As you are now deep in the season of writing your applications to graduate school, I just wanted to touch base and say hello. I can still remember that process like it was yesterday. Before there were electronic applications, you had to create piles for each school just to keep it all straight. I had lots of piles in a room in my house, that each represented a school, my essay about why I belonged there, my letters of recommendation, and the basic applications. It was a challenging process, but at the same time, it taught me so much about myself. Both the application process and the weeding out process (for me and the schools) taught me a lot about how I show up when something matters to me, what I value in graduate school, how I view research in the context of organizations, and how I deal with both acceptance and rejection. It was a challenging time, but a really important time. I remember celebrating the acceptance letters I wanted, rolling my eyes at the acceptance letters I didn’t want, being frustrated by the rejection letters I didn’t want, and being equally frustrated by the schools that rejected me that I didn’t want to go to anyway (because maybe they should have known betterJ).
In all the feelings that will come to you over the coming weeks and months, I hope that this will be a time of great insight. Insight about the schools to which you’ve applied, insight about what you want, insight about what you would sacrifice, and insight about who you are, where you excel, and insight about why you are.
Whether you end up at Seattle Pacific University studying Industrial/Organizational Psychology, or somewhere else, may this be an incredible time of blessing and learning for you and for those close to you.
Everyone has pivotal moments in their lives. In my sophomore year of college, my college advisor connected me with a professor in the business school who had a degree in industrial/organizational psychology, a new career direction that I was pretty sure was the one for me. I met with this professor and twenty minutes into the meeting he commented, “What you really need is an internship – just a minute.” He turned around, picked up the phone, talked for a few minutes, and then handed the phone to me. I said hello and before I knew it, I had an interview the following week with Lise Saari, a research scientist in industrial/organizational psychology. That conversation led to a one-year internship and a three-year job at a research institute. After I finished my doctoral training, Lise was offered me a job back in Seattle to work for her at The Boeing Company. All of this happened because of one conversation and one phone call. A colleague of mine tells a similar story. When she was in college, one of her term papers came back with a note from the professor in the margin stating, “Don’t write like this when you go to graduate school.” Her reaction? “He thinks I can go to graduate school!” And, that little comment scrawled in the margin opened up possibilities she had never considered and changed the direction of her life.
What do I believe? I believe that inflection points happen all of the time. A new story is always waiting to emerge. We just miss most of them. Every day, the road divides and we decide which one we want to take. Susan Scott writes in her book Fierce Conversations, “While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a career, a business, a marriage, or a life, any single conversation can.” Change might be just around the corner.
Now, sometimes we know we’re at a point. We ask someone to marry us, a pregnancy test comes back positive, we accept a job that will move us across the country. Sometimes the choices are small, but add up over time – do we work late or get home for dinner on time? Sometimes we know that the stakes are high. We take the leap. We proceed on faith, hoping that the future will be kind to us, and we will survive. I begin writing a book hoping that the hundreds of hours it will take aren’t wasted of time.
Our own reflection points are important, but maybe the greatest moments are when we have the privilege of being pivotal points for others. I’m sure that you know some people in your life who are those people. I do. Remember that professor who connected me with my first internship? Remember the professor who wrote that comment about graduate school on my colleague’s paper? It was the same person. Before you dismiss this, let me add one more fact – my colleague went to school in Illinois and I went to school in Seattle. We didn’t know each other until we met fifteen years later. The only thing in common in these two stories was the person, Doug McKenna, who connected with both of us in a way that opened new horizons in our lives.
We all have reflection points in our lives. The question then becomes, how do we take advantage of them? Albert Bandura, a famous social psychologist, wrote a now classic article called, “The psychology of chance encounters and life paths” where he made the point that we can never control the chance encounters in our lives, but we can influence how much impact that they will have on us. Two-thousand years earlier, Seneca, the Roman philosopher wrote, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Is this true? Mounting evidences suggests that it is. There aren’t many female orchestra conductors in the world, but there are a few. To find out what made the difference in their careers, researchers interviewed several of them to figure out what made the difference. They found that chance did play a role in their lives, but so did something the author called pseudoserendipity, accidentally finding something that you were seeking – where preparedness meets chance. The women who eventually became orchestra conductors were ready when opportunity presented itself. What made the difference? Strong skills, self-confidence, a willingness to take risks, hard work, a drive to succeed, optimism, social support and a bias to seek out opportunities.
Reflect on the pivot points in your life. What have been some of the pivotal moments in your life? Make a list of at least five of the moments in your life when everything changed. It might have been a conversation that you had, a decision you made, or a life-changing moment in your journey. Now, select two of the positive inflection points. Now, take some time to think about what made the difference – What about you allowed them to become such defining moments in your life? After all, they might not have been inflection points for someone else.
