Hustle, WOL & Flow

The toughest thing about working for yourself is the lack of perspective. Three practices will keep you at the edge, learning and pushing forward.

A Singular Perspective

The biggest danger in working for yourself, particularly as a consultant, is talking to yourself. Without perspectives from others that self-talk can swing quickly from entrepreneurial delusion (Everything’s fantastic) to pessimistic catastrophe (Never Gonna Work). When you are absorbed in a single project or worse with nothing to do between projects, it is easy to lose connection to others and the perspective (& learning opportunities) that interaction provides.

In my experience, three practices can help you with much needed perspective. Put together, these practices not only help you to remain in touch with the commercial opportunities and needs of your clients, they also stretch you to find new opportunities for your business.

Hustle

Always be Hustling. Write it down. Say it to yourself. Do it. 

Some people don’t like the word hustle because it can connote the con and the swindle. What I like about the hustle is it demands street smarts and effort. The hustle isn’t passive. You have to be out building networks, connecting with new and existing people, finding their current problems and working to solve them.

The hustle reminds you that the solution you will deliver is the one that the client wants to buy, not the one you walked in to sell. The hustle keeps you open to new ideas, new opportunities and new solutions. The hustle takes creativity, innovation and nous.

The hustle is one more call, one more meeting and the right amount of never say die. The hustle treats ‘no’ as a signal to learn more and work harder. The hustle is the best antidote to both delusion and catastrophe. Whichever you are in, there is still need for the hustle.

Work Out Loud

Working out loud in your networks is a great way to build your business. Closed intellectual property atrophies. You can’t test the product fit or market fit of a secret. 

Working out loud is not just sharing. Much of what I do, I share here. That has value to enable people to see my work and to judge my ability to contribute to solutions. I rarely get calls about what I blog. I get calls because I blog and people see my capabilities and think that they might help. 

More valuable than sharing out loud are the situations when I actually work to solve my problems or client problems out loud with peers. Working out loud has developed my practice areas, reshaped my products, introduced me to collaborators and extended my networks to new clients. Working out loud on my solutions with trusted peers and referral partners has sharpened my efforts and ensured I am delivering what clients need. I have saved so much time and effort by avoiding reinventing the wheel and developing to a market need as a result.

Flow

The concept of flow developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a state of optimal experience. In flow, you work as if time stands still and you have deep focus on the work at hand. It occurs when the rising challenge of our work matches to our rising ability. Flow comes when we push ourselves to work at the edge of our capabilities.

Some one once told me ‘If you don’t reach for the edge, you will never know where it is’. When your work depends on selling your expertise, there is a temptation to sit in the comfort zone. We are tempted to sell only what we are 110% capable of delivering. We sell what we sold yesterday. 

Flow pushes you to use your client’s problem and your client’s constraints as an opportunity to do more, to do better and to learn. Pushing yourself to this edge gives you valuable feedback from the real world beyond your bubble.

We can all benefit in our work from stepping outside the bubble of our usual experience. The three practices of hustle, working out loud and flow help us build the capabilities and the information we need for success in our work.

Focus

The human brain sees through attention. Focused effort improves mastery. Managing attention shapes success. Where’s your focus?

We see that to which we are paying attention. Our brain screens out things that aren’t changing and can ignore the raft of elements irrelevant to our focus. We are programmed for confirmation bias. This also means that focus often brings us that we seek. Shifting focus enables us to see things we missed before.

Focus also creates the positive sensation of flow. When we concentrate on matching our rising skill to rising challenge we become absorbed in the task. We enjoy the timeless feeling of growing mastery in that focus. Sustaining focus is essential to continued development over time. Focus and you create your own unique expertise.

In coaching, you often find people can’t see the opportunities and the strengths that they have. They are so focused on barriers, issues and threats that the opportunities surprise them. That has been my personal experience of taking the leap from corporate life to consulting. I was so worried by the risks that I was surprised by the opportunities. I needed to retrain my attention to the opportunities.

Where’s your focus? How is your focus helping you achieve your purpose?

Practice and Persistence

Developing mastery of new future of work practices is essential to individuals being able to leverage the networked economy and also organisations ability to adapt to become Responsive Organisations. However, new practices don’t develop overnight they take persistent repetition and gradual mastery.

Your way to Carnegie Hall

There is an old joke that an out-of-town violinist is walking through New York and stops a passerby to ask for directions to Carnegie Hall, the site of many famous concerts and recitals. The answer from a wiser old New Yorker is “Practice. Practice. Practice”

We have a current example of this insight in the hacker quest to demonstrate you can become an expert in a year through consistent practice.  For example, this man’s effort to reach the top table tennis players in the UK.

The key points here are that:

  • the practice is voluntary
  • the practice persists
  • the practice develops in mastery with a determined intent on improvement 
  • the challenge of the practice raises over time

Allow Time. Design for Flow.

In our rush to implement new practices in organisations, we can miss these characteristics of growing mastery. We choose target state behaviours. We impose them transactionally through short change management programs. We are often disappointed by the results.  Not surprisingly they rarely develop into consistent practice, let alone mastery. Alien behaviours can take time to make sense, to practice with confidence and to learn new capabilities required.

The ideal programs to the introduction of new behaviours leverage the concept of Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Individuals need to be presented with purposeful activities where the challenge raises over time as their practice grows in capability.  Keeping the developing practice in the zone of flow provides personal rewards to sustain the development of mastery.

The development of individual practice in this way may not fit within our traditional management timeframes.  This is not a 90 day challenge. Developing new mindsets and behaviours will occur on a human timescale.