On Learning Slowly

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The thing with fast food is that you can avail it quickly and when more people avail more food quickly, it soon becomes a commodity. And very often, fast food may just fill the stomach without nourishing much.

The food we value is the one that not only has the right nutrients, but is also cooked with care and attention to ingredients, balance of flavors and texture. It fills our stomach, nourishes us and feeds our well being.

I guess it’s the same with the media we consume. In a  bid to stay updated all the time (which is hardly what we call learning), we consume a lot of Tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook updates etc. These are quick bites that may fill your time with an illusion of learning, unless your goal is to just fill the time with something (and hide behind it).

But if you are set out to truly learn something and go deeper, then you need slow media that is cooked slowly with care, has the right ingredients and is nourishing.

Sound bites are intellectually stimulating but unless they go deeper into our system, no change actually happens.

And learning that does not lead to change in mindset, actions and behavior is not learning, but only intellectual stimulation.

The other problem with these sound-bites is that they offer a very narrow view of the topic at hand. Truth is that nothing happens in isolation and everything is somehow connected to a larger system in ways that are not always visible.

Real learning involves a systematic exploration of all connected aspects of problem at hand. It requires a more nuanced conversation.

Take leadership, for example. Real leadership is rooted within our own deeper self, our past conditioning, cultural background and the demands of a given context. It demands a layered conversation and systems thinking within a given context, not just a list of silver bullets.

When there’s unlimited shelf space allowing unlimited podcasts, which can be of unlimited length, the goal isn’t to get the show on the air faster or to make it noisier. Instead, the goal, like the goal of a good book, is to say something worth saying, and to do it in a way that’s worth waiting for. – Seth Godin

Slow media is anything that takes time to create and consume, provokes thinking, challenges our assumption, initiates a conversation worth having, nudges us to act differently and creates an emotional connection.

Social Web is noisy and cluttered because people try to create media that pulls mass viewership to generate required number of hits, likes and shares.

The essence of social learning is to find authentic sources created with the spirit of a nuanced and collective exploration and stay away from sound bites. 

Personally, I find most value in having a good layered conversation with someone I admire, reading good books that are written in a conversational tone, podcasts and videos where individuals share deep and relevant insights on something worthwhile and blogs that carefully weave a conversation incrementally through the posts.

But then, I just don’t skim through these (or bookmark them for later reading even when I skim). I preferto read with a pencil. I take notes as I go, summarize in visual notes, then share on the blog and connect insights that are related and relevant. Finally, when it all goes deeper into my system, some of it manifests in action. That is how we learn slowly and improve gradually.

To really learn effectively, we need to consume slow media, slowly.

And then reflect upon it. And put it into practice in some way or the other. Blend it with our experience. And then share what we learn with communities that feed us.

And that’s never as easy as walking up to the always-on social media counters and grab a quick bite!

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P.S: Big thanks to Shilpa Srikanth (@S_scoops) for creating her version of visual summary for this post. Check it out here.

In 100 Words: Giving Attention

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Everybody we meet is trying to get attention through tactics. More clicks, eyeballs, likes. What if you focus more on giving attention?

What do you deeply care about? What are you trying to make happen? Who are you trying to help? These are good questions to find out what truly matters and then pay attention to only those things.

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” – Simone Weil

That’s what great leadership is all about. Not just competing to get more attention but using the privilege of leadership to pay attention to enabling people and things that matter.


 Also Read at QAspire:

Technology and Being Human

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me. Tiffani is also the author of a new book “Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break Your Business” due for release in August 2018.


Sometimes, when I see a group of people sitting physically with each other yet engrossed in their mobile screens, I feel that technology has turned us into gadgets and made us less human.

Sure, social media has transformed how we connect, collaborate and learn. But it also seems to be taking a huge toll on precisely those things that make us human.

We are not gadgets. We are capable of thinking deep, connecting the dynamic dots, be creative and solve important problems in novel ways. We are capable of dreaming, hoping, perceiving, creating, telling stories, collaborating and connecting. We are capable of deep work and generosity. And these are the things that make us human. This is how we become wise in a world where knowledge is essentially commoditized.

