Monday, August 12, 2013

99U Conference

At the 2013 99U Conference in New York City, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Associate Director, Columbia University Motivation Science Center, spoke about motivation. Here are some excerpts from her talk:

Upon reading story after story about geniuses, prodigies, and other successful people, Heidi Halvorson found herself noticing that people in the U.S. tend to attribute failure and success not to controllable factors such as work ethic, but rather to innate ability or talent.
  • Do you have a "Be Good" mentality or a "Get Better" mentality? First, there is the "Be Good" mindset: trying to prove yourself and validate your skills to look better (or smarter) than those around you. Alternatively, a person with a "Get Better" mindset focuses on constant improvement -- instead of focusing on perfection they focus on performing better than previous efforts, which gives them room to fail, learn, and grow. In study after study, Halvorson found that a Get Better mentality improved chances of success and happiness.
  • Don't visualize success. Visualize the steps you will take to make success happen. When you encounter challenges with a Be Good mindset, anxiety and depression set in and start to affect performance. Your skills and your intelligence can feel compromised and/or threatened. When faced with similar challenges, a Get Better allows you to focus on improving or refining your efforts -- as well as the external processes -- rather than feeling like your intrinsic skills or intelligence are at stake.
Back in 2000, I came across the concept of "kaizen," which is an approach to one’s personal or social life that focuses on continuous improvement. It's so easy to sit back and tell yourself, "I'll never be as successful as Steve Jobs because I'm not as talented as he is." But the truth is, Steve Jobs worked incredibly hard in order to become successful and he also had some failures along the way -- the Apple Lisa, Macintosh TV, the Apple III, the Powermac g4 cube. It took Jack Dorsey years of experimentation before he finally launched the Web site which ultimately became Twitter. And Howard Schultz failed at his first attempt at creating a communal coffee experience. In 1986, when his first store opened in Seattle, there was non-stop opera music, menus in Italian, and no chairs. Schultz admits he had to make many mistakes to discover what would become the Starbucks we know today. 

Currently, I work as a Financial Advisor for Morgan Stanley. Of course, there are people in my office who seem to be "natural born" salespeople, but not every successful advisor falls into that category. There are plenty of advisors in my firm who have managed to succeed simply by working harder than everyone else. Hard work doesn't necessarily mean you will become successful in financial sales, but it will greatly increase your chances of achieving success. 

All through my life, I have focused on getting better and better no matter what endeavor I pursue. Whether it's trying to earn good grades in school or a promotion at work, I have noticed that the harder I work, the more successful I become. For example, when I was in high school, I tried out for the tennis team and was placed in the #18 slot, the last slot on the team. I felt really embarrassed about being the lowest girl on the totem pole, so I spent the next several months practicing tennis. I practiced so much I developed calluses on my right hand. But all my hard work paid off. After a few weeks, I moved my way up from the #18 position to #9. A few months later, I eventually landed in the #4 position on the varsity tennis team, which is where I remained until I graduated from high school. I didn't set out with the goal of becoming the #1 person on the team. My goal was simply to work as hard as I could so I could become a better player and see where that took me. If I had set a goal of becoming the #1 player on the team, I would have felt really discouraged by failing to reach that goal. And discouragement is the enemy of motivation. 

Another trap that many of us fall into is visualizing success instead of visualizing the steps it takes to succeed. Let's face it. It's much more fun to fantasize about what it feels like to be successful -- the fancy mansion, the luxury sports car, the five-star vacations, etc. But fantasizing about the desired end result before you have achieved it doesn't give you the roadmap you need to succeed. I believe that is why so many people play the lottery. They fantasize about what they will do with all the money they might win because visualizing other things you can do to end up with a lot of money isn't as much fun. 

In addition to Halvorson's recommendations, I think it's also important to remain true to your personal brand if your goal is long-term success. Let's take searching for a job as an example. Most of us have some idea of what our dream job is. But then when we discover our dream job, we feel discouraged when we realize we don't meet the minimum qualifications. But think about the person who eventually wins your dream job offer. That person was not born with all those qualifications. He or she had to work at a number of different jobs in order to acquire those skills. You can do the same thing. Once you have your dream job in mind, write down all the skills your dream job requires. Identify skills or experiences you don't have yet. Then try to find jobs that will help you fill in those gaps. 

Think of your career trajectory as a series of horizontal or vertical steps. Ideally, each subsequent job you land should give you new skills you can add to your resume and increase your chances of landing your dream job. Sometimes, it's important to make a lateral shift in your career path in order to add a new suite of skills to your resume. But whatever you do, don't accept any job out of desperation. Every job you accept should build on your existing set of skills. Think of yourself as a personal brand. For example, if you were a five-star restaurant, you wouldn't add fast food to your menu just because it seems profitable. The jobs on your resume need to fit your personal brand.

Motivation and success are important values in the American culture. What we need to recognize is that lasting success can only be achieved through proper motivation. If you adopt a Get Better mindset, visualize the steps you need to take in order to succeed, and remain true to your personal brand, chances are you will achieve the success you desire. 

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