Lewis Black is an angry man. Really. And really angry. I can relate.
He wasn’t always old. Neither was I. But now we both are. Black was angry when he was young though. You could argue that it’s his bit, his schtick. But I think it’s more than that. While I don’t approve of his profane delivery, I can appreciate that he’s being true to himself. Or so it seems. I’m always respectful of people who are congruent with who and what they really are. So you can understand how I feel about Lewis Black portraying himself as he really seems to be. I’ve watched him in enough interviews to know his angry, hopeless demeanor is more than an act. There’s a core element of truth to it. But that seems to be an element of comedy success…it has a ring of truth to it.
Last April, Black addressed the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. He was his usual irreverent, angry self. He was asked some questions during this presentations where he made a comment that serves as the title of today’s show.
“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.” ― Margaret Mitchell
This isn’t about Lewis Black. It’s about hope. But maybe more precisely, it’s about optimism because isn’t that what helps drive hope? Black is a self-proclaimed socialist influenced by his parents and his upbringing. My influences and upbringing were different so I’m not a socialist. I’m a capitalist. Even so, part of me understands his cynicism. The dictionary defines cynicism as “an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism.” Like hope and optimism, cynicism exists in varying degrees.
Thankfully, most of us are able to muster up a degree of hope. Even if we sit across from doctors who tell us they’ve done all they can do, many of us hang onto a degree of hope that they might be wrong. Or that things might go better for us than they say.
Hope, optimism and cynicism aren’t constants. They fluctuate wildly, often depending on external circumstances and influences. They’re also universal in that we all experience them to one degree or another. Lewis is wrong. Hope isn’t just a young man’s game. And I don’t think it should be. I have reasons for my beliefs, too.
Sitting in an English class in high school I was told one day by a teacher, “You’re too young to be so cynical.” I don’t remember what prompted her feedback, but I remember the comment. I didn’t take issue with her, but I did disagree with her. At the time I remember thinking, “Can you be too young to be cynical?” I don’t think so. Maybe she presupposed that my skepticism was stronger than it really was. I didn’t think so. I still don’t. Of course, today it’s based on extensive experience. Back in high school it was based on far less experience. I suspect that means it’s higher today than it was back then.
These aren’t precise concepts, or experiences. Or whatever else you’d call them. They’re often nebulous and vague. But at other times they’re more obvious and clear. They’re not the only feelings or emotions that work that way.
I don’t suffer anxiety attacks, but like anybody I can experience moments of anxiety. People I know who suffer anxiety attacks can sometimes pinpoint the cause, but many times they have no idea what sparked it. It just happens. Sometimes hope and optimism work the same way. They can ebb and flow often without reason. Or so it seems.
Hope and optimism can often work the same way. You’ve experienced it. Maybe at work. Things are clipping along just fine. You’re feeling pretty good. It’s a productive day. Until the phone rings or the intercom and you have a conversation with somebody not on your favorites list. Like your boss. Suddenly, your heart rate accelerates, your palms get sweaty and your mouth gets dry. And the day is now shot. All hope and optimism are lost! 😀
Among hope, optimism and expectation – isn’t expectation considered the most solid of the 3? Expecting something is different than hoping for something. It’s more concrete. It sorta says you’re going to be disappointed if it doesn’t happen because you really think it’s gonna happen. Hope says you’re wishing it would happen, but it doesn’t comment on how strong you believe it. You may hope you win the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes, but you don’t expect it to happen. You’re not even likely optimistic that it’ll happen.
So does that mean hope is wishful thinking?
No. Hope can be realized. It’s not some far fetched notion. But it likely depends on the odds of a thing happening, too, right? I mean if a couple gets pregnant they may hope for a boy. Well, there’s a 50% chance their hope will be realized. The odds are pretty good in that scenario.
The recent graduate applies to an exclusive master’s degree program that accepts only 30 students. In a typical fall semester 350 people apply for those 30 openings. Every student hopes to be among those selected. The numbers make the odds a longer shot than having a son versus a daughter. But you know some of those 350 students who apply expect to be chosen. They feel they have good enough grades and other resume positives to warrant them being selected over the others.
