Rethinking my strategies on self-control

Have you ever had a week where there have been a plethora of articles, links, and thoughts all tied to a common theme that pop up? This week I keep coming across articles and posts like this one by Seth Godin about self-control. At the same time I have, as a parent, being struggling with getting my son to do two distinct but time-related tasks, go to bed on time and go to school on time. Seth’s post asks a good question. why do we necessarily assume that obedience leads to a gradual shift to self-control? If I can get my son to do as I say and go to bed on time and leave for school on time will he eventually start to want to do it himself? And why for that matter does it even matter to me so much that my three (almost four) year old obeys these time bound rules? Taking it out of the home what does this say about my view point about self-control and what I expect from other people?

Now I know that I hate being told to obey and follow the rules. I frequently share a story about how I was late for work 2 minutes on Christmas day while working for NOVA and heard about it at all of my performance evaluations up until the day I left. After the first evaluation I basically stopped caring or exercising self-control as long as I didn’t get in trouble. After 18 months I moved to China in part because I wanted to go to a country where being late by a couple minutes wasn’t viewed as key criteria for access to training, pay raise or promotion. That’s right, I physically moved from one country to another because being told to obey certain rules and being punished for not following the rules led to me hating my job.

So why do I assume it will work with anyone else, much less my son? Particularly when he is basically a pint sized version of me when it comes to rules? That may well be what is bothering me most, I know what doesn’t work and I do it anyway and that makes my frustration all the greater. Particularly as I realize that he has a lot more ahead of him in life with people and organizations asking him to follow the rules so that he will internalize the rules in some approximation of self-control. Clearly my frustration isn’t just with him it’s that I am trying to address a situation with what is in fact a completely wrong strategy.

With messages like these in our life is it any wonder that we have crazy ideas about obedience?

So does this mean that I give up on getting him out of the house on time or in bed on time? No, I still believe he ought to be in pre-school when they start (they do these really cute morning exercises and have breakfast both of which are great social opportunities, which is why he is enrolled in pre-school) and a regular bed time is important for little growing kids. It does mean that I have some thinking and experimenting to do to see what helps him decide the he wants to get involved in these two projects. Teaching him to tell time on a clock seems to be a first step, at least he won’t think that being timely is purely arbitrary.

I have a upcoming leadership workshops in October and November and I feel like this is a topic I am going to get paid to let other people discuss. I am fairly curious to hear what comes out of the Chinese system when pressed on this point. The education system here is based around following rules and fitting into a testing system. One could argue that Confucianism (which influences the Chinese education and civil service systems) is at its heart a doctrine of obedience and rules, promoting strict testing and clear definitions of rank and responsibility. In other words a healthy chunk of Chinese culture relies on the idea that self-control and proper behavior follows clear rules.

I have probably mentioned before that we see this turn up in personality testing in China. Frequently in leadership training we administer the MBTI to help people better understand themselves. Now the MBTI has it’s issues with reliability in China due to being a direct translation of the English version (in other words no cultural adaptation) but regardless we see that of the 4 sets of pair choices four of them E,S,T,J all get over 75% of the respondents answers. That doesn’t mean everyone comes out as an ESTJ but we see a lot of them or type closely matching with two or three similar functions. Why? Because all of the traits we associate with these mental functions are culturally valued and taught in traditional venues of home and school. Largely these behaviors are taught as models that should be obeyed and what we are seeing is that on a surface level they are being absorbed.

At the same time the rules-lead-to-internalization model is being used in people management by leaders from around the world in China, I heard a Belgian general manager tell a group of Chinese supervisors the other day, “don’t be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution.” In other words do as we say to be a part of the group that is behaving properly, other wise you will be viewed as a problem employee. Isn’t there something fundamentally disturbing to think that we as adults treat other adults the way that I treat a three year old?

Among young leaders and managers I find a rising tide of young people who are emotionally distressed because of all the things they feel they “need to do.” In other words when we ask people to internalize something that doesn’t work for them we start to hurt them often in ways that are beneath the surface. Is it a risk we want to take when we go with the easy way to get people to act like we believe they should?

