What you will learn from reading The Achievement Habit:
– Why trying is not good enough and how it is very different from doing.
– How to change your self-image into one of a doer and achiever, and why this is important.
– Why excuses, even legitimate ones, are self-defeating.
Having talent and good ideas is only part of the equation. The next step—the harder step—is the doing, taking the responsibility for designing success in your own life.
One of Bernards favourite things to do with a group is to ask people to think about who stops them from accomplishing the things they want. It’s always entertaining to listen to them explain how their parents, spouses, children, colleagues, bosses—you name it—prevent them from reaching their goals.
These perceived obstacles are simply excuses; in almost every case, when you really dig down, it’s you who are sabotaging yourself. Yes, sometimes there are real external obstacles, and most people don’t realise that they have the power to overcome them.
Here are some Design Thinking principles as described by Bernard Roth in the book:
1.Empathise. This is where it starts. When you design, you’re not primarily doing it for yourself; you’re doing it with other people’s needs and desires in mind. In this step you’re learning what the issues are.
2.Define the problem. Narrow down which problem you’re going to solve or which question you’re going to answer.
3. Ideate. Generate possible solutions using any means you like—brainstorming, mind mapping, sketching on napkins . . . however you work best.
4. Prototype. Without going crazy to make anything perfect (or even close to it), build your project in physical form, or develop the plans for what you’re going to enact. Test and get feedback.
What sets Bernards work and this book apart is the application of design thinking inward, towards enhancing one’s own life and relationships. Typically, design thinking is employed to solve problems in a business or educational context for other people. However, my focus is on using this approach to create the optimal version of oneself.
Your life has no meaning. It’s important to recognise that the significance we attribute to people, objects, and situations is subjective, lacking inherent meaning. The choices we make based on the meanings we create can result in either functional or dysfunctional behaviour.
Getting to know someone is a continuous process that can take a significant amount of time. People are constantly evolving, and their changes can be positive or negative, while everyone has the potential for self-reinvention.
It’s common to form quick judgments about others based on a single encounter, labeling them as lazy or unambitious. However, these are simply meanings that we have assigned to them. It’s essential to consider that everyone has the potential for greatness. The crucial lesson to learn is that nothing is fixed, and we are the ones who give meaning to everything.
Experiencing failure in an endeavour can be initially painful, but it rarely has catastrophic consequences unless we assign it that meaning. Like most people, I’ve had many experiences in my life that seemed terrible at the time but now make me laugh.
The Success Scorecard:
In life, typically, the only one keeping a scorecard of your successes and failures is you, and there are ample opportunities to learn the lessons you need to learn, even if you didn’t get it right the first—or fifth—time.
Many of the commonly recognised hallmarks of achievement, such as getting on the honor roll, graduating from college, securing a high-paying job, getting promoted, winning sales awards, occupying a corner office, being interviewed by the media, or receiving awards, are frequently associated with success.
While each of these accomplishments can be personally meaningful, they may also be nothing more than badges of status used to prove one’s worth to others. Do these achievements genuinely bring you happiness?
Pursuing achievement for the sake of achievement alone can feel empty and unfulfilling. It’s like chasing a carrot on a stick while running around a track. For me, genuine achievement involves traveling to a foreign country, learning its language, and navigating it independently. Real accomplishment is learning self-sufficiency and making lifelong friendships.
To forge a new attitude toward the events and relationships in your life, you must learn to look at them with a fresh perspective.
Most people have a cognitive bias called functional fixedness that causes them to see objects only in their normal context. The use of the materials and tools in their ordinary way will generally lead to no workable solutions or, at the very most, mundane ones.
To see the possibilities it is helpful to take the viewpoint that nothing is what you think it is. You need to make the familiar unfamiliar.
The power of labels:
If you stop labeling the world, your job, and your life, you may find that an amazing trajectory is there for the taking. You can remove labels entirely; you can also relabel to great effect. Recent studies reinforce the idea that re-labeling can change behaviour.
Experimenters have found statistical evidence that, for instance, if you ask people to be voters, you get more voter turnout than if you simply ask people to vote.1 Similarly, if you ask people not to be cheaters there is less cheating than if you just ask people not to cheat.
The inference is that people are more concerned with reinforcing their self-image than with their actions; thus, to change behaviour, you first change self-image.
