Accept People as Facts

In the classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are – or, as we are conditioned to see it.” I often think about this truth and have definitely seen it manifest in my life.

We each bring different life experiences to the interactions we have. These life experiences are the lens through which we see the world around us. This can be frustrating especially when we experience interactions very differently from other people. We tend to believe that the way we see things is correct and true while others are diluted and lack our understanding. I am beginning to see how this approach to interactions is problematic and stifles my growth. I am continually frustrated and agitated when trying to conform others to my way of thinking. When I push to hard to change others I either end up more frustrated or alienate them. Instead, I need to learn to accept people as facts.

Robert Greene writes about this in his new book The Laws of Human Nature. He writes, “The problem is that we are continually judging people, wishing they were something that they are not. We want to change them.” Instead, the approach we should take is to accept people for who they are.

There are years of life and experiences that have gone into shaping a person into who you see before you today. Why insist that one conversation with you or I will change them? That is unrealistic. It is true that people are not rational but the same can be said about you or I now and again. As Greene says “Work with what they give you, instead of resisting and trying to change them…You will stop projecting your own emotions on to them. All of this will give you more balance and calmness, more mental space for thinking.” It helps to remind yourself that everyone is striving for fulfillment in his or her life. It is possible they are doing so irrationally, however, they do not think so at this moment. Work with what they present to you instead of working yourself into frustration and creating a gap between you.

Ego Is The Enemy

Like many of the books I read, I picked up and read Ego Is The Enemy after hearing about it from multiple sources. I first heard about it from a friend about 8-9 months ago. Last weekend an acquaintance mentioned it and this time the topic struck a chord with me. I have found reading books based on inspiration in a particular season of life is the best way to find the most useful applications. This book did not disappoint me.

Ryan Holiday conveniently splits the book into 3 parts: Aspire, Success, and Failure. He shows how ego can destroy us in each of these phases. Holiday also weaves in stories from historical figures, currently successful people, and his personal life to illustrate the points he makes.

Aspire

Passion

Aspiring is all about the journey from obscurity to success and what you do to get there. Passion is typically seen as a good trait. We recognize it in people who tell us all about the things they intend to accomplish, often very convincingly. However, when it comes to showing actual progress there often isn’t any. Why? Because you can be busy with intentions without actually accomplishing anything. This is what Holiday calls the “passion paradox.”

I am no better. I fall prey to this all the time whether it is imagining to myself all the books I will read, telling my friends about all the miles I will run, or telling my co-workers about all the work I plan to complete. Passion tends to cause us to overestimate what we can accomplish in the future but underestimate what we can accomplish right now. We always seem to have far less time than we imagined.

The Canvas Strategy

The canvas strategy is all about making other people look good and be good by providing support for them.

“Find canvases for other people to paint on.”

“It means you’re the least important person in the room – until you change that with results.”

“Say little, do much.”

“…the person who clears the path ultimately controls its direction, just as the canvas shapes the painting.”

My struggle with this is that I often want recognition and reward now. It is hard to sit back and let someone else take credit for my idea. My ego causes me to think short-term rather than planning for the long run. As Holiday says “Let others take their credit on credit, while you defer and earn interest on the principal.”

Work, Work, Work

So what should we do? Henry Ford said “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” My ego wants the fact that I aspire, plan, and have great ideas to count toward success. This doesn’t work. I have to sit down, delay gratification, and put in the hours. This isn’t sexy and popular in the short term but pays off in the long run.

Success

Always Stay A Student

“An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.”

As soon as you believe you already know everything, you stop learning anything new. To maintain success and excellence we have to continue being a student. It can be easy to fall in the trap of believing you have arrived. But what got you there? Unless your success is a flash in the pan, it took hard work, effort, and persistence over a long period of time. This effort does not end once you become successful. This point also reminds me of Carol Dweck’s work and book Mindset which delineates between 2 different mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. With a fixed mindset we feel our intelligence is fixed and are obliged to prove how smart we are. Someone with a growth mindset knows they have deficiencies but strives to learn and grow. They don’t need to prove how smart they are because they are in the process of “becoming.” I personally don’t always get this right and often fall into a fixed mindset, however, I am applying this to my life and want to cultivate being a learner.

Managing Yourself

“As you become successful in your own field, your responsibilities may begin to change. Days become less and less about doing and more and more about making decisions. Such is the nature of leadership.”

Although I have received a few promotions, I would not say I have arrived in my field of engineering. I still have a lot to learn with regard to technical skills and will always be honing my leadership skills. I have definitely found the quote above to be true. Before I was given the opportunity to take more responsibility, I would be given a task or direction, and could focus solely on that thing. I did not have a lot of influence in the office so I was rarely interrupted and I was not communicating directly with clients so my phone calls were few. As time has gone on, however, I have gained more influence, built more trust, and taken on more responsibility. These days I may have 4-5 things going on at one time and be delegating work to the younger engineers. If I don’t learn to cope with this effectively as time goes on, it will be very easy to become overloaded. I am learning to steer the ship and delegate the other tasks.