Hope isn’t just an element of age or experience as Lewis Black claims. Odds are involved. But here’s the real deal…YOU are involved. Your skill, your abilities, your situation — it’s all involved in hope, optimism and expectation.
We’ve all got stories of suicides – and I’m not talking about the mentally-ill driven variety. Stories of people who found themselves in difficult circumstances, often of their own doing, who lost all hope. Optimism gone. Expectations focused only on how much worse things might get.
I’m thinking of a business man some years ago who was embezzling money from his employer. He’d gotten himself into debt that he couldn’t handle. He made a bad choice. When he learned an audit was happening in order to figure out some odd-ball activities, he expected he’d be caught. Unable to face that, and the horrors it would cause his family, he decided a better option would be to drive to a remote location where he put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Safe to say he reached a place of hopelessness. But it was his fault. He put himself in that spot.
Hope, optimism and expectations involve YOU, but that doesn’t mean it’s just all you. In recent years quite a few people who were part of my life have died. Some of them after long illnesses. Some of them had an expectation they’d improve. Others knew they wouldn’t survive. Circumstances happen beyond our control, but it doesn’t rob us of our ability to control our reaction to them.
“I cut an inch off of every straw I see, just to make the world suck a little less. ” ― Jarod Kintz, This Book Has No Title
Every business guy knows the maxim, “Hope is not a strategy.” But we also know that at some time or another everybody has employed hope as a strategy. I know I have.
And we’ve all heard the adage that “you get what you expect.” Which may be mostly true, but maybe not. I’m not keeping a spreadsheet on mine, are you? It’s funny how many truths aren’t tracked. Even so, I am a believer in expectations. But I also believe in hope and optimism.
Tom Rath told a powerful story about expectations at the beginning of his book, Vital Friends. Chapter 1 is entitled, “Who expects you to be somebody?” Rath tells the story of asking an important question of a homeless man named Roger. “How did you end up on the streets?” asked Rath. Roger tells a sad story of losing his best friend at work, which spiraled him down a slope from which he couldn’t seem to recover. One night at a bar after work ended being every night at bar after work. Eventually, he lost his job and his family. He wasn’t an uneducated man. He was a working engineer in a mechanical engineering firm. But at 32 it was all lost.
His mom tried to help him, but eventually she realized it was beyond her control. Roger ended up living in his car until the parking tickets stacked up resulting in the car being impounded. Now Roger was officially homeless. That’s how he ended up on the street. Rath asked one last question, “Who expects you to be somebody?”
“Roger paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, “I don’t think anyone does anymore.”
Tell me expectations aren’t important. I’m a parent and now a grandparent. I can attest to the power of expectations on our children. Talk to any school administrator who gets it and you’ll hear the same thing. Kids who have no adults in their life that expect them to amount to anything…don’t amount to anything. Sure there are exceptions, but it’s not the rule.
We all have some experience in how expectations impact our own lives, too. It’s not that every expectation happens, but it’s funny to me how many I talk to and ask about this topic. I’ll hear things like this…
“More often than not, what I expected to happen happened.”
Maybe the exceptions are notable, but for many of us they’re still exceptions. I think Rath’s conversation with Roger demonstrate the power of expectations – and maybe the focus is on what others expect, but doesn’t that fuel our own expectations. A student with teachers who hold him accountable and encourage him performs well in the classroom. As their expectations grow, so do his. Success fuels more success. But Roger’s life proves that failure begets failure, too. It can take something remarkable to shift the tide in a different direction. Roger could have made other choices. The business man guilty of embezzling could have done better. They may have had their reasons, but they’re without excuse.
“My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
But must it be that way? Is hope only a young man’s game? I’ll go you one better, is hope really a game?
No. Hope is not a game. It’s part of every life. More so in some than others. And do any of us doubt that the life filled with hope, optimism and expectation is better than the one that is ruled by hopelessness, pessimism and no expectation?
