Orchids are considered to be beautiful. They are known for being extremely difficult to grow. They are prized, as much for their beauty as for the effort it requires to grow them.
Weeds can also be beautiful. They will grow virtually anywhere. They are tenacious. You hardly need to do anything to get them to grow. Until someone points a finger and says, “Weed!”, most people find them attractive.
Orchids are the divas of the flower world. If you treat them just right, you will have a beautiful flower. Weeds simply go about their business, growing wherever the seeds land.
Which one are you? Are you the high maintenance employee, only able to function and produce if all aspects of your work environment are just right? Or are you more like a weed, able to plug in wherever you find yourself and produce despite a less than ideal environment?
Both have value. As for me, I prefer working with weeds. Let the divas, the orchids, have their pristine working conditions. Let them sit there and revel in their own reflection. Give me the weeds, the doers, the people for whom no job is below them, people who simply want to get stuff done.
Which inspires you more, the chance to win a trophy, or the threat of having to wear a dunce cap?
I have seen both used in the office as a means to motivate people toward a particular behavior.
For many years, I ran teams responsible for network operations. As you know, when the network goes down, everything comes to a grinding halt. Printers don’t print, files don’t load, and email doesn’t send. In my experience, the most likely cause of the biggest network outages was human error. Yes, equipment fails. But, the impact of a single piece of equipment failing in a well-designed network is typically a minor inconvenience when compared to the breadth of what a person typing a command wrong can do to the overall system.
How to address this? Trophy or dunce cap?
One particular team started a practice of “donut violations.” If an individual did something that caused a network outage, that person was responsible for bringing donuts the next day as punishment. While this had an element of fun, it did not reduce the number of outages. In fact, in some cases, people started hoping someone else on the team would make a mistake so they could have donuts. Clearly not what we had intended.
We changed this model to make the donuts a reward, a trophy, for NOT causing outages. We started a 30-day clock. If the team made it to the end of 30 days without an outage, management was responsible for bringing the donuts. This had the impact of rallying the team together toward a common goal. Not only would they get donuts, but their managers had to buy them.
Are you using a dunce cap to get a particular result? Is it working? If not, is there a way you can turn that around to become a trophy instead?
Have you ever run in a big community road race? You know the ones I’m talking about. They often have names like “Race For The Cure”, “Memorial Day Fun Run”, “Blue Ridge 5K”, etc. When you participate in these events, with whom do you compete? If you’re like most of my friends who do these, the answer is typically, “Myself.” And that strikes me as entirely the right answer.
When we are at work and striving to do our best, why do we insist on comparing ourselves to everyone else around us? Why do we find it so difficult to compete only with ourselves?
A few years ago, a ventriloquist friend of mine became extremely sick with an infection. He asked me to fill in for him at an event where he was booked to perform. This was an annual event he had been doing for many years. I was honored to cover for him. When I got to the event, it was clear that my friend had attained rock star status with the people there. That’s when my mind started spinning. How could I do this? These people love my friend. My act is very different. Would they throw things at me?
I was sharing the stage with another entertainer. He realized I was starting to freak out. He gave me a piece of advice to calm me down. He said, simply, “Do your show.” In other words, don’t try to be my friend, don’t try to mimic him. Just do my show – the one my friend knew I was capable of doing, the show that caused my friend to have the confidence to ask me to cover for him.
Such a simple concept. And yet many of us struggle with it.
Do your own show. Run your own race. Do your own work.
The next time you start to compare yourself against those around you, pause, look in the mirror, and acknowledge the competitor that matters the most.
Which demons are you fighting today? Today, the demons in my head are having a party. Their revelry is in full swing. They will not be squelched.
Some days my demons move me to action. They provide a worthy adversary, prodding me into battle. They serve a useful purpose. Other days, they cause me to completely shut down, leaving me unable to do the simplest of tasks, eager for the end of another work day. If their purpose is useful, I’m not seeing it. Today is one of those days.
I know the source of this particular passel of demons. It is a deeply personal issue. The details are less important than the depth of their impact. You have likely experienced your own demons of this nature. Perhaps you are fighting them at this very moment. These demons are all-consuming. They will not be silenced. In the moment, they seem unbeatable.
I do not know how to conquer these particular demons. I’m not sure that victory over them is possible. I don’t even know whether victory is the right outcome. Perhaps the point is the battle itself, forcing us to consider the questions they raise.
But, I do know that tomorrow will come, with or without them. And that gives me hope. Hope that at the very least, I will get out of bed again tomorrow and maybe discover a new approach. Hope that maybe tomorrow these demons will be tired of their revelry, leaving me to get back to my work. Hope that on another day the questions they raise will make more sense.
Which demons are you fighting today? Are they spurring you on to action? Providing you with something challenging to push against? Or are they shutting you down?
Beware being absorbed by the dark side. Remember that tomorrow will come. Each day brings a new hope.