Author of the book ReVisionary Thinking Courtney Clark reads an excerpt from Chapter 1. Learn how to develop a “tolerance for ambiguity” that will help you be successful in uncertain and new situations. Tolerance for ambiguity is a key predictor of success even when you’re dealing with change.
How do you come up with GOOD solutions when you’re faced with a problem? There’s a simple, 2-word question you can ask that’s guaranteed to help you be more successful.
Courtney reads an excerpt from her upcoming book, ReVisionary Thinking, that includes a case study from Procter & Gamble’s product development team, and how they broke the mold by asking questions.
The book is on shelves May 17th, 2022!
Do you find it harder to maintain relationships when you can’t see friends face-to-face very often? Many people do, and the lack of in-person connections has made the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic difficult. Fewer parties and gatherings, quarantines and lockdowns, wondering who shares your same safety levels… it’s enough to make even the strongest friendships start to feel like they’re more of a “chore” than a gift.
But that’s a real problem.
Having people you can lean on has been scientifically linked to higher happiness levels and a lower risk of illness. So whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, whether you have 100 friends or just 2 BFFs, whether you prefer to talk to friend’s every day or only sporadically, friendships are important.
If you’ve been prioritizing health over friendships these past 2 years, that’s totally okay. But these 6 behaviors are important signs you need to spend a little more time with friends (even if it’s over Zoom!).
1. You Feel Burned Out
Burnout is a commonly misunderstood feeling. We often think of burnout as an extreme form of feeling busy, but burnout is in fact more closely related to a feeling of melancholy. Burnout comes from a lack of meaning and enthusiasm, not too much stress. Spending time with friends, doing something outside your regular work routine and home routine, can help reignite some missing excitement in your life.
2. Your Partner Repeats Six Little Words
If your partner says “you already told me about that” more than three times in a week, that’s a sign you’re missing another outlet. Most of us need more than one close confidante to bounce our thoughts and feelings off of, because different people provide different kinds of support and feedback. If you’ve been repeating stories to your partner (I’m so guilty of this!), you’re looking for a style of support you haven’t gotten. Time to phone a friend!
3. You’re Bingeing Netflix
Streaming service is a handy companion, but not as good as a real friend. Especially in a pandemic, and extra-especially in the winter when it’s cold, it’s easy to fall into a routine of hunkering down instead of reaching out to someone. But reruns aren’t old friends, even when they seem comforting. Instead of watching a fun show solo, can you recruit a friend to watch, too, and chat about it afterward?
4. You Feel Tired Thinking About Hanging Out
If thinking about being around your friends makes you feel excited but EXHAUSTED, that’s a sign you need more friend time. You’re out of practice of being social, so it feels overwhelming. But that’s not an excuse to avoid it (like exercise!) It just means you need to start slowly and build up your tolerance for human interaction.
5. You Start Friend Time With *This* Phrase…
The phrase “oh my gosh, what’s going on with you?!?!” sounds like a normal way to kick off conversation with a friend, right? Wrong. If you don’t even know enough to ask specific questions like “What’s going on with your new job?” or “How is little Olivia dealing with that difficult teacher?”, you’re too out of touch. This was my warning sign midway through last year, when it became obvious I hadn’t been doing a good enough job knowing even the basics of what my friends were struggling with or celebrating. We deserve to be able to lean on one another, but we can’t if we don’t know “what’s going on.”
6. You Don’t Miss Your Friends
If you’ve gone so long without seeing your friends that you don’t even feel sad about it, that’s the biggest warning sign of all. It’s a little bit like being hungry: early hunger is a gnawing pain in your stomach. But if you wait long enough without eating, the discomfort disappears. It’s like you aren’t even hungry anymore! But your body is still in need of food, you just ignored the pain so long that the warning sign went away. If you’ve stopped missing your friends (assuming the relationships are healthy and reciprocal!), you’ve gone way too long without support. Try sending a short text to a long-time friend, one of those who won’t bombard you with questions but will always be there to pick up where you left off.