Failure

We are all bound to fail at some point. We can do everything right and still get into trouble. Since we all fail, it’s not so much a matter of if it comes, but when it does, how do we respond? Holiday points out that often when we fail we lack the ability to examine ourselves and figure out what behavior led to our failure. We have to learn to invest our time and energy into habits and patterns that will fix our trouble, not lead us to make the same mistake later.

I found Holiday’s book very helpful and practical. I appreciate the way it is organized in a very simple way and easy to follow. If we are honest, pride and ego are traits that we all struggle with on some level. I found that after reading this book I walked away with tools to fight the ego that so often crops up in my life and hinders me from making an impact and being successful.

Blink

It can be difficult to distill a book into a few main ideas. I find it particularly difficult to distill Malcolm Gladwell’s books because of all of the stories and anecdotes interwoven throughout the book. For me, this style is what makes him an expert storyteller; however, it makes it difficult to pull out main ideas without retelling all of the stories.

The basic premise of Gladwell’s book Blink is to investigate how people make decisions and judgments. We basically rely on 2 different strategies to make sense of situations: conscious and unconscious. The conscious strategy relies on logic, knowledge, and works slowly, whereas our unconscious strategy happens quickly and under the surface. In general we tend to think that to make good decisions we must gather as much information as possible and take as much time as possible to reach the best decision. Gladwell shows that this isn’t always the case and that decisions made quickly can be as good as those made slowly.

Thin-slicing

Thin-slicing is a persons ability to unconsciously recognize patterns in situations and behaviors in a very short amount of time or slice of an experience. An experiment that Gladwell references to illustrate thin-slicing involved developing a “personality workup” on 80 college students and then seeing how closely their friends could measure their personality in a questionnaire versus complete strangers. The strangers were only allowed 15 minutes to look around in the college students’ dorm rooms. On the whole, the strangers were a bit more accurate. This experiment shows that you can often learn a lot more from a private space than from the image people display. By only being exposed to a “thin slice” of an experience with the students, the strangers did not have the distractions or confusing and irrelevant information that comes along with knowing someone personally.

Rapid Cognition Gone Wrong

Although thin-slicing and first impressions can often reveal more than we imagine, there are times when rapid cognition leads us in the wrong direction. The example that Gladwell provides is president Warren Harding. The impression people got of him was that he was handsome and distinguished-looking, therefore, he must be intelligent and a man of integrity. Gladwell describes Harding’s path to presidency but the general idea was that he advanced not because of his political or leadership abilities but because he looked like a good president. The general consensus from historians is that he was “…one of the worst presidents in American History.”

The truth is that our first impressions and snap judgments are driven by our experiences and environment. The only way to change our impression on race, for instance, is to change the experiences and environment we live which creates a negative impression.

Effective Rapid Cognition

It is true that rapid cognition can lead us astray due to our previous experiences, but it is also true that sometimes it is a person’s experience and intuition that allows them to make a good decisions in a high stress situation. Gladwell mentions Gary Klein’s study of nurses and firefighters who often have to make decisions under lots of pressure. There simply isn’t enough time to systematically and logically go through all the data. These decisions have to be made quickly and are often based on experience. Good decisions made under high pressure are not random but stem from good training, following rules, and doing rehearsals. Someone inexperienced without a lot of training that is forced to make a decision under high stress will confront more information than his or her unconscious is comfortable with and this is paralyzing. The trick is to eliminate all the extra information and focus only on what is important.

High Stress Effects on Decisions

Good decisions can be made under high stress situations; however, there are limits to this. Gladwell mentions a former army lieutenant named Dave Grossman who argues that the best performance occurs when a person’s heart rate is in the range of 115-145 beats per minute. What happens above this range? Gladwell uses stories of high speed police chases and shootings to illustrate this idea. When a cop is in a fast-paced, high stress, situation after a high-speed chase it is easy to understand how they wouldn’t be in the optimal mindset for decision-making. Cops in these situations tend to display “temporary autism” and lose their ability to take in details. Their thinking narrows, their mind becomes very rigid, and all additional evidence or factors don’t register in their mind. This tends to lead to low-quality intuitive reactions, which rely on stereotypes, bias, and prejudices.

In this book Gladwell gives a very thoughtful presentation how people think and make decisions. He shows how thin-slicing and rapid cognition can lead to effective decisions which cut out all the clutter. On the other hand, he also shows how high stress situations can have disastrous effects on our decisions. If you want to read good stories interwoven with thoughtful information that will make you think, this is the book for you.