Set yourself up for success. Look back over what you just wrote. How can you use those same skills to prepare yourself for your next big leap? Just for fun, picture a significant goal that you would like to accomplish in the next five years (a dream you would like to pursue, a new career direction, a change in your life’s priorities). How can you apply the strategies you identified above to prepare for this future opportunity? What is a small step you can take today to start moving toward that goal?
Do a little detective work. Have lunch with a couple of friends. Ask them to tell you about some of the pivotal moments in their lives. Find out what made the difference for them; that is, what prepared them so they could take advantageous of the opportunities when they emerged?
Remember the people who made a difference in your life. Who have been the people in your life who became inflection points? What did they do for you? Have you ever said thank you?
Become an inflection point for others. Think about how you can be the kind of person who makes a difference in the lives of the people who bump into you. Set aside a day and practice being that kind of person. Practice being the kind of person who Look for the potential in others. Be the kind of person who energizes and brings life to others.
 Bandura, A. (1982). The psychology of chance encounters and life paths. American Psychologist, 37, 747-755.
 Diaz, C. L., Serendipity and pseudoserendiptity in career paths of successful women: Orchestra conductors. Creativity Research Journal, 16(2/3), 345-356. See also Williams, E. N., Soeprapto, E., Like, K., Touradji, P., Hess, S., & Hill, C. E. (1998). Perceptions of serendipity: Career paths of prominent academic women in counseling psychology. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 45. 379-389.
For this blog, I decided to step back and ask myself a bigger question,
“If I could only have one blog entry on motivation,
what is the one thing I would want to pass on to others?”
So this is it—this, I think, is about the best that I have. I think that everyone should have a short list of 5-10 powerful questions they can ask themselves every day. They don’t need to ask all of them every day, but they should choose at least one every morning.
Here’s the thing—they can’t be just any questions because all questions are not created equal. In my experience, the most motivating questions tend to be appreciative inquiry questions; that is, they trigger possibility, optimism, and energy. Really good appreciative inquiry questions don’t ignore difficulty, but they focus on the possibility on the other side. Life is possibility to live into, not a problem to be solved. They talk about difficulties, but focus on what you can draw upon within yourself to navigate through the situation.
Here are the ten questions on my list:
I don’t ask all of the questions every day, but choose one or two each morning. I also pull the list up when I’m feeling scattered or need some focus in my life. They seem to cut through the chatter and noise. They ground me.
To create your own list of provocative questions, one thing I would suggest is that you read people who know how to ask a really good question, one that cuts to the very heart of your identity and leaves you excited to live that truth. Two books that do that for me are The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (1992) and The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block (2002). I’m sure there are others.
There are five criteria that will be helpful as you think about your list provocative questions. Look for questions that:
Below is a list of questions that I have collected over the years from various sources. Some will be powerful catalysts for you; others won’t. Look for the 5-7 questions that are most powerful for you. These will be the questions that excite you and put you at the edge of yourself at exactly the same time. You’re likely to say to yourself, “Okay, if I’m honest with myself, here is the real truth that actually is a little painful to admit. So, how come I also feel more energy?” One word of caution, as you are putting together your list, make sure you ignore any questions you think should be on your list; only include the ones you want on your list.
Feel free to use the comments section to include some of your own questions and/or any book recommendations you might have!
 Some of these are my criteria but also see Watkins, J. M., & Mohr, B. J. (2001). Appreciative inquiry: Change at the speed of imagination. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer. See p. 141.
If you could go back in time and talk to yourself two years ago, what advice do you think your younger self would have given you today? Wouldn’t that be cool? While they don’t get to go back in time, our students get something that’s close. I teach a course that’s the final step for students in our program. The first thing I ask them to do is to think about how they have changed in the last two years. After they’ve had a chance to reflect, I ask them if they would really like to know how they’ve changed. At that point I give them a letter they had written during the orientation to our program where they were asked to write to themselves at graduation. It’s very interesting to see how they respond to themselves. In some cases they aren’t surprised. They are the same person, or they expected what they saw from their younger self. In other cases there are chuckles, tears, and big AH HA looks on their faces. As one student commented, I had forgotten what a happy person I used to be. Some have experienced great pain in that two years, while others feel so much wiser, experienced, and mature. And finally, some feel strengthened because they are the same person then as now. As another said, this is really tough because I don’t have words to express what I’m feeling. Whatever the case, their younger selves are good teachers and mentors.
In his book Crucibles of Leadership, Bob Thomas highlights research he conducted on the lessons that leaders have reported learning in the hardest of times. My take on a few of the lesson his leaders reported looks like this…
· Rely on others because you need to trust other people.