Friendships serve a purpose in our lives, providing us with morale support, sounding boards, and even making us physically healthier. If you’ve been neglecting friendships, maybe it’s time to make them a little bit more of a priority. Not just for your sake, but because your friends need you, too.
Sure, they’re costly, noisy, and time-consuming. But home renovations can also get under your skin because they’re out of your control.
Here’s why doing a reno can be maddening (even when they’re exciting!), and some steps you can take to keep yourself calm during the demolition drama.
As the 2022 train pulls out of the station, one thing is clear: the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the workforce, possibly forever. Employees began resigning in droves early in the pandemic – dubbed the Great Resignation – and filling vacancies has been tricky ever since. Employee retention numbers still look bleak, and leaders are left wondering how to hire and maintain enough talent to complete the work that needs to get done.
One answer might lie in the concept of “adaptability.” Adaptability refers to a person’s willingness to change and adjust to the situation at hand. And many of us struggle with it. In a 2021 study I conducted of employees, 74% of respondents said they don’t feel able to “learn as they go” when presented with a challenge. That kind of cognitive inflexibility can easily make people feel more frustrated and less resilient.
When the word “flexibility” is mentioned in conversations about employee retention, it’s usually used to describe a workplace culture that accepts work-life balance. Employees can be flexible about when they arrive at work or leave, as long as they get their work done. Employee leave time could be less stringent, or work from home policies could be generous. Flexible policies are among the key perks leaders are told to use to attract and maintain team members.
But to really address the systemic employee retention issues, maybe the concept of flexibility needs to take on a broader meaning. Maybe the *humans* involved in the system need to be more flexible, not just the system.
By increasing individual adaptability in both team members and leadership, organizations may find their employees are better able to handle change, stress, and uncertainty without needing to quit. With increased flexibility and adaptability (what I call ReVisionary ThinkingTM), what previously seemed like brick walls for an organization can turn into navigable staircases.
Adaptability Counteracts Burnout
Burnout is a legitimate reason for employee turnover. Employees who are burned out are often not able to complete tasks or solve problems as well as non-burnt-out employees. But to adequately address burnout, we have to first address a fundamental misunderstanding about what burnout isn’t.
Most people incorrectly assume that burnout comes from being too busy (I admit to being one of them, before I did the research!). We tend to use “busy” and “burnt out” interchangeably to talk about stress. But they’re two very different concepts. Burnout specifically refers to a feeling of disengagement with the situation. It’s a shutting down that happens when your brain gets too overloaded. Burnout can certainly COME from being busy, but you can be busy without being burned out. The difference lies in motivation.
When employees feel motivated, they have a sense of purpose in their work. They understand how their tasks fit into the bigger picture of the problem their organization solves. These motivated employees don’t need to cling to “the way we’ve always done things,” because they understand that sometimes change, while uncomfortable, is necessary to move the entire organization forward.
On the other hand, employees who are stuck in their ways are more likely to experience burnout. The changes of the past 2 years feel overwhelming and unsurmountable.
In my 2021 study, we found 1 in 3 employees struggle to stay motivated when facing a challenging new problem. Those are the employees most at risk of burning out, because they don’t have the mental reserves to adapt and get on board with the “new normal.”
Adaptable Teams Have Adaptable Leaders
The onus for being flexible isn’t all on the individual contributors, though. Leadership plays an important role in building adaptability into the fabric of a team’s culture. A team can’t adapt unless they have an adaptable leader.
At some organizations, employees say they *would* have been comfortable with change, or even excited about it, but the change was handled in a way that meant the team wasn’t set up to succeed. Often, employees are being asked to change without being given the tools TO change. That may mean information, time, technology, or other resources were lacking, making the desired change nearly impossible. And in many cases, the transformation’s eventual failure is blamed on the employees’ inability to adopt the change, when in fact the change was doomed from the start.
Leaders who successfully lead through change make sure their employees have all the resources they need. How do they do that? They ask. They interview team members and other stakeholders to make sure the systems are in place to support the change as best as possible. The other secret bonus of asking? It’s only human nature to support what you help build. When leaders ask for input on the front end of the change, it’s more likely that those lower on the org chart will feel a sense of buy-in.