“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau figured it out. There’s a benefit – compensation – in disappointment. We’re not fond of disappointment. We want better. We hope for better. But when better isn’t what we get, or when ridiculous failure is all we get, there’s still a benefit. It’s our responsibility to find it. To figure it out. I suspect Thoreau was right, it does require both stillness or quiet and preparation.
Sports teams learn to win. First, they lose. Maybe often. Some never do learn to win. Those who do must figure out the proper response to losing. They can wallow in self-pity and blame teammates, or coaches. They can decide they need to work smarter, putting in more time in the weight and film room, to better their performances. Disappointment and adversity can drive performance up or further down. Life lets us choose which it shall be.
Losing hope and optimism lowers our expectations. Our performances and circumstances often cause hope and optimism to wane. Sometimes it’s our fault, sometimes it’s not. Responding wisely is hard. Responding poorly is easy! But it’s a pay me now, or pay me later scenario. If we refuse to pay the price for a wise reaction to bad things happening, then we’ll pay a higher price later.
What can we do to improve our hope, optimism and expectation?
First, stop listening to everybody.
Okay, I know you don’t listen to everybody, but you listen to way too many. More isn’t better.
You’re afraid you’ll miss something. So what? What if you do miss something?
Yes, I’m talking about all this online noise. But offline noise is just as bad…it just doesn’t come at you at fast and furious. Forget news. Forget blog posts. Forget podcasts, even. Yes, even this one if you want. Your welfare matters more than this show. Judge content on how well it serves you. Or IF it serves you.
That’s not easy because it demands you view things through a more critical eye (and ear) than normal. Most of us just go through our day with a high degree of mindlessness. We have these habits that we maintain without really knowing why. It’s just what we do, and how we do it. Stop it.
Start paying attention to your habits instead of paying attention to people and their content. Figure out what works for you. Some people enjoy a crash diet where they kick everything to the curb. They opt out of all email lists they’re on. They unsubscribe to all the blogs and podcasts. They even purge their unopened inbox. It can be refreshing to declare digital bankruptcy. Reboot your digital life if you want. Or slowly cut out stuff with whatever strategy you want. It’s your life and you should take command of it so your habits serve you better. The goal is to improve your life – specifically, to find ways to improve your hope, optimism and expectation. Let’s make that “positive” expectation.
Philippians 4:8 New King James Version (NKJV) “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
It matters what we consume, and what we think about. Our daily habits determine our life. Period. It’s not magic or a mystery. We are what we do daily. Why is that so hard to figure out? Because we hope our wildest dreams come true without us having to put in the work even though many of us know it will never work. Funny how we can have such strong false hope, while real hope can evade us. What’s up with that? Cause we’re often crazy as a loon.
It’s one of life’s biggest ironies how we can find hope in the most useless places and strategies and be so hopeless with real opportunities. It’s distraction. Foolish distraction. When the outside world is so noisy we’ve got no chance to have a quiet mind capable of building hope. Or optimism and expectation.
I often ask people to tell me the last time they consumed something really remarkable — not even life changing, but something that made a strong impact on them that lasted more than a day. Most people can’t think of anything. A few will cite some book or some podcast or some video that they remember. But remembering something doesn’t necessarily make it remarkable. It’s just memorable and that’s good, but it doesn’t make it impactful enough to change or improve your life.
There’s overwhelming anecdotal evidence that very few of us do things. Put 100 people in a room and give them a concrete plan on how to do something, like lose weight, make money, be more productive…and it’s probable that no more than 3 of them will do something positive with it long enough to accomplish anything substantial. We hope we’re one of the 3, but hope isn’t what makes those 3 take action. It’s determination. It’s expectation realized. Meanwhile, the other 97 have moved on to listen to somebody else tell them what to do. Always learning, never doing. Always consuming, never following through.
Second, do something. Different.
Most of us have a rigid routine. We don’t consider ourselves being so rigorous in our routines, but when we look more closely it can be scary how predictable we are. To be fair, we need routine in our life. It keeps us sane, preventing us from having to labor over small decisions.