So here is my last thought here: it’s time to rethink old strategies on creating self-control, they clearly aren’t working like we hope they will.

Let’s get “Mediapathic”

If you google “Mediapathic” or run it through Dictionary.com you’ll at best get a web handle or twitter name. So let’s give credit where credit is due “mediapathic” as I know and use it comes from the Neal Stephenson book Zodiac and it is his term not mine. In Zodiac he uses the term to refer to creating images and situations that register across the evening news and creating a lasting impact with viewers, usually creating a positive impact for your side and a negative impact for your adversary. As the key protagonist is an environmental activist his idea of “mediapathic” imagery makes industrial polluters look like villains and environmentalists look like heroes. In real life it is like getting someone like former BP top-executive Tony Hayward to say, “I want my life back” in front of the whole world.

You can see Mr. Hayward here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/01/bp-ceo-tony-hayward-video_n_595906.html (If you’re in China you’ll need VPN access)

We now live in a time that being mediapathic is a business hard skill that is going to set apart the have and have-nots. If you’re in business for yourself and/or growing a small and medium sized business being mediapathic is what gets people to find your product, see your services, buy your books, download your music and make sure that you have money in the bank. I want to share a few stories and a few links through this post to give you an idea about what I am suggesting.

There are a couple of events last week that got me running down this track. The first is a chat with my friend and former colleague Jesse Covner in Suzhou. Jesse left the consulting business to take a director role at a company that produces role-playing games. You can check out the kind of games they produce over at their web-site they sound fairly creative and certainly have their demographic of gamers. Jesse is enrolling himself in the world of facebook in order to start promoting the company and their products after having registered a VPN and swallowed his distaste for social media. I suspect he will be on twitter soon enough. Arguably if you are doing business where your primary target group is in the US it is a must to be visible there.

Beyond being visible though there is a growing need to be mediapathic. When I talked to Jesse he had just come back from Las Vegas after attending a massive role-playing convention for people who make games. The story he shared that struck me as being most interesting was that at one point he sat in on a panel about manufacturing role-playing games in the US and ended up in a debate with the CEO of the group that produces “The Settlers of Catan” on two sides of the debate about producing abroad (particularly China) or in the US. It seems that Klaus Teuber actually all but called Jesse out as being “unAmerican” producing in China. Jesse of course represents the little guys not a multi-million dollar gaming company with the profit margins to produce in the US.

I sincerely wish that Jesse had been able to record it and have it on youtube, shared on facebook, and tweeted in the moment. How mediapathic would it have been to be David standing up for the little businesses trying to make it by standing up to the giant Goliath asking little businesses to slash any profits they have and effectively slash their wrists at the same time. Mr. Teuber’s point would be mediapathic tackling Wizards of the Coast but against Jesse and small business looks and sounds like bullying. It also makes Jesse a champion for the little guy and the perosn you want in your corner standing up for your product.

Let’s summarize for a minute. Do you have a small business or work in the field of helping other small businesses like game designers. Use the new media of the internet and social marketing to get your message out there to as many people as possible. Be on youtube (or in China youku), be on facebook and gathering fans and likes and be on twitter collecting followers. Be in their face. But also choose your message carefully and keep it balanced to get your followers.

I have been promoting a couple of open courses in the early part of this year. To mixed results at this point. I am trying to find the way to create the most mediapathic impact in my industry. One standard though is to create a flyer introducing your course and a good flyer should have good images. A picture says a thousand words and having access to good pictures makes a big differences if you can get people to see your flyer. You can see the flyer I designed for a reviewing course up at Roger’s website for reviewing. You’ll notice the pictures are pictures of people I have trained doing reviews but not of Roger in action. This is not for trying. If you look around the web for pictures of Roger that are mediapathic you’ll come up short. Not because Roger isn’t in actuality one of the worlds great trainers (he is) or that he isn’t the world’s foremost expert on reviewing (he is that too) but because Roger hasn’t developed this part of his brand. To be fair Roger is an established brand in the training world and won’t lose any business for this oversight. His website is, btw, a great trainer resource but highly un-mediapathic.