The challenge with reasons is that they often serve as disguised excuses. Reasons can be misleading and are often used to justify behaviour, making it seem reasonable. However, this creates a paradox where we use reasons to appear reasonable, but in doing so, we are not fully taking responsibility for our actions.
To tackle this issue, I have a two-fold approach – one for the external persona and one for the internal self. Externally, we may use reasons in everyday conversation to navigate social interactions. However, internally, we need to question the reasons offered by our external self and those given by others.
I propose making a pact with oneself to minimise the use of reasons unless absolutely necessary. This shift can be incredibly empowering as it reflects confidence in our actions without needing constant explanation. By trusting ourselves and taking action, we can communicate our intentions effectively without relying on reasons.
As an example, when Bernard receives requests from students around the world to join his research group at Stanford, if he knows that he won’t be able to accept them, he simply expresses gratitude for their interest and politely declines. This approach usually ends the conversation with a thank-you note. However, if he provides a reason for his decision, it tends to prolong the conversation as the student may try to challenge or work around the reason provided.
In conclusion, actions speak louder than reasons. Let’s strive to minimise the use of reasons unless necessary and communicate our intentions confidently through our actions.
How to view others behaviour:
Whenever you or someone else provides a motive for behavior, try mentally substituting the opposite of that motive. For instance, if you say, “I am telling Kathy what her coworker said about her for her benefit, not mine,” try considering the reverse motivation: “I am telling her for my benefit, not hers.” Often, you may find that this reverse motivation is closer to the truth.
It is through observing traits in others that we become aware of those traits within ourselves. If we notice a flaw in someone else, it’s likely that we have experienced that same flaw in ourselves.
In other words, when we sense, even on a subconscious level, traits within ourselves that go against our self-image and make us uncomfortable, we tend to deny their existence and project them onto others. Therefore, our feelings of hatred towards others are often a reflection of our own unwanted or feared capabilities that we have projected onto them. To overcome the self-destructive effects of hatred, it’s important to acknowledge a fundamental truth about ourselves: we all have the potential for any human act, both positive and negative.
Don’t use Science if answer isn’t rational:
Decision making has become a big business, and new tools are being developed all the time. All of them, however, rest on a belief and a value system that require logical systematic thought. This approach appeals to people who are naturally judgmental and value so-called rational thought.
The best scientific methods for decision making won’t help if your question is one that can’t be answered rationally.
THE ISSUE OF TIME
One of the biggest excuses we have for not getting things done is a lack of time.
The difference comes back to intention and attention. It’s not that they had extra time; it’s that they made time. When something is a priority in your life, you have to be willing to walk away from anything that’s standing in its way. If there’s something useless that’s stealing your time, why are you letting it?
Understanding that extra hours are not going to appear on your clock, how can you make the time to accomplish what you need to?
Changing the way you think about the problem.
Krishna, one of Bernards students, shared that his bed was broken, and he was struggling to sleep well. His task was to find a solution to this problem. This led to a prolonged ordeal that stretched over several weeks.
During the first week, Krishna faced challenges finding the right wire to fix the bed frame. In the second week, he struggled to locate the appropriate tools. In the third week, he had difficulty finding some tiny springs. Bernard eventually lost his patience and warned him that he would fail if he didn’t solve the problem by the following week. The next week, he came in with a big smile on his face, indicating that the drama had ended. When Bernard asked him to present his project, he simply said: “I bought a new bed.”
This scenario illustrates the mistake of approaching an answer as if it were a question. Initially, Krishna tried to solve the wrong problem by focusing on the question, “How can I fix the bed?” The real question, however, was “How can I get a good night’s sleep?”
By reframing the question, he was able to broaden the range of possible solutions and move away from the difficulties encountered while attempting to fix the bed.
MOVING TO A HIGHER LEVEL
Have you ever encountered a problem that seemed unsolvable? You may have pondered various solutions repeatedly, losing sleep over it. However, the reason you couldn’t find an answer might be because you were asking the wrong question in the first place.
Let’s take the example of the question “How might I find a spouse?” Just because it ends with a question mark doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right question to ask.
Instead, consider what question “Find a spouse” could be the answer to. There could be multiple possibilities, such as “How might I seek companionship?” or “How might I find someone to take care of me?” or “How might I avoid being alone?” or “How might I have more