You likely get up in the morning and do exactly the same thing every day, in the same way and in the same order. I do. I get up, relieve my bladder and immediately brush my teeth. I can’t leave the bathroom without brushing my teeth first thing in the morning.
I’ll bet your breakfast routine is the same, too. And there’s likely not much variety to what you eat for breakfast — if you even do eat breakfast.
You drive to work the same route, unless traffic forces you to take a different course. You likely do most everything the same unless you’re forced to do otherwise. The same gas station gets our weekly visit to fill up. The same restaurants get our dining out dollars. The same shirts and other wardrobe items get cycled in a rotation that could be tracked if anybody paid really close attention. Thankfully, they don’t unless you wear the same thing twice in a single week.
It all seems innocent and mostly, it is. But it carries over into our work and our relationships. We do what we’ve always done because it’s comfortable and habitual. But what if it’s not working as well as we’d like. What if your marriage isn’t what you want? Do you really think you can keep doing what you’ve always done and suddenly, your marriage is going to improve? Deep down you know better! But still, you’re like all the rest of us, you hope for a different – an improved – outcome. You think things may improve with time even if nothing else changes. It never does.
You must do something different. We all must do something different if we want to improve. That includes increasing our hope, optimism and positive expectations. And the best way to increase those things is to experience greater success in whatever we’re chasing.
Early in my career one driving force caused me more problems than anything else — my constant quest to find a better way to do something. Sometimes I’d encounter resistance from people who didn’t see the point in disruption. “Leave well enough alone,” they might say. “But wouldn’t it be better if…” I’d retort. I quickly learned many people are disinterested in figuring out a better way. Not everybody is bent toward improvement, but you’re listening to this podcast – a podcast named Leaning Toward Wisdom – so I’m betting you’re not quite like everybody else. I figure you’re chasing improvements in some areas of your life. Everybody should be, but we’re special.
Now changing things up depends on what we’re talking about. Wardrobe changes, unless they’re drastic and inappropriate, don’t likely matter much. The risk and rewards are small compared to your marriage. Changes things to improve your marriage need sober thought, careful consideration and conversation with your spouse. So get busy. Change some things. Improve. Stop doing what you’ve always done. Start hoping and expecting something better by behaving differently — by doing things better!
Lastly, don’t just think about success or improvement, pursue it!
Now it’s time for bravery. And this step is no easier than the previous two. They’re all ridiculously hard.
Friends, family and co-workers will unknowingly (mostly) lure you back toward the center where mediocrity lives. That’s not where remarkable happens though. If you want to be remarkable you’ll have to veer away from the beaten path where the hoards travel. Remember, well-worn paths are occupied by the average. That’s why the crowd is there. It’s also why you need to do something different.
Figure out your next step. Some will tell you to craft a full-blown plan. If you want, do it. But I think it’s overblown as “the way to go.” You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know what will work and what won’t. I say give it your best shot by figuring out your one next step, then doing it. Then, figure out if it’s working to suit you or not. If it is, then figure out how to keep building on it. If it’s not working, then stop it and figure out another “next step.”
Here’s the important thing to remember: don’t act and just form a new habit that doesn’t work.
Too many people are exchanging one habit for another. They don’t improve. No increase in hope, optimism or positive expectations because they don’t experience any more success than before. But they fall into a new routine just as unproductive as all their past ones. Avoid that by committing to only hanging onto new habits that move you forward and make things better.
Gauge your action. How do you feel about it? What is your family seeing change? What about friends and co-workers? A major factor in figuring it out is to keep measuring your progress. Just don’t be fooled into thinking things are better because you’re doing something new – something different. Different can be better, but not necessarily.
Just today Jason Zook, founder of IWearYourShirt.com wrote an article for Inc. entitled, “It’s Not Luck, It’s You.” Zook doesn’t believe in luck. I do, but that doesn’t minimize his message or my agreement with most of his message. To disbelieve in luck is to disbelieve in outliers. Luck can be bad as much as it can be good. Outliers are real. Randomness and luck are part of the deal.
