Lawyers have many special gifts, but one of the most vexing is the ability to “issue spot.” They are trained to take a proposition in both hands and then turn it upside down and inside out until they have identified all the potential problems. This is hugely helpful to a client who is trying to weigh the risks and benefits of a proposed business transaction. However, this tendency can be hugely challenging for IT and knowledge management personnel who are trying to persuade a lawyer to adopt a new tool or a new way of working.
Now don’t get me wrong — some of my best friends are lawyers. In fact, I’m a lawyer. Even so, I must admit that lawyers can be a little negative from time to time.
But lawyers are not the only ones. Tony Schwartz has observed that the negativity bias is something that all humans share and it can lead us to wallow in the slough of despond:
Because human beings have a strong “negativity bias,” we pay more attention to our bad feelings than to our good ones. It once clearly served our survival to be vigilant about what might go wrong and that instinct persists. Today, it may serve to buffer us from disappointment, but it also promotes disproportionate and destructive discontent. The simple question “What’s going right?” provides ballast in tough times.
So What’s Going Right?
This can be the best question to ask when you are seeking feedback on new technology or a new law firm knowledge management initiative. It can change the energy in the room and draw out the truly constructive comments. Best of all, it encourages the lawyers involved to use their considerable brainpower to focus on opportunities for growth rather than obsessing about potential problems that may (or may not) stop a project dead in its tracks.
Focusing on the positive is not intended to sidestep reality or allow you to bury your head in the sand. Its purpose is not denial. Rather, its purpose is to elicit feedback at an early stage — before the tool or resource is so fully baked that it cannot be adjusted. Asking about what’s going right can help the anxious stop obsessing about the impossible goal of perfection and start focusing on what’s necessary and possible.
If you want to be agile, if you want to innovate, start asking about what’s going right. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.
[Photo Credit: Manuel Bahamondez]
A blog post entitled 10 Ways to Be Productive During Downtime on a Job prompted an incredulous chuckle from me, along with the following question: “Who has downtime on their job?” Call me misguided, but I was under the impression that the last few years of workforce “right sizing” had left everyone else with so much to do that there wasn’t enough time for downtime. Did I miss something? Nonetheless, in an effort to learn something from what I’d encountered, I wondered whether the issue was not so much that downtime is generated when we have under-demanding jobs, but rather that downtime is a function of how we as humans work. If it’s the latter, shouldn’t we plan to make the best possible use of it?
In his book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance,* Tony Schwartz and his co-authors remind us that we aren’t like computers — designed to be on constantly while operating multiple programs simultaneously over long stretches of time. Rather, we’re meant to oscillate between periods of intense, focused activity, and downtime. In his view, this downtime is a vitally important opportunity to refresh our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual resources so that we can bring them all to the work we’ve chosen to do. Further, the downtime (if done correctly) gives our brains a chance to operate a bit more creatively, taking advantage of internal processes of which we’re unaware and cannot direct. This suggests that even the most overworked person needs to plan for downtime. Not because they have too little to do, but precisely because they have so much to do and need to ensure they bring their best to their work.
Whether you choose to use your downtime for chores or choose deliberately to recharge your batteries, remember that even robots require time in the workshop for renewal and repair.
[Photo Credit: Swansea Photographer]
*Disclosure: As an experiment, I’m trying the Amazon Associates program, which means that if you purchase this book via the link above, I may at some point receive a small commission from Amazon. Here’s the formal statement recommended by Amazon: VMAbraham is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.