Take in comparison the website my friend and former colleague Andy Anderson put together. Andy, if you haven’t met him, is a great trainer and an all around great guy. His website www.imandyanderson.com is stellar example of being mediapathic. The photos are top class and the lay out is both intuitive and interesting. It makes me want to make a knock off site, that’s how cool it is. If I was looking for pictures to promote Andy in a flier I would immediately have access to resources to do so and the material would be noteworthy. To be fair Andy is a graduate of the ClarkMorgan system and in the China training world they made some of the biggest inroads into being mediapathic. Which is part of the reason Andy has some outstanding images there.

If you want to learn from Andy here, don’t count on images of you that are mediapathic happening without fore-thought. Have the sense to have a talented person nearby with a camera or recording device at times that you will stand out. I have tried working with numerous accidental photos taken during training events and inevitably people who didn’t know better had highly un-mediapathic images as a result. You can’t use photos of your great training session when people look bored. It only takes one bored person to make an otherwise mediapathic image a disaster.

I noticed last week when I put up Ayawawa’s picture I got a couple readers who just wanted to know who the Asian girl was touching her hair. It appealed to a certain demographic. Last year we worked with a German (now Japanese) company in Zhuhai to create a local corporate culture. Their CEO pointed out that working with an American was interesting because Americans inevitably have a sense of marketing that Germans seem to lack. I pointed out over dinner this weekend that Germans know how to market to other Germans. They created a set of interesting visuals promoting their “corporate values” internally and needed to target two groups with mediapathic images. The local Chinese needed pictures of people they knew to resonate, for the Germans at the plant the CEO hand picked images that would resonate on the English language posters. Talking with the Germans they all strongly responded to the picture taken for the Honesty poster. Below are a couple of examples:

This young women is reminding employees about Honesty on this poster

Chosen for being the contrasting image to Honesty this picture resonates

The CEO said he picked the English language picture after carefully reviewing which employee looked the least Honest of the bunch. As a result the expat team took notice of the picture and started modelling Honesty as a value more frequently. It was a clever choice of a mediapathic image to drive for results with a target group. That would be the final point I would make about being mediapathic, you can’t expect everyone to register your image the same way but you have to appeal a certain group and that group is who matters.

Seth Godin, noted blogger, author, and business thinker, suggests that anyone wanting to be in business for themselves needs about 20,000 people to be in their “tribes” circle of influence to live comfortably. If we think about our friend Jesse if he has 20,000 people following his products and snatching up the latest product he and his company will be doing fairly well. That doesn’t mean Jesse needs to reach everyone on facebook or twitter only a core group or maybe two. In his case he wants to appeal to game developers who want his access to cheaper methods of production, his publishing networking and to the game buyers who trust in his opinion about what is both a fun and interesting game to invest their money in. In other words Jesse needs a tribe of about 20,000 role-players who want to buy his materials for any given product line that he puts out. He then needs to craft a mediapathic image for those 20,000 people and get it out to them.

Here are a few questions to think about in creating your mediapathic (and highly necessary) message:
1. Is their an outlet for your message? Literally what media are you using to get people to fall in love with your message?
2. Have you created an image that will register an impact? Have you gotten someone with talent to be there at the right time to choose the right image to move through your media?
3. Have you considered your audience for the image. Your targeting a select group or just scattering your message to whoever might show a passing interest?

Angry, Adjusting, or an Ass?

I have a hell of a temper. I am not sure if it is a Nature or Nurture issue. Am I pissed at the world because I got the genes from my father who in turn got them from his father or did I learn it from him and he from his father? One thing I have learned though being angry doesn’t make me genuine. Maybe I should say two things, the other being having easy access to one emotion doesn’t make me any more in touch with the situation just because I feel strongly one way or another.

Your Step Dad's not angry he is just adjusting...