But luck – particularly good luck – isn’t a rule. Or the way to architect your life. Success takes work, and that’s the primary message of Zook’s article. There’s been a lot written about luck. Zook’s article just happens to be among the most recent.
Luck has this amazing ability to show up after all the hard work has been put in, and often times, after someone has lost hope that their effort will pay off. I believe that the only time so-called luck shows up is after you’ve gone far enough in whatever you’re working on that you deserve recognition on some level.
He believes luck is recognition of hard work. Mostly, I agree. And I agree because it’s the part of the equation YOU can control. It puts the responsibility on YOU and not on some randomness in the universe.
The illusion of luck can consume you if you’re not careful. If you buy into it, you’ll end up sitting idly on the sidelines, while the dedicated, hustling, hard-working people pass you by on their road to success.
Don’t hope for luck. Hope for your work to produce a better outcome. Be optimistic that if your current work won’t produce success, then the next work will. Expect to figure it out. Eventually. Expect success!
“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” ― William Faulkner
Welcome Inside The Yellow Studio. It’s yellow because it’s yellow. Duh.
Truth is, I love yellow, orange, red and hunter green. Those are among my favorite colors. I don’t have just one.
When I was 15 – yes, people, when I was young, living in Louisiana…you could get your driver’s license at 15 – I had a 1954 GMC pickup truck. It was an old truck some farmer had abandoned in a field.
My maternal grandfather bought it for $150 and got it running, then paid somebody a little bit to recover the seat in new vinyl. It was a “3-on-the-tree” transmission and I drove it back from Oklahoma, where my grandparents lived, all the way back to Louisiana.
No air conditioning. No radio. Bare bones classic truck in faded hunter green.
I loved it. So much that when I got it home a buddy and I painted it hunter green with orange fender flares. With a brush! And it looked good. Of course, it looked better if you were standing a few feet away. 😉
During high school I had great fun with that truck. My first “real” car was a Pontiac Lemans. It was “Sundance Orange” – that’s what GM called it. So orange was always a big player for me. So, why not The Orange Studio?
I never considered walls being orange. Frankly, it just seemed too dark and I wanted something lighter. I had a moment of clarity when the TV show HOUSE aired. His boss, Cuddy, had yellow walls in her office. Mustard yellow. The moment I saw Cuddy’s office I told my wife, “That’s the color I want to paint the walls.” She and Dena, a close friend, painted it after finding the right shade of yellow. So that’s how the name came to be.
Here are some details about the actual physical space:
– It’s a room about 13′ x 14.5′.
– There’s an adjoining bathroom.
– It has a small closet, filled with too many cables and other audio paraphernalia.
– It has 2 large windows with wooden slat shutters on the inside.
– It has an overhead florescent light, which rarely gets turned on.
– I have a 19″ Chinese lantern with an LED bulb inside that hangs overhead and serves as a poor man’s video light.
– There are 4 full height bookcases behind my desk (out of seen most of the time) filled with books.
– There are 3 other 5′ high bookcases in the studio, also filled with books.
– There is one 4′ high bookcase filled with books, and a Polk Audio HD clock radio, plus a 3 monkeys lamp (hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil).
– There is a CD carousel in the corner that houses 2000 CD’s with more stashed here and there.
– There’s one Hon 2-drawer lowboy filing cabinet (lateral files or regular – it can configured either way).
– There’s 3 chairs that can sit around the “broadcast table” which is actually a conference table.
– The floor is carpeted with a light green low plush carpet.
– The ceiling has popcorn texture circa 1980’s (yeah, I hate it but it’s a royal pain and major mess to change it).
– The room has one HVAC vent without a vent fixture to prevent any rattling. Air just drops into the room.
