I’ve written a lot about process. I’ve spent a lot of time sharing what good and bad process looks like, and advocating for better process over best process. What I’ve not focused on—which is an interesting oversight—is the mindset and personality of the people who actually build process for a living. This is important, because it goes a long way to explaining why we get the kinds of processes that we do. And what needs to change if we want to get processes that truly work.
Most of us want to be good at what we do. We want to be exceptional. Figuring out what it takes to get there is tough. We need to know what excellence looks like, we need a realistic assessment of where we are and we need insight into how to keep moving forward in a way that supports continued growth. The challenge is that most of our formative learning periods have specific stages and outcomes that signal when we have arrived. The journey to excellence is a little bit more circuitous.
An enduring question when encountering a new acquaintance is, “What do you do?” (This is especially true if you live in North America). Answering that question—particularly if you want your answer to be compelling and memorable—can be hard. The safe answer is to go with a functional description of what you do. Even comprehensive statements of job function can sound still sound vague and abstract (and be in no way unique). When you want to stand out in your answer, you need to reframe how you define the question.
Creative work is some of the most important work that we can do. It can also be the hardest. When you pour part of yourself into your work, you open yourself up to criticism. You can tie yourself in knots anticipating the feedback, critiques and suggestions of others. You can try for perfection, or you can put off the work until the time is right and you are in the space to get it done. In the long run, you are engaging in avoidance and sabotage. In no way do you escape the worst critic of all.
We are all familiar with the expression “the elephant in the room.” It is something that I have come to expect and even seek out when facilitating others. The reality, though, is that we each have our own personal pachyderms that dutifully follow us through life and haunt our work. The longer that we put off doing things, the more that we defer problems and the longer that we avoid pursuing our goals and ambitions, the larger and more omnipresent becomes the grey mammoth in our grey matter. You can learn to make the elephant go away. First, though, you need to recognize it for what it is, and what it represents.
I seem to have a bit of a thing for metaphors lately. Particularly metaphors of exploration. This week, I found myself challenged in ways that I haven’t been previously on several fronts that I currently lack sufficient expertise. Any one challenge might have been daunting. Encountering all of them at once was downright intimidating. That put me in mind of a movie that I once loved. In that, I began to find some answers.