The Adaptable Employee
Higher pay and flexible hours will contribute a lot to workforce retention. Employees will naturally go where they are appreciated and rewarded.
But as we work to fill the workforce gaps, we should take a strong look at adaptability as a factor. Adaptable employees will be able to weather the uncertainty of our current situation. They will find purpose in their work, no matter their place in the company hierarchy. They’ll roll with the punches of 2022 and beyond.
For more information about my 2021 study and how you can increase adaptability in your team, visit CourtneyClark.com
You’ve seen toxic positivity: it’s the over-the-top optimism filled with an almost obsessively upbeat attitude. It’s “good vibes only!” and “always look on the bright side!” It’s the denial of struggle.
It’s a lie.
The trend of rah-rah “you can do it” positivity has been growing for several years, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. But in the past year-and-a-half, I’ve noticed toxic positivity creep into our lives in scary ways. It starts small:
“Things are a struggle right now, but I know a lot of people are struggling even more, so I don’t want to say anything.”
“It could be worse. At least I don’t have COVID.”
“I feel depressed. But what do I have to be depressed about?”
When we diminish our own struggles in comparison to other people, we’re giving toxic positivity a toehold. We start to think that unless our entire world is crumbling, we should be happy. And even worse – we let other people guilt us into a forced sense of optimism.
“Look on the bright side: at least you still have a job, some people lost everything.”
“Aw, cheer up. Life doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”
When I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time at age 26, people kept telling me “you’re so strong.” What was I supposed to say to that? I didn’t feel strong. I felt angry and scared and jealous of other people who had their health. What they were calling “strength” was really just me knowing I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other to survive. I didn’t have a choice.
Platitudes are nothing but guilt-trips wrapped in positivity paper.
And they would say “you’ve got this!” I know they were trying to help. I know they didn’t know what else to say. But now I know that forcing positivity on someone who is struggling can do more harm than good, because it’s isolating.
All these platitudes are nothing but guilt-trips wrapped in positivity paper. And the platitudes have been increasing since the pandemic. People are all over social media trying to find the benefits of the pandemic, like time to learn a new hobby, or more hours spent at home with family. Finding the bright side of this terrifying past year-and-a-half has become a badge of honor for the privileged.
It’s not *wrong* to find benefits in struggle. If that’s how you really feel, great! But when large numbers of people start to publicize and promote “finding the good” in something, what happens if you don’t agree? What happens if you feel crummy?
It’s like the emperor’s new clothes: you don’t want to speak up for fear of being ridiculed. Everybody else seems to have found the silver lining, so you don’t want to seem ungrateful for the good things you have. You don’t want to be shunned from the group dynamic, so you force yourself to participate.
Forcing positivity on someone who is struggling can do more harm than good.
And that’s when toxic positivity gets you. You don’t feel positive, but you fake it. You force it, because otherwise you worry people will judge you for being negative.
Having a positive attitude is an asset. It’s a good idea to build habits into your life that help you reflect, reframe, and feel gratitude. But having a positive attitude doesn’t mean you’re happy all the time. It means you can be sad when you should be sad, or disappointed when you should be disappointed, but that you’re able to balance those feelings with feelings of happiness when something happens that should make you happy. Being a real person means allowing both sides of your feelings to flourish.
True positivity isn’t forced. It’s not guilt-tripped or coerced. You can’t be shamed into it. You can only build it.
In 2022, maybe our culture can stop rejecting feelings of negativity as shameful. Feeling bad doesn’t make you a bad person, especially in times like these. Let’s reject toxic positivity and start appreciating the messy, up-and-down nature of true positivity. It’s not as meme-able, but at least it’s real.
There’s a reason you don’t enjoy getting feedback (and it isn’t because you have a big ego!) It’s because feedback challenges your mental concept of yourself.
Here’s what you need to know to be a little more flexible and get better at receiving feedback.
When I married my husband, he was really good cook. I could feed myself but I was not (okay, I still am not!) what anyone would call a really good cook. I am the person who lit the toaster oven on fire when I was in college! Apparently, too much cheese dripped down into the coils. But the good news is I learned how to use a fire extinguisher that day! That’s a life skill.