Here’s a list of the cool stuff (these are not affiliate links; I do have an affiliate list for most of my resources here):
• Herman Miller Mirra chair
• Apple iMac 27″ with i7 processor (16GB RAM / 1TB Hard Drive)
• Apple iPad Air (128GB with ATT capability)
• Ambrosia Wiretap Studio ($69 – I love it, but it doesn’t work on the latest Mac OS and you can’t get support, so do not buy it)
• Audio Hijack Pro by Rogue Amoeba
• Twisted Wave (my DAW of choice)
• Dialog by Wave Arts (my audio plugin of choice)
• Ambrosia Soundboard (sound cart software; this is $49)
• Sound Byte by Black Cat Systems (my main sound cart software; the interface isn’t as pretty as Soundboard, but I still rely on it more)
• ID3 Editor (to create ID tags)
• Transmit by Panic is my ftp program of choice
• Call Recorder by ECamm (the software I use to record Skype calls – when I don’t use Audio Hijack Pro)
*Watch an episode of Mixergy.com with Andrew Warner to see how this software records video Skype calls
• Edirol R-09HR digital recorder
• Broadcast Tools ProMix12 broadcast console/mixer
• Zoom H6 multi-track digital recorder
• Yamaha MG124C mixer
• Audio Technia AT2005 USB/XLR mic
• Heil Sound PR40 microphones (they’re my oldest pieces of gear)
• Heil Sound SM1 Shock Mounts
• Heil Sound PL2T Booms
• Heil Sound RS1 boom 12″ extension mount (for one mic; the other mic uses the C clamp)
• VAC pop filters for each PR40
• Heil Sound foam pop filter (I have one of these in case I want to take a PR40 out in the field to use; never happens, by the way)
• Giant Squid Cardioid Stereo mics (haven’t used them in forever ’cause they don’t work with my digital recorders)
• Electro-Voice RE50B microphones (I have two of these for field use, but they work equally well in the studio)
• Rode NTG-2 shotgun microphone (it’s a condenser requiring phantom power, but has battery power capability built right in)
• Aphex 230 Voice Channel Processors (one for each PR40 mic)
• TC Electronic Finalizer Express (a final processor that handles everything going through the board)
• Telos One Phone Hybrid
• PreSonus FP10 Firewire Interface (awful customer service; I would not buy these again)
• PreSonus FireStudioProject Firewire Interface
• Panamax power management
• Aphex Headpod 454 Headphone Amp (now called a HeadPod 4)
• Kensington Keyboards
• Sennheiser HD25-MKII headphones
• Kodak Zi8 HD video camera (made obsolete when the iPhone cameras began to set the standard)
• Audio Technica ATR3550 corded lapel microphone
• Logitech 1080p Webcam Pro C910
• Webcam Settings (an app that is terrific for managing webcam settings)
• ScreenFlow by Telestream (screen capture and video recording software)
• Camtasia For Mac (a great alternative to ScreenFlow)
• iMovie by Apple (also for some video recording)
• Apple QuickTime Pro (can record audio, video or screen capture)
• Camera Stabilizer (this is great; buy one if you don’t have one)
• Vonage VOIP phone service (this feeds the phone hybrid Inside The Yellow Studio)
• Apple AirPort Extreme (the old flat square version)
• Various hard drives back it all up (I’ve got two 3TB external drives)
• Toshiba 42″ HDTV on the wall – maybe my most used piece of gear 😉
• Lots of my gear came from the fine folks at BSWUSA.com (shout out to Kelley Sullivan; she’s been terrific to deal with through the years)
• Other pieces of gear came from Sweetwater.com (another shout out to Patrick Schaefer; contact him directly at (800) 222-4700 ext 1319).
• My two podcasts are HIGHER HUMAN PERFORMANCE (the rebranded podcast over at Bula Network) and of course, this one, LEANING TOWARD WISDOM.
And more often than not, others aren’t willing to help you see it more clearly. Sometimes it’s because people hate difficult conversations. Other times it’s because we figure it’s not our place to tell somebody they’ve got spinach in their teeth.
Never tell your problems to anyone…20% don’t care and the other 80% are glad you have them.” -Lou Holtz
Lou may not have the exact numbers, but he’s onto something truthful. What you don’t yet see…or what you don’t yet know is mostly of no concern to others. It’s your problem. So figure it out.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is, “Everything is hard, until it’s easy.”