The key then is to leverage the social platforms as much for our learning, connecting meaningfully and collaborating rather than just allow platforms to entice us into mindless consumption.

Austin Kleon, someone whose work and art I admire posted the following:

Do more things that make you forget to check the phone.

Creativity and learning stems from doing meaningful stuff in a way that serves the community and changes others for better. That is at the heart of embracing craftsman spirit.

Do check out the wonderful podcast episode with Arianna Huffington and here is a sketchnote summary of some of the key insights.

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Related Reading at QAspire:

Leadership: Humility and Focusing on Others

I often meet business leaders who are so full of themselves. When interacting with others, they try to keep the needle of focus constantly towards themselves, their business, accomplishments and stories.

It is easy to get caught up in the self because after all, you are a up there and you make things happen (or so you think!).

In one of the leadership workshop I attended in early years of my career, the trainer beautifully described humility as

Humility is like the banks of a river that gives direction to the flowing water without possessing it.

Leadership in any form is about others. A leader is just a means to an end. A steward of the larger cause, whatever it may be.

Like banks of a river, leader holds the context together in order to channel the energies of people. A leader enables flow (progress) by enabling others, asking right questions, coaching others and learning in the process. The focus of a leadership conversation is the needs of others, needs of the context and needs of the customers.

I read Dan Rockwell’s recent post titled “The Seductions of Arrogance Compound the Elusiveness of Humility” where he outlines 5 practices of humble leadership. It is a thought provoking post that emphasizes on ‘practicing’ humility by focusing on others.

Some critical questions to consider, whether you lead a kid, a team of professionals or an organization, are:

  • How often do you, as a leader, brag about others?
  • How many times do you turn the focus of conversation on others?
  • How many times have you stood up to accept responsibility, especially of failures?
  • When was the last time you thought about amplifying someone’s strength rather than focusing on their shortcomings?

Here is a quick short sketchnote summary of Dan Rockwell’s 5 practices of humble leadership (Read the full post here)

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On Disrupting Yourself

I created a series of sketch notes for Tiffani Bova’s “What’s Next” podcast where she meets brilliant people to discuss customer experience, growth and innovation. Tiffani Bova is a Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. I will post sketchnote versions of selected podcast episodes that enlightened me.


During 2001 dot com bubble, one of my friends, a competent software developer, was laid off because of lack of business in the technology he worked in. He was smart enough to understand that the company needed people in a new project that was to be developed on a totally different technology. He learned the new technology, re-skilled himself fast enough to face a client interview for the new project and was retained even before his notice period got over.

In my formative years, he stood as an example of someone who totally disrupted himself when he was forced by external circumstances. Obviously, today’s complex and fast changing world demands individuals to disrupt themselves based on internal drivers of change, before external circumstances compel them to change.

In a business context, there are many organizations like 3M, Apple, NetFlix and Google whose success can be attributed to their ability to disrupt themselves continuously.

In this episode of What’s Next podcast, one of my favorite authors and thinkers Whitney Johnson says,

“Not just products, services and companies, the fundamental unit of disruption is an individual.”

Individuals disrupt themselves when they take some risk, do things that they have never done before, learn constantly, connect the dots and think about intersections between current reality (what they have done so far) and possibilities (what they could do with all innovations around them).

One of her key advices in the podcast is:

“Play to your strengths, not just what you do well but what others don’t.”

The insights in this podcast are very relevant to individuals and businesses alike.

Here is a high-level sketch note summary of this excellent conversation, which I encourage you to check out.

Tanmay Vora Whitney Johnson Sketchnote

Related Posts at QAspire

In 100 Words: Immersion and Doing Work that Matters

We cannot be anxious about something “out there” – a goal, a target, an external reward, a validation from others and generally things that feed our ego – and be immersed in what we do at the same time.

To be able to do great work/art that changes others for better, we need to let “joy” rule us instead of “ego”. Then there is no self in the game: self is just a conducive medium for the inspiration to show up in form of work.

If/when this happens, rewards and recognition will be by-products of the pursuit, not the pursuit itself.  


