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Reflection: In what ways might traumatic life events build strength?

Action: Think about a challenging event from my past, how I processed what happened, and how I feel about it now.

Turning Challenges into… Opportunities?

When faced with adversity, we can:

1. Get stuck (scientific term…) and circle around where we currently are

2. Make it Worse (we’ve all been there…)

3. View the setback as an opportunity for growth

This third path is one of life’s great success strategies.  Instead of being paralyzed by obstacles, we are energized by the challenge and seize the opportunity to grow. 

This week we are looking at some of the key lessons of Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage around how the brain works.  When we are stressed or in crisis, however, instead of rising up, too often we shut down.  

The question is: can we learn how to choose our response rather than react emotionally?   

Strategy one: Change the Counterfact.  Imagine for a moment…  I’m waiting in line at the bank, and an armed bank robber shows up.  Crap.  Not only that, but before we know it, I get shot…  in the arm.  Holy crap.  It hurts like Hell!  Of all the people in the bank, I’m the one who got shot?!?  Talk about THE worst day ever!!

Or…  

If I was hit three inches to the right, I’d be…

Dead.

So, which is true?  Both.  Being shot would certainly qualify as one of the worst days ever AND we would be fortunate to be alive.  So, where do we focus?  Strategy one is choose the better “counterfact.”

Strategy two: Change Our Explanatory Style: 

When faced with tragedy or adversity, we have a choice how we see things, Sheryl Sandberg writes in her powerful book, Option B which she wrote after her husband died.  Citing the research of Martin Seligman, she suggests we ask: do we personalize what has happened?  Is it pervasive?  And, will it be permanent?  

Option one: It’s my fault.  My whole life is awful.  And, it’s always going to be awful.

Option two: It’s not all my fault; it won’t impact every aspect of my life; and however bad this is, at some point, it will get likely better.    

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Reflection: Is it all my fault?  Does it impact all areas of my life?  Might it get better?  

Action: Choose a recent difficult situation.  Intentionally choose a different counter-fact. 

Name it to Tame it?

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares the research of Daniel Khaneman that shows us we don’t always act in rational, logical ways.  

When threatened, we are hard-wired to “fight or flight,” also known as “emotional high-jacking.”  This instinct serves us well when our house is on fire and we need to make a quick escape.  But not so much when our spouse makes a comment and we “fly off the handle” and give them “a piece of our mind.”  Two hours later, we find ourselves sleeping on the couch, feeling guilty and wishing we’d never said what we said.

To avoid this fate, we must get in between what happens to us and how we respond.  Steven Covey calls it “response-ability” – the ability to choose our response.  To insert ourselves in between the stimulus and our response.  But how do we actually do that?

In his book Leading Well from Within, Dr. Daniel Friedland shares a four steps to manage reactivity:  

Step one: Pause.  In other words, don’t react.  Slow down.  As best you can, release any resistance and relax into whatever you are feeling.

Step two: Take a breath.  Better yet, take three breaths.  You will likely notice your mind becoming clearer.

Step three: Name it to tame it.  The research shows “naming” your emotions shuts down our stress reactions almost instantly.  Naming engages the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain.

Step four: Consider your best response.

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Reflection: What are the specific situations in which I get triggered?  What are the patterns? 

Action:  Based on my answer above, anticipate and challenge myself to pause and take three breaths before responding.