We’ve all experienced it. Whether it’s learning something new or trying to solve some complex business problem. Figuring it out can take time. And over time, something hard suddenly becomes much easier.
In the NFL they talk about quarterbacks who need time to adjust to the speed of the professional game. Rookie quarterbacks are notorious for making bad choices because they don’t know what they don’t know. Troy Aikman’s rookie year here in Dallas was horrid.
Aikman started 11 games during his rookie season. He completed 155 of 293 passes for 1,749 yards, 9 TDs and 18 interceptions. Like many QBs, it was a difficult transition from college to the NFL as Aikman and the Cowboys went through tough times in 1989 to finish 1-15.
Over time Aikman would learn. He adjusted to the speed of the professional game. He figured out how to improve reading defenses more quickly, and more accurately. He learned how defenses were trying to mix him up, making him think he saw openings where none really existed. Like all good quarterbacks, Aikman put in tons of time and effort studying film. He gained valuable experience on the field and in the film room. Eventually, he benefited from that growth by seeing things he had been unable to see before.
Pattern recognition and exploring what’s possible – and probable – benefited Aikman in leading the Dallas Cowboys to 3 SuperBowl championships. Simply put, Troy Aikman figured it out. But first he had to fail.
Too much focus seems placed on failure. Not enough on learning. Sometimes they’re confused.
Failure is far too broad to characterize as necessarily useful. The employee who fails to complete an assignment because of his lack of diligence can hardly be said to be “learning.” He’s slothful. His neglect brought about the failure. Not all failure is worthwhile. Some of it is just idiotic. Self-induced idiocy.
On the other hand, the employee who completes the assignment with a non-traditional approach may be doing so out of creativity. Or rebellion. It’s important to know which.
Organizations have processes. Some are critical serving as fail-safe’s. Others aren’t quite so crucial and may allow a degree of wiggle room. If the employee has circumvented a critical process, short-cutting things in order to reach a desired goal…that may be a horrible thing, for both the organization and the employee. Rebellion can’t be misunderstood as innovation.
At the same time creativity and innovation may very well demand a certain amount of contrarian behavior. Finding new ways to do thing, figure things out – they often require fresh ways of viewing things. Seeing things differently.
It’s not always so easy to discern because almost all innovation stems from a degree of rebellion against the norm. How much tolerance your organization has is largely going to be determined by the senior executive team and the culture established. Every innovative organization I’ve seen has a degree of tolerance for creative rebellion, but an intolerance for rebellion that breaks trust.
Failure that results in accelerated learning is worthwhile. Troy Aikman’s losing seasons were the price required so he could figure out how to be an effective NFL quarterback. Meanwhile, he was putting in the work. He wasn’t partying like Johnny Manziel. Johnny Manziel is failing due to neglect and lack of effort. Troy didn’t.
If Troy Aikman had sat on the sidelines that first year it’s doubtful he would have become effective as quickly as he did. His growth would have been seriously stunted. He needed time in the gauntlet to figure things out. He needed to experience all the elements of the game in real time with live opponents, then he needed time to dissect the film so he could post mortem his performances. All the components of failing faster helped him see things he’d have seen otherwise.
I’m sure Troy often asked himself, “Am I ever going to figure this out?”
“Is it even possible that I can figure it out?”
When you’re failing self-doubt is common. Especially when you’re accustomed to success. You don’t know what you don’t know…until it becomes clear you don’t. Troy was successful in high school. And college, in spite of some up’s and down’s going from OU to UCLA and suffering a broken ankle along the way. Reaching your potential, exploring what’s possible for you and recognizing patterns to help you do all that — they often test your resolve and determination.
Pushing through this self-doubt stage is critical. Not everybody can do it. Some fall away and give up too soon. Time in the tunnel of failure is just too much for some. Success is mostly for those resilient enough to endure.
We don’t all learn at the same rate. An 18-year-old hockey phenom named Sidney Crosby entered the National Hockey League in 2005. He became the youngest player to ever earn 100 points in his rookie season (102 points). Crosby’s pattern recognition was extraordinary, proving that what’s possible when you can learn fast is equally extraordinary.