Also Read at QAspire:

Move And The Way Appears

I am a big fan of taking small, daily steps in the direction where your energy takes you. I started this blog 11 years back with very insignificant posts that no one read. My first sketch note a couple of years back was far from being good. My first steps towards a health and wellness were slow and tentative. But how does that matter?

Because, those first few insignificant posts did not deter me from moving forward. I wrote, and wrote more. And as I did that, I learned how it works. I did more of what worked and here we are – a blog with tens of thousands of readers each month, sharing their encouragement to me via comments, likes and shares on several social channels. This blog has a life of its own.

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things bought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

I remember I was hesitant in sharing my first sketch note. But less than 2 years after I shared the first one, the sketch notes have gone viral – from social media to global conferences to office walls to being included in books. When I started, did I have a purpose to make them viral? I just knew that I enjoyed making them, learning along the way and improving all the time. I was pursuing joy and suddenly, the way started appearing. 

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of only standing still.” – Chinese Proverb

I lost significant weight (nearly 12% of my total body weight) in past 4 months.  My big plan was to move one small step at a time – read a bit about what it takes, take small steps towards cleaner eating, do small changes in lifestyle, get more active and suddenly, it all started revealing. Lessons came to the fore as a result of moving forward slowly, daily and steadily.

My biggest lesson in learning is:

It doesn’t matter what you wish to do. It never happens in one big bang. Instead, it happens in a series of small steps taken with an open mind, learning along each step and putting that learning back into the next step. And then it grows, purpose reveals and you are on a journey before you realize. Forward motion, however small, feeds our esteem and inspires us.

Purpose may not always be the starting point of your journey. Sometimes, you start the journey and the purpose reveals itself.

And who knows, small steps you take in the direction of your heart may open up new paths for you and inspire others? Small is never insignificant, but a powerful step towards a higher purpose.

Move, and the way appears! 


A Round-up of Related Posts at QAspire to add to the conversation:

Peter Drucker on The Effective Executive

Ultimately, leadership is all about ability to act on the ideas. In that sense, anyone who thinks of the self as a leader has to be good at executing things. Probably a reason why top leaders in organizations are referred to as executives – the one who executes, not just someone with a fancy title and corner office.

Leadership is a very broad term and leaders in organizations come in all shapes and sizes – from introverted to extraverted, charismatic to simple, people oriented versus task oriented and the differentiation goes on.

But Peter Drucker, whose work has played a defining role in my own growth as a manager and leader, identified eight practices of effective executive based on his observations over 65 years of his consulting career.

The June 2004 article by Peter Drucker in Harvard Business titled “What Makes an Effective Executive” is a must read, if you are a student  of leadership.

Here’s a short snippet of 8 characteristics along with a quick sketch note.

What made them all effective is that they followed the same eight practices:

  • They asked, “What needs to be done?”
  • They asked, “What is right for the enterprise?”
  • They developed action plans.
  • They took responsibility for decisions.
  • They took responsibility for communicating.
  • They were focused on opportunities rather than problems.
  • They ran productive meetings.
  • They thought and said “we” rather than “I.”

The first two practices gave them the knowledge they needed. The next four helped them convert this knowledge into effective action. The last two ensured that the whole organization felt responsible and accountable.

– Peter Drucker, What Makes an Effective Executive

Related posts at QAspire

In 100 Words: Boundary

We get too bogged down by our self-imposed boundaries.

Boss won’t allow.

That is not our process.

I’ve never been told!

Not my job.

They need to do it!

And it goes on. But what if we cross that boundary and get into the realm of:

What can I do?

Who can I influence?

How can we make it better?

How can I elicit their commitment for this?

It’s a different conversation that requires great deal of emotional labor. As Seth Godin says in Poke the Box, boundaries are in our heads, not anywhere else.


Related Posts at QAspire.com

The Spark of Initiative

There are people who coast along, go with the flow and do as directed. And then, there are those who strive to add value, raise the bar and make a difference.