· Remember that sometimes events conspire to make you the person you are.
· Ask questions as often as you give answers.
· Failing is necessary to get you to where you need to go.
· Trouble will not last forever.
· Any risk you are asking others to take must be worth you yourself taking.
In many cases, the advice from the younger selves of our students sounded much like this advice. Being intentional about where you are going requires you to be intentional about where you’ve been. There is wisdom in the voice of you at a different time. What advice would your younger self offer you? What experiences have caused you to lose sight of your optimism, your hope, your convictions, your vulnerability, and your strength? Here are two suggestions. First, take the time to reflect on how you’ve changed in the last two years. And second, take the time to write a letter to yourself two years from now, and then give it to yourself when you get there. You might have some good news for yourself down the road.
Thomas, R. J. (2008). Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to Become a Great Leader. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
Over the past couple of years, I have taught the four-and five-year-old Sunday School class at my church. During one week last year, the lesson focused on the parable about the man who was forgiven huge debt by a king. The man left the meeting with the king and immediately turned around and demanded a man who owed him a few dollars repay it to him immediately.(1) I asked the class if this was a good person? “No” they said. A bad person? All the kids nodded their heads and said that this was a very bad man. After the story, we played until snack time when I decided to run a little experiment to see how well my story transferred to real life. I gave each child five crackers, but didn’t take any for myself. Then, I looked down at my empty paper napkin in front of me, uttering in my saddest voice, “Oh no, there weren’t any crackers left for me. I didn’t get any crackers. Will anybody share?” I waited expectantly… Nobody shared. Finally, after a long pause, my son gave me one of his crackers.
One of the other boys a few minutes later, his mouth full of crackers finally spoke up, “I want another cracker.”
“To share with me?” I said with a big smile. “No, for me!” he said with a rather sheepish grin on his face.
Oh, those crazy kids, we say to ourselves. But before we judge them too harshly, it’s worth remembering a now famous psychology study.(2) Seminary students at Princeton were told they had to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan in a classroom that was across campus. They had only a short time to get there. Now, you might remember the story of the Good Samaritan.(3) Jesus told the story in answer to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” A man is attacked on the road by bandits and left to die. Two religious leaders pass by, but neither of them help. Finally, a Samaritan passes by on the road. Now, the religious ruling class at the time looked down on Samaritan’s as a very lowly group of people. But what does the Samaritan do? He stops and helps the injured man. Not only does he help, but he takes the man to an inn and leaves extra money to pay for all of his needs until he recovers.
Okay, back to our seminary students at Princeton. On the way to the classroom where they were scheduled to give their sermons, the experimenters planted a person who slumped up against a wall, dressed in ragged clothes, and apparently unconscious (or drunk). Any guesses at how many seminary students stopped to help? 40% They were especially bad when they were in a hurry when only 10% offered help.
Now, if seminary students had trouble living out the values they professed, how much worse off are we likely to be? Let me give you a hint. I just realized that I spent time the last 60 minutes writing this piece instead of taking a break to go down the street and help our 80-year-old neighbor shovel the snow out of her driveway so she could get to her mailbox! Some Reflections
….Okay, I’m back. The driveway is now clear. I can now continue without a guilty conscience. We all struggle with our actions matching our words. We all can do a better job. The question is, “How do we start linking what we know with what we do?” Below are a few ideas that might help.
Set yourself up for success. The first step is to find one place in your life where you have the best of intentions, but your actions don’t always match your words. This is the place for you to begin to experiment. For me, it is making sure I take time in the evening to play with my kids. Practice finding ways to catch yourself. Find cues in your life that will remind you what you want to do. Then, consider the barriers that will get in your way and rehearse in your mind how you will deal with them.(4) Use those to trigger the right actions. For me, that means creating space after dinner every night to be available to my kids. What cues do you want to create?
Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Look for the places where you are overpromising. Find out where you haven’t been honest with others and with yourself. You can’t do everything. Take a moment and reflect on what is really important. If you have to make choices, what will they be? How will I prioritize my life? For example, what will I need to give up to spend time with my kids in the evening?
Do not judge lest ye be judged. Watch closely in the places where you judge and are critical of others. Do your own experiment. Every time you criticize someone else, verbally or silently, stop and check yourself. Ask yourself if you have ever disappointed others in this way. What were the reasons? Are you extending others the same grace we extend ourselves? Are we extended to them the same excuses we are extending to ourselves? There is a well-established finding in psychology called the self-serving bias.(5) If someone else fails, we tend to attribute it to that person. If we fail, we tend to blame the situation. This also means that we tend to rate ourselves above others. So, the next time you judge someone else, make sure you assess yourself. One other thought: We are especially quick to judge others in areas where we are strong and discount areas where we are weak. So, if you are critical of others, make sure you consider how you measure up to them in other areas of your life. This doesn’t mean you should never criticize or hold anyone accountable. Heaven knows, we all need to hold each other accountable! However, it does mean that we need to always do it humbly!