I have been toying with this topic for a while because it isn’t an easy thing to write about. Let’s start from an example, to talk about it. A few years ago we helped a Taiwanese trading company run an organizational culture survey on the branches around China with their HQ in Dongguan. For whatever reason the data was calculated wrong in one sector (the question was something like, “we understand the vision for our company and have a clear direction of our future) the sales team was directly overseen by the GM and to him this group ought to be the most aware of the company’s future. In fact they had scored higher than any other group, but due to the error they had the lowest score.

To be fair we caught this mistake very quickly and before their scheduled date to share back with their employees. Their GM though, upon receiving the data, was caught up in the spirit of the moment and dragged his sales team into the meeting room and started a tirade about how they, better than anyone else should know their vision. Be rest assured that everyone heard him, but they all had to be wondering who hadn’t heard the GM’s message on vision before, since by and large they had all scored this area very well. The sales team was left with an impression that the company’s vision mattered a great deal to the GM, but also that they had received a verbal beat down unfairly and without having a chance to be understood. Needless to say this group was doubly suspicious of all future surveys and for some time walked very gently around the big boss.

I was in Shanghai a few years ago visiting my then HQ for an annual performance review. At that time one of my co-workers had decided to leave the company to go on to a more stable job, this was after all at a time when said company used to regularly miss our pay checks and issue half pay late and the other half even later. Given the size of our company the GM (see also CEO or big boss) was doing our performance evaluations. There were department and team leaders but they didn’t actually handle performance reviews except in the case of regional offices (mostly because it wasn’t financially feasible to bring people in, not because the GM wanted to decentralize authority) so we all had the perks of personal attention. Early on our colleague (let’s call him “Bob”) got his chance. What followed was, behind a thin glass door, a one way shouting match from an older experienced GM and his younger employee about how Bob leaving was personally disappointing to the GM because it put even more work on his shoulders and how Bob was letting us all down.

Here is the thing we all knew that the Boss cared about the company. We also knew Bob cared too and that leaving wasn’t easy for him. We all knew that the Boss felt like crap for missing payment and we knew that he felt we should feel like a family and a team. We knew he cared. We also felt at that moment that the Boss was full of conviction and passion. We also felt scared shitless of telling him how we felt. Who would dare go in there and say, “life is tough when I don’t get paid, it puts stress on my whole family” if we thought we would get blasted like that?

To my knowledge everyone in the office that day has since left that company. Very few of them after the incident with Bob sat down with the GM and said, “I am leaving soon” without some sort of fear of abuse or reprisal.

In both of these cases the leaders of their respective companies thought that showing their conviction through anger also showed their commitment. A few years ago I found myself in that same cycle with my own employees as a manager, because I had seen it so often in my education as a manager. “If you feel strongly blow up.” Not surprisingly every single time I lost it I had to work my way back from a deficit that I created in the trust in the office. People respect passion and conviction, but the distrust someone who can’t control their temper.

It’s a lesson that spills over into many parts of our lives. Want to be a better spouse? I am sure that people have said how we should show passion or show our convictions to make our relationships work, but don’t go off on our spouse. Somewhere there are battered spouses echoing, “he/she doesn’t mean to be abusive he just is full of passion.” The rest of us watching stand back and say, “nope he/she is just a jerk and it’s unfortunate that you feel you have to put up with it.”

In another role as parents we want to communicate the best way for our kids to act and it can be frustrating when they don’t listen, but being angry never gets the best results. Again having conviction and standing by your points as a parent is very necessary, having a three year old I know that if I bend on certain issues it can actually be dangerous, but being angry creates the least results or counter productive results.

So I still spend a lot of time figuring out the best way to not be so angry. I am less worried about the roots of the problem as I am about getting past those emotions and finding ways to show passion, conviction, and resolve without building distrust in my relationships. I regularly ask if it is worth getting angry about. In certain contexts I ask if I feel this way because I haven’t adjusted to the situation the way I need to to be at my best. Finally I ask if I might not just happen to be an ass. Going through the check list let’s me get objective and find a better solution than blowing up.