If you belong to the latter, Seth Godin has some simple (yet profound) guidance for you. He wrote about three ways to add value – by doing things, by taking decisions and by initiating. Our education system trains us to do things efficiently. Our experience may lead us to a point where we can decide effectively what’s best for ourselves, our team, project and organization.

But we need to learn the art of initiating things ourselves; by having new ideas, starting small experiments, taking tiny risks, caring enough, exerting emotional labor, doing the right thing when no one is watching, learning along the way, adapting our approaches and then hopefully, see our ideas come to life.

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth.

Not going all the way, and not starting.”

– Siddhartha Gautama

In his book “Poke the Box” Seth Godin wrote,

“The world is changing too fast. Without the spark of initiative, you have no choice but to simply react to the world. Without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved.”

In a future that is increasingly getting automated, it is this spark of initiative that is and would remain our real competitive advantage.

Dwell in Possibility

Dwell in possibility”, borrowed from Emily Dickinson is one theme that is guided me so far and will continue to guide me in the future. 

Every single day brings along a world of possibilities and one thing that determines what we see and how we see things is out own attitude. If you look for problems and constraints, you will always find them – even in the best of situations.

Possibility thinking is an attitude of seeing things and asking, “What’s possible here?” and then working to bring those possibilities to life. Because, ultimately all human progress depends on ability to see possibilities and make them happen.

In my own career, the mindset shift from constraints to possibilities has helped me immensely and continues to help. How do you dwell in possibilities? Here are a few things to consider:

  • It starts with a belief that possibilities (and solutions) exists. It is not about denying constraints but working your way around constraints.
  • It is about persistence in looking for answers when you are unable to find straightforward solutions to constraints.
  • It is about having an eye for what’s working and how can that be amplified as much as it is about knowing what falls in your circle of influence.
  • It is about learning to live with uncertainty and still acting with confidence.
  • It is about realization that things don’t have to be the way they are and that making a change is a possibility.
  • It is about being able to challenge the status-quo knowing that there are better ways of doing things.
  • It is all about execution putting all your energy out there to take the right next steps.
  • It is about riding the waves of change rather than being crushed by it.
  • It is about consciously pursuing the path of your heart and go where it takes you – even if it means living on the edge. Because as Seth Godin says, “If you can’t fail, it doesn’t matter.” 
  • It is about moving beyond our best and being prepared to fail fast, early and often to succeed eventually. Having high expectations from the self and from others is vital because making possibilities happen is hard work.
  • It is about being impeccable with your words (one of the four agreements)  because our choice of words create our possibilities.
  • It is about a strong desire to make a positive difference and contribution in your own life but making a difference to others (your people, organization, teams, family, friends etc.)
  • Living in possibilities is a mindset of serving others by working with them, collaborating with them and finding people who can be your allies in making things happen.

It seems like the only option we have to truly steer ourselves forward is to embrace the mindset of possibility and abundance. Then why not commit to live by the words of Emily Dickinson and “dwell in possibility”?

A worthy goal for 2017 and beyond.

Also Read at QAspire:

In the sketch: Ancient 16th century windmills from Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands (illustrated from my visit there in Dec 2016).

In 100 Words: Face The Light

 

In moments of uncertainty, inspiration came to me in form of a tweet with a visual that read,

“If you see shadows, it is because there is light.”

I instinctively told myself,

“If you face the light, shadows fall behind.”

The mindset of abundance asks, “What’s possible?” instead of “What could go wrong?” and focuses on those possibilities because constraints are almost a given in work and life.

Only then, we can start focusing on possibilities, thinking beyond the boundaries, raising the bar, stepping into the unknown and doing what truly matters.

We try. We err. And then, we learn!


Also Read at QAspire:

In 100 Words: Finding Inspiration

We either wait for inspiration to happen to us or try finding it from somewhere (books/blogs/videos etc). I have spent countless hours trying to wait or find inspiration. It helped, but only for a short while.

A better way to create inspiration, in my experience, is to get down to doing things. Once you dedicate yourself to the cycle of doing, delivering and improving, that becomes the source of your inspiration, the one that feeds more inspiration.

Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly said, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”

The best inspiration happens while doing the work!