Baby steps. This is all fine and good to read. You might even feel a little better about yourself already! However, you have only increased your knowing. You haven’t done anything yet! Right now, think of something you would love to do this week. Then do it. Let’s all take that challenge. In one week, we’ll all find out if we’ve moved just a little closer to being the people we have committed ourselves to be!
(1) Matthew 18:21-35 (2) Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. (1973). “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100–108. (3) Luke 10:25-37 (4) Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions and effective goal pursuit: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54, 493-503. (5) Mezulis, A. H., Abramson, L. Y., Hyde, J. S., & Hankin, B. L. (2004). Is there a universal positivity bias in attributions? A meta-analytic review of individual, developmental, and cultural differences in the self-serving attributional bias. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 711-747.
Humans and organizations alike are consumers of information. We look for knowledge and data points and collect a vast amount of facts. We want to know and discover meaning behind everything that we count and quantify as much as possible. We measure performance, employee opinions, outcomes, services, time and expended resources. We obtain numbers for every possible activity in every aspect of our lives. But to what end?
In today’s activities alone, I can quantify a number of things. I know the total hours spent on projects for work and how much money that translates into. I’ve calculated the miles per gallon for my car. I know how much I spent on clothes, gas and bills for the month. I gathered statistics on crisis intervention. I even retrieved the weather forecast for the weekend. As read through this short list I see clear uses for information I collected. However, in some cases I’m not sure how I will use the knowledge I’ve gained.
This can happen in organizations as well. That is, an organization may gather and compile facts and data to not use it. Now this isn’t the case in all organizations, however I think it is particularly true for smaller businesses and non-profits. It’s cool to know that there is seemingly no end to the amount of things you can quantify. But when do you stop gathering data for sake of having it and actually use it?
I have carried this question with me for the last two years and it recently became more conscious. The event that triggered this query was a class project. For several weeks, I have been working on a team to complete a project in program evaluation. We have focused on examining data on an existing organizational program to evaluate their program outcomes and data collection methodology. The data we examined reported client population, outcomes achieved and services provided, which are all important to a program’s evaluation and development. After several meetings with the program managers, it was unclear as to why this program was collecting data. Now, one can deduce the various reasons why it is important for these individuals to collect various data points however, the reasons they provided were vague. As consultants for this project, we couldn’t wrap our heads around why the program officers spent so much time collecting information when there wasn’t a clear avenue for its uses. Furthermore, collecting the right data was another issue. It appeared to be a true case of gathering data for the sake of having but not understanding its uses and potential power.
If we turn to back to the first question I posed, of gathering data to what end, the answer is fairly clear: to evaluate. We want to know that we won’t be broke by the end of the month, so we gather information on our expenses. We want to understand the climate of an organization, so we gather employee opinions via survey. We want to know if our programs are achieving the goals and outcomes for which it was established, so we measure performance. Yet, as I previously mentioned there are some cases where knowledge is left unused. Sometimes people and organizations just don’t know what to do with the information they gather. It just isn’t enough for someone to say they possess knowledge and hard facts and therefore understand. Understanding, doesn’t improve program longevity. Understanding doesn’t create improved processes to help employees and organizations succeed. However, understanding how to use that knowledge can improve organizational and individual effectiveness and efficiency.
This is where I believe we have a strong value-add in the world of work. We are trained and understand how to interpret and utilize data to help organizations and/or programs evolve and develop to be sustainable and successful. When an organization or program has difficulty translating and utilizing their information, we can help. We ensure that they are making the correct assumptions, conclusions and recommendations for goal achievement. In addition, we can provide expert guidance to these organizations and programs that will aid in process improvement, superior service delivery or whatever it is they are trying to attain.
It is my hope and goal that our team will be able to leverage this value we have to help improve the program for which we are consulting. After all, accumulating information doesn’t create knowledge and wisdom for institutional development and growth. However, imagine the vast amount possibilities and changes you can perpetuate with your knowledge and ability to not only decipher data but you ability to turn that information into meaningful action.
We have more information now than we can use, and less knowledge and understanding than we need. Indeed, we seem to collect information because we have the ability to do so, but we are so busy collecting it that we haven’t devised a means of using it. The true measure of any society is not what it knows but what it does with what it knows. -Warren Bennis