When my husband and I got engaged, I thought, “I am going to learn how to cook. I think that would be a good skill for me to have. I’m going to learn how to cook.” I started taking cooking classes. I learned how to roast a chicken. I learned how to hold my knives, learned the most efficient way to chop an onion. I felt like a real grown up. My cooking got incrementally better with practice, but it was still just… okay. I was practicing all the time – I worked fewer hours than he was, so I’d pull out the Cooking Light magazine and cook us dinner most nights a week. He’d cook about once a week, and his food was just better than mine. Significantly better. He was so confident in kitchen, and his food was so full of flavor.
And then we went on our honeymoon.
We ended up in Italy, where I ate 5 meals a day, 4 of them pasta. Our first Sunday home after we got back from Rome, we were grocery shopping. There, at the checkout, was a copy of Gourmet Magazine: “The Pasta Issue.” And the photo on the cover was of penne salsiccia, which I’d had a LOT of in Italy. I thought to myself, “Oh, this is a sign.” I threw that magazine down on the conveyor belt and committed to reading it cover to cover.
The next Sunday, I had my grocery list ready. I was going to make that Penne Salsiccia from the cover. I was so excited. My husband and I were going around the grocery store shopping. We pick up the sausage. We pick up the cheese. I grab the heavy whipping cream. It was when I was putting the heavy whipping cream in the cart that he looks at all the heavy ingredients, looks back at me and he goes, “Is this from Cooking Light?”. Since that’s where almost all of my recipes came from, he was surprised.
I said, “No, this is not from Cooking Light. This is from that gourmet magazine. We’re going to make real Italian pasta like we had on our honeymoon.”
That evening, I was so excited to get started.
6pm. I’m starting dinner. This recipe calls for VERY expensive, very fragile threads of Saffron to be soaked in water. I’m trying not to panic.
6:28. I’m trying not to scald the heavy whipping cream in the pan.
6:47. I’m trying not to overcook the pasta
6:52. I carry the plates out to the table. I set them down with a deep breath. For a moment I consider letting my husband take the first bite and tell me what he thinks but then I think FORGET THAT THIS WAS MY IDEA I MADE THIS MEAL. I put the bite in my mouth and I turn to my husband in shock.
I can’t believe what I’m tasting.
“I don’t stink at cooking! Cooking Light must stink at cooking! Because I. am. AMAZING” I would have said more but I needed to use my mouth for the important work of eating my phenomenal pasta.
Here’s what I realized: I had a materials problem. I had been trying for years to solve it with more skills training.
I’m sure nothing like that has ever happened to you has it? No workplace of yours would EVER try to solve a materials problem with more skills training, right? <wink, wink>.
But that’s what happens when we jump to solve a problem too quickly, “Oh, I know what the problem is. I know what the problem is.” Action bias is a common impulse. It’s a feeling of being compelled to act quickly and solve a problem, and psychologists think it happens in order to regain a sense of control over a situation. There’s a cultural conditioning that can occur, where we learn as children to favor action over waiting, because waiting could be interpreted as “laziness” or “indecisiveness.” So action bias isn’t just internal – there’s a lot of societal pressure to take action! In some cases, we can even be rewarded tangibly for being the kind of person who leaps to action and solves problems quickly.
If we want to thrive and be successful in an uncertain environment (like we’re all in in 2021!), we need to give ourselves time to experiment. Time to think about what the problem could really be and what else we could really do about it so that we’re certain we get to the right answer. If the past two years have given us anything, it’s the opportunity to take a moment to make sure that we’re solving problems the right way and not the wrong way.
Employees who have been around awhile can struggle with change. It’s harder to let go of “the way we’ve always done it,” when it’s been a long time.
But older employees don’t struggle with ALL of the change process, just that first step of letting go. Seasoned employees bring many benefits to the change process, including making successful decisions on how to move forward.
My research showed some surprising strengths that older employees have when dealing with change. If you’ve been in your position awhile, or you manage a seasoned work force, check this out!