– – – – –

Also Read at QAspire

The Neo-Generalist

The books I love the most are not the ones that offer off-the-shelf “solutions” but ones that start a conversation, catalyze thinking, elevate understanding and help in thinking about a topic in novel ways.

And that’s why I loved reading “The Neo-Generalist” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin.  It is a book that bridges the gap between two extremes of specialism and generalism and introduces a neo-generalist as:

“The neo-generalist is both specialist and generalist, often able to master multiple disciplines. We all carry within us the potential to specialise and generalise. Many of us are unwittingly eclectic, innately curious. There is a continuum between the extremes of specialism and generalism, a spectrum of possibilities. Where we stand on that continuum at a given point in time is governed by context.”

The book introduces the concept and then takes it forward with the help of stories from many people who were interviewed as a part of the research for this book. Reading diverse journeys of so many multi-disciplinarians was insightful and only added new dimensions to the topic.

Somewhere in these narratives and stories, I could sense a deep connection with my own inclination towards neo-generalism right from my choices in school to how I have evolved as a professional. From that perspective, reading this book was very rewarding because it helped me map my own journey to the specialist-generalist continuum that this book talks about. Gaining new perspectives and expanding my own understanding of how we learn, choose and do things was a huge bonus.

I also loved the organization of book where quotes so eloquently encompass and extend the essence of the ideas. The bibliography section of book recommends other rich resources for extending the conversation.

Here is a sketch note summary of key points from the book that may offer a small preview of some key insights from this treasure.

More on The Neo-Generalist
Related Topics at QAspire

Leading and Learning: How to Feed a Community

When I started this blog in April 2006, little did I understand about how a community works. I would write posts each week only to be read by my immediate colleagues and friends. Till a point when I learned that,

“conversation and sharing is the currency of a social community”

I started following many other blogs, take the conversation forward through comments and share along good stuff. I learned the art of building a community through excellent blogs of Michael Wade, Rajesh Setty and Lisa Haneberg. Their work fueled my own journey of understanding how a social community works.

Getting into Twitter in 2009 opened up new avenues to contribute and accelerate my ability to connect with multiple like minded people through sharing and conversation. Today, I am very happy to have a personal learning network – a group of fellow learners and explorers who share as they learn and work out loud.

Lisa Haneberg, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote about how to feed a community where she said,

if we want to belong to a vibrant community we have to feed it.

And then, we belong to offline communities at work and outside of work. There again, conversation, generous sharing and helping others make meaningful progress is at the heart of building a community. I learned a great deal of this by going through my mentor Rajesh Setty’s program “The Right Hustle” which he defines as:

To hustle right is to choreograph the actions of those that matter to create meaningful accomplishments in an arrangement where everybody involved finds a win.

It became quite clear to me that

learning is a social act and we learn the most when we learn together.

In the communities that we choose to belong to (online and offline), we have to do our part in feeding it. It is only when we are generous about sharing our gifts that we build credibility to receive anything meaningful in return, build influence, thought leadership and learn.

Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery and the mindset of working out loud evangelized by John Stepper are great ways to feed your community and learn.

I wrote a post earlier titled “3 C’s for Leading and Learning on Social Media” which may offer helpful ideas to feed your community. Here is a quick sketchnote of Lisa Haneberg’s ideas on how to feed a community.

Bonus

As an extension to the ideas above, here is a sketch note version of “How to Work Out Loud” which John Stepper included in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.

My Community

People who read this blog, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere is my community and I am very grateful about it. I am intentional about feeding this community by sharing my lessons, summarizing insights visually, helping others move the needle and share resources that help.

Critical Questions

What about you? What learning communities do you belong to – online and offline? How do you feed your community? Critical questions as we start a new week. Do share your insights in the comments!

Two Ways to Respond to Anxiety

The anxiety we feel when we are worried about an uncertain outcome (or guessing our failure before it happens) can be very disabling. We fight it out to an extent that the only thing we really do is defend our ground. When we are focused on defending, minimizing our exposure to anxiety, complying and cruising along the path of minimum resistance, we can hardly create anything meaningful.

