Simon Terry

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Beware of sprezzatura

An perception trails the highly productive. Others can doubt their achievements on the basis that success comes too easily or that other forces are at play.

High personal productivity is usually an outcome of shaping your work to deliver where you are most effective. When you apply your strengths, work with capable people and are powered by your life’s purpose, you are in the sweet spot of performance. Results often come at a pace, further connections are built easily and challenges are quickly addressed.

The support of others, your personal productivity and the swift outcomes can make the difficult look easy. Some modest souls even deliberately encourage the notion that their personal productivity is not as challenging as it looks. In either case, the actual amount of effort can be lost. Thanks to Renaissance Italian courtiers, we have a term for the art of making the artful look artless, sprezzatura.

As occurred in Italian courts, a consequence of sprezzatura is that people begin to doubt the nature of your actions. Three doubts are particularly dangerous for those who appear to deliver with ease:
  • doubt as to your authenticity – if people start to see you performance as unnatural or effortless they will begin to doubt your authenticity. Often this will be combined with doubts as to your intent and or the basis for your success. Over time these doubts can be highly damaging.
  • doubt as to the achievement – people can under value achievements, reassessing your contribution on the basis that it can’t be as hard as it first looked. At its most extreme, people may not notice at al because you deliver without the usual dramas.
  • doubt as to effort being concealed – if people do concede the difficulty, they can form a view that you are hiding the effort involved. For example assuming that like the duck gliding serenely there must have been a lot of paddling out of sight. When the activity is perceived to be discretionary, this assumed effort might also be regarded to be at the detriment of your core responsibilities.
Four simple steps help everyone gain more accurate recognition for their efforts and continue to build the trust and collaboration that is a platform for future success:
  • Describe your sweet spot: Knowing where you best deliver and being able to describe the conditions that make you highly productive to others helps them assess you and your contributions. Authentic sharing of purpose and strengths builds support and connection. It also helps you get more of the work that you do best.
  • Collaborate– engage other key stakeholder in the process and the work so that they can contribute and inform themselves on your intent and approaches. Collaboration helps make you a magnet for the work that you do best.
  • Work out loud – narrate your efforts as they occur so that a broader community can learn and contribute. Sharing the journey with others allows them to better understand and engage with your work.
  • Promote the value of your achievements – don’t just promote your work. Promote its value. External benchmarks, external recognition, the contribution to execution of strategy are all important in addressing doubts.
Sprezzatura can be disarming. Make sure it is not a challenge to your future productivity.

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