The reality is that neither Troy Aikman nor Sidney Crosby are typical. They are both outliers. Extraordinary. Remarkable. Anything but typical.
But at the professional level even these 2 great athletes weren’t on the same level. Sidney saw things at the NHL level almost instantly. Troy didn’t. Genius isn’t uniformly equal.
We’re not talking about savants or prodigies. They’re exceptional. We’re not likely so talented.
Most of us need some time to figure it out. Like that famous illustration that asks us whether we see a young lady or an old lady. We instantly see one or the other. It can take a second or third look to see the other lady.
But once we see it, we can’t avoid seeing it. Pattern recognition has kicked in and now it’s easier. It may even be easy.
Professionally, pattern recognition takes more than a second or third look. It can take years. And it may require lots of different experiences, depending on what we’re trying to learn or master.
Complex things can obviously be more demanding. But it can also depend on when we learn them. My oldest grandson has been in a Spanish immersion program at school since kindergarten. He’s half way through first grade and is already reasonably fluent in Spanish and English. By starting early he was able to compress the timeline required for his brain to recognize the patterns required to learn a new language. Within a couple of years he’ll be bi-lingual by anybody’s standard. That’s what’s possible.
I began my selling career – my business career – when I was just a kid. By the time I was 25 I was a decade in and had seen enough business challenges to recognize them quickly, and to figure out solutions quickly. That put me way ahead of my peers who only had a few years in the trenches. My experience was 3 to 4 times larger. I had 10 years of seeing what was possible, and seeing patterns for success and failure.
Fast forward 20 more years and now I had 35 years of seeing patterns and exploring what was possible. One day I remember commenting to a friend, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything I’ve not seen before.” I wasn’t being arrogant or pompous. I was being honest. It was the remark of an experienced business guy who had handled a variety of problems…so much so, that after awhile the problems just repeated themselves. So my boredom wasn’t in solving problems. It was in solving the same problems. I was ready for new problems. New challenges.
That’s what happens when you’ve done something for a long, long time. People call it “burn out.” It’s not always the result of burning out or being tired. It may be as simple as boredom or a lack of stimulus. Mundane, repetitive work can be found in the executive suite as easily as on the factory floor. Okay, maybe not as easily. Money whipped, bored executives can be found just as easily I’d imagine. Getting them to admit it might be tougher.
Those who claim to know have long urged us to take our vacations. To change our scenery and experience new places.
Because our routine, however exciting it may be at first, becomes…well, routine. Boring. The sameness overtakes the experiences we had when we were so desperately searching to see the patterns that evaded us earlier. A temporary change of pace and scenery can reinvigorate us, giving us the energy to return and keep searching for patterns.
Troy Aikman gained expertise. What was once very hard became easier. Then easy. Until age and injury started making it harder again. Not because he could no longer see the patterns, but because he could see them. He just couldn’t execute the plays required to exploit the opportunities he could recognize. It’s the paradox of success. By the time it becomes easy, it becomes hard again, but for different reasons. In Troy’s case, because the body starts to fail.
And thus began another journey, as a broadcaster. Again, Troy had to start over and work hard on his pattern recognition. The early days of his broadcasting career were stiff and cardboard-like. But over time, with the same dedication he had applied as an NFL quarterback, he figured it out. Today, with Joe Buck he’s part of Fox Sports number one football broadcasting team. It’s easy again.
Just like a vacation takes us out of the ordinary and puts us in a new place, it may be that our lives need some change in environment in order to continue growth. But it’s more than that.
It’s searching for what’s possible. It’s the never ending quest of getting better. Finding ways to improve.
It’s learning. It’s needing to learn something. It’s being in a position where you haven’t seen all the problems before. It’s venturing out beyond what you know. To a place where you don’t know. Or at least you’re unsure. It’s avoiding the trap so many fall into of being in a place where the refrain is, “That’s just the way it is.”