Then there is another kind of anxiety that results from your eagerness to do something – to make something happen. Sure, there is a strong element of apprehension here as well which is why it is a kind of anxiety. But the focus here is to beat anxiety by raising the bar, changing the frame of reference and explore newer boundaries. 

If you are set out to do anything meaningful, anxiety is a part of the game. Embrace it and you will make it. Let it embrace you and you stall.

Fear of failure in advance is very human. It is our response that makes it a limiting force or a creative force. In fact, history tells us that no meaningful creation has ever happened without anxiety.

As Henry Ward Beecher very aptly said,

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.”

So, what does this mean for leaders?

If you are a leader at any level, choosing your response to anxiety (your own or your team’s apprehensions) is so critical. Your team can only do better when they are encouraged to acknowledge the fear and look beyond it for possibilities.

Leadership and The Art of Effective Listening

There is no leadership, personal or organizational, without listening. In fact, ability to truly listen (and not just hear) is the foundation of having a conversation, building trust, influencing others, resolving conflicts, driving your vision, building relationships, implementing change and learning. Yet, many of us equate listening with absorption of what the other person is saying. There’s more to it!

In this respect, I loved reading a recent article on Harvard Business Review titled “What Great Listeners Actually Do” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article provides an excellent round up of how to truly listen.

I attempted to capture the essence of their post in a sketch note form and I loved the way they sum it up. Here is a snippet from an article that you must read:

“Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.”

Here is a sketch note summary along with some links to my own thoughts on listening well at QAspire.

 Related Posts at QAspire

5 Timeless Qualities of True Leaders

Before leadership be effective, it has to be true. And the truth of leadership is essentially human. If we have to raise the bar of leadership, we need to first cultivate truer leadership at the core.

In his article “Why The World Needs Truer Leaders (And How to Be One)”, Umair Haque defines eudaimonic leadership as,

leaders who expand human potential to its very highest, so everyone can live a life that matters

In the same post, he offers 5 timeless qualities of true leadership. I recommend that you read the entire series that Umair is writing at Medium.

Here is a sketch note version of qualities of truer leadership.

BONUS:

Shut up and Sit Down” is an excellent post by Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker which talks about our dangerous obsession with leadership and how leadership industry rules.

In the conclusion, he writes,

When we’re swept up in the romance of leadership, we admire leaders who radiate authenticity and authority; we respect and enjoy our “real” leaders. At other times, though, we want leaders who see themselves objectively, who resist the pull of their own charisma, who doubt the story they’ve been rewarded for telling. “If a man who thinks he is a king is mad,” Jacques Lacan wrote, “a king who thinks he is a king is no less so.” A sense of perspective may be among the most critical leadership qualities.

True leadership stems from the heart, yet most leaders (and many we see in political arena today) operate with an outdated view of leadership. When leaders have to show that they are powerful, they are not.

Here is a quick sketch of Jacques Lacan’s quote:

Enhancing Your Performance at Work With Mindfulness – An Interview with Jacqueline Carter

Research says that the rapid pace of work is taking a huge toll on our ability to focus, be productive, remain engaged and be creative. A majority of people at workplace today seem to be struggling to cope with severe stress resulting from conflicting work priorities, hyper-connectedness, onslaught of notifications and information overload. How do we cope up with this stress? How do we address our lack of attention so that we can not only complete the things we start without getting too anxious, but also enjoy the process of doing so?

With these questions in my mind, I picked up the book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance at Work with Mindfulness” written by Rasmus Hougaard with Jacqueline Carter and Gillian Coutts. I loved the simplicity with which the authors have been able to demystify mindfulness by providing tools and techniques we can all start using to be more effective.

I caught up a conversation with Jacqueline Carter, one of the co-authors, a partner at The Potential Project and a contributor at Huffington Post on how mindfulness can help us perform better. Here is the interview:

[Tanmay Vora] Jacqueline, Thank you for agreeing to share your insights here. I read your new book “One Second Ahead – Enhance Your Performance At Work with Mindfulness” with great interest. The first thing that intrigued me was the title of your book. What does “One Second Ahead” mean with respect to mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] One Second Ahead, both the book and the concept, is about applying mindfulness techniques to daily work life. From a cognitive perspective, being one second ahead provides a clear edge in effectiveness and productivity. It offers the space and freedom to choose your distractions and direct your mental energy, no matter what you are facing.

[Tanmay Vora] We certainly are in middle of a productivity crisis at work. Pressure, information overload and always-on culture inhibits our ability to truly focus on work. What makes mindfulness, a potent response to the crisis?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s not hard to see how work life has changed radically over the past few decades. It is common for people to attempt to concentrate on work while dealing with a constant stream of distractions and data, impacting their focus and performance. But it is actually possible to train the brain to respond differently to today’s constant interruptions through the practice of mindfulness.

Simply put, mindfulness means trained attention. Mindfulness techniques enable people to manage their attention, improve their awareness, and sharpen focus and clarity. We need to learn to work differently so we are more focused, calm and have less clutter in our mind to be able to succeed at the things that matter most to us.

[Tanmay Vora] One of the first victims of stress resulting from our “always-on” culture is sleep and lack of proper sleep only adds to the stress we experience. How can mindfulness be used for enhancing the quality of sleep and what are your three tips for better sleep?

[Jacqueline Carter] It’s true that sleep deprivation is reaching near epidemic proportions all over the world. Studies are showing that even light sleep deprivation has been proven to negatively impact logical reasoning, executive function, attention, and mood. Unfortunately, as a result of our busy lifestyles, sleep is regularly pushed toward the bottom of our list of priorities. However, research has shown that regular mindfulness training improves the ability to fall asleep as well as improve our sleep quality significantly. Some simple guidelines for better sleep include:

1. Catching the Melatonin Wave—Melatonin, when released from the pineal gland inside your brain, makes us relaxed, drowsy and ultimately fall asleep in a natural way. The key to catching the melatonin wave is to be mindful; have awareness of the natural drowsiness and relaxation that occur toward the end of the evening and maintain that awareness as you prepare for bed. Getting in synch with your body’s natural rhythms and your own cycle of melatonin is a simple avenue to a better night’s sleep.

2. Turn off All Screens 60 Minutes before Sleep—Your smartphone, your tablet, your laptop, your television all stand in the way of you catching the Melatonin wave. Because of the blue-light waves that are emitted, production of melatonin is suppressed in the pineal gland. Your brain reads blue-light as if the sun is still up, when in reality, the sun is most-likely down and you should be sleeping. It might sound difficult to some, but turning off all screens 60 minutes before you go to sleep works. The impact it has on sleep quality—and therefore mental and physical performance—speaks for itself.

3. Only Perceptual Activities 60 Minutes Before Bed—Too much thinking is an enemy of late evening natural relaxation and drowsiness. Conceptual activities, like intense conversions, replying to e-mails, working, or reading, can arose your attention and suppress your natural sleepiness. However, perceptual activities, like doing the dishes, going for a walk, or listening to music, can help you to catch the wave of melatonin as it rises. Just a small adjustment to your evening routine can go a long way toward enabling you to prepare for bed with a calmer mind that’s more in tune with the natural rhythms of your body. So save the dishes, walking the dog, or taking out the trash for the last hour of the evening. Sometimes procrastination can pay off.

[Tanmay Vora] How does mindfulness enhance our mental effectiveness in understanding complex problems, synthesizing experiences and addressing challenges?

[Jacqueline Carter] According to scientists, our mind is wandering over half of our waking hours. We are constantly thinking about events that happened in the past, or might happen in the future, rather than attending to what’s happening in the now. This limits our ability to address everyday challenges and accomplish meaningful results.

Yet, our thoughts are the foundation for everything we want to achieve in life. Thus, our ability to manage our mind becomes critically important. We are best able to manage complex problems when our mind is clear, calm and focused. This is true in all aspects of life, but especially in a work context. With a calm, clear mind, we are able to greatly enhance performance, effectiveness, creativity and innovation, which is foundational to business success. Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

Mindfulness is the ultimate training for developing a highly functional and effectual mind.

