By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: habits
Posts 1 - 3 of 3

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How quickly do you learn?

Many of us keep making the same mistakes over and over. We often make a habit of making the same mistakes. We date the wrong people, we're habitually late for appointments, we put off projects for too long, we reach too far for a ladle of gravy and it drips on the tablecloth...these are a few among many common habitual mistakes. When we make mistakes habitually, we are failing to learn from our experience.

In an organization, each mistake represents a gap in knowledge or execution. The process is imperfect. But the mistake has provided an opportunity: to span the knowledge gap or to perfect the execution. Every mistake gives us the opportunity to learn.

Embrace mistakes! Seek out the imperfections! They are our friends! They are our path to improvement. Given a mistake or imperfection, we now have a specific problem to solve, a specific answer to find or a specific experiment to run. We can improve!

Once the answer has been found or the experiment has been run, put the new knowledge to work. How? Make plans and processes explicit. Then improve the processes as more is learned.

Who else needs to know about this discovery? Share the learning. And if you don't know who in particular needs to know the new answer you've found, share it to a wiki or a database or even just a knowledge base of articles in a shared folder that others can search.

Then do it all again. Learn more quickly than anyone else. It's the one true defensible advantage.

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Keywords: continuous improvement, habits


Monday, March 12, 2012

Changing habits

Continuous improvement in an organization is very similar to an individual changing habits. An organization has processes, an individual has habitual routines. An organization process is initiated by a certain set of circumstances, an habitual routine is triggered by a cue. An organization process serves a goal of some kind, an habitual routine is followed by a reward.

The psychologist William James appreciated the power of habits well before he became a psychologist. He wrote in his diary at age 28 that he was considering suicide:

"Today I about touched bottom, and perceive plainly that I must face the choice with open eyes. Shall I frankly throw the moral business overboard, as one unsuited to my innate aptitudes?"

But shortly after he made a decision. Before committing suicide he would conduct an experiment. He would spend a year believing that he had control over himself and his destiny, that he could become better, that he had the free will to change. He had no proof that he could change, nor any proof to the contrary, so he chose to believe that he had the free will to change and his "first act of free will shall be to believe in free will."

In the following year he improved his life for the better in many ways and wrote that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. And that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits. If you believe in change and make change a habit you can make real changes. And the key is, that one's habits are what he chooses them to be, then the habits propel one to become the person he wants to be.

So it is with continuous improvement. An organization must first believe that it can become better. It must believe it can change. And that the key to that change lies in improving its processes. If the processes are improved, the performance of the organization will improve as a consequence.

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Keywords: continuous improvement, habits


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Facts are friendly

Several years ago I had a friend who would often say that facts are friendly. What she meant was that it's better to know the objective facts of a situation rather than speculate on scenarios, what-ifs and feelings about possibilities.

An example of the friendliness of facts is when trying to change habits. Let's face it, very few of us are good at keeping New Year resolutions. Whether we've resolved to lose weight, exercise regularly or learn a new language, the implementation of the resolution rarely survives a few weeks of effort.

One of the most successful ways to stick with a behavior change long enough to become a habit is to simply keep track. It isn't a guarantee of success, but it is one of the best ways to increase your likelihood of success. Keep a food log for losing weight or an exercise log for fitness or a simple tally of the days you studied your language lessons. For resolutions where you want to do more of something, such as a student's resolution to study more, keep track of hours studied each day.

Logging activity and especially logging hours used to be a burden. If one were highly motivated she might record events or hours on index cards and later tally them up. But that's a lot of work in itself and could be one of the resolutions that doesn't last.

Keeping track is easier with smartphones. First, it's convenient: the phone is always with you. Second, events can easily be recorded in a simple text file. Third, time recording apps are available to record start times and end times on a variety of tasks with a simple click. The app takes care of adding up the time spent on each task (e.g., studying vs. chatting with friends.) Fourth, timer apps are available that beep to remind you that it's 7 PM and you should be studying or that it's the top of the hour so if you're goofing off, get back to work.

Facts are friendly. Having the facts from logs and tallies about efforts to change habits does two things: it repeatedly keeps you aware of your intention and it confronts you with facts about how well you're sticking to your goals. It's similar to deliberate practice: being mindful about what you're trying to change rather than simply going through the motions. It's the same technique recommended by Ben Franklin and others for centuries before him, but is made just a bit easier with our smartphones. 

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Keywords: habits, deliberate practice

  Posts 1 - 3 of 3