[Tanmay Vora] One common observation is that our openness to new learning and experiences decline as we mature in our practice and gather more experience. How can mindfulness help is break the shackles of our past experiences and make us more receptive to new learning?

[Jacqueline Carter] When we are exposed to the same experiences over and over again, there is a tendency to become complacent, to default to our pre-conceived notion of what should happen or may occur. We feel we’ve seen it all before, and we close ourselves off to being fully present. This can be problematic, and lead to what’s called cognitive rigidity—the inflexibility created by automatically relying on our habitual perceptions and past experiences.

Thankfully, mindfulness training shows us that we don’t have to give in to our habitual perceptions. When we allow ourselves to see things with a Beginner’s Mind—the ability to face reality as it is—we liberate ourselves from our habitual perception and approach all situations with fresh eyes and an open mind. Cultivating a beginner’s mind can be a wonderful way to change how you experience life. Regardless of your work environment, daily life can be filled with more wonders and possibilities when you see things with a fresh perspective.

[Tanmay Vora] What are your top three recommendations on mindfulness to those readers who are new to the concept of mindfulness?

[Jacqueline Carter] First, I would say to consider why mindfulness would be beneficial for you and be specific. The more clear you are on why you want to try mindfulness the more likely you are to be successful in incorporating it into your daily life.

Second, make a commitment to do 10 minutes of mindfulness training every day for the next 14 days and see what impact it has on you. I recommend downloading an app that has simple, easy instructions. Readers can download our app by searching for The Potential Project in their app store. Alternatively, there are many other great tools, just be sure to pick something that will work for you.

Third, I would say look for ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Notice times when it is difficult for you to pay attention and ask yourself what you could do about it. For example, if you find that you are constantly distracted by notifications try turning them off for an hour a day and see what happens!

[Tanmay Vora] These were really helpful insights! Thank you so much for sharing your lessons through the book and in this interview. I am sure readers will find these ideas very valuable.

[Jacqueline Carter] Thank you very much, Tanmay! It was a pleasure to connect with you and your readers on the topic of organizational mindfulness.

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You can get the book at – Amazon (IN) | Amazon Worldwide

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BONUS: When you have an hour free, check out this amazing video of Jacqueline Carter speaking at Microsoft on the topic of Mindfulness at work.

When Does Real Learning Happen?

Learning, the real learning, happens…

  • When you are intentional about learning
  • When you are driven by an intrinsic need to advance and not only by external triggers and rewards.
  • When you ask more questions to get to the WHY of things (and then to what and how)
  • When you carry an open frame of mind that is receptive
  • When you look for process and patterns even in discrete situations
  • And when you use your understanding to connect the dots and look at a larger picture
  • When you enjoy the process of learning without getting too anxious about the results and goals.
  • When you are self-aware (of your own beliefs, thoughts, values and perceptions)
  • When you experience, execute, iterate and test your hypothesis
  • When you reflect deeply on your experiences
  • And when you share your lessons (and process) with others generously so that they can learn (and also contribute)
  • When you surround yourself with passionate learners, mentors and coaches (and be a part of a learning community)
  • And engage others (community) meaningfully in collaborative problem solving
  • When you are able to collect, synthesize and process information from varied sources
  • When you solve interesting problems
  • And be able to create a map on the go (rather than relying on tried and tested methods)
  • When you overcome the fear of making mistakes
  • When you think critically
  • When you execute in short bursts, fail small and realign your approaches
  • When you Unlearn (let go of the old ways of thinking and doing)
  • When you apply lessons in line with unique needs of the context
  • When you synthesize your lessons and apply meta-lessons in across disciplines
  • When you are generous enough to share what you know, teach, coach and mentor others
  • When you are comfortable with inherently ambiguous nature of learning (and ability to hold two contrasting thoughts without being judgmental)
  • When you are comfortable also with the emergent nature of learning
  • When you don’t allow your learning to crystallize but keep it fluid and evolving.
  • When you truly start believing that self-directed and self-initiated learning is the best way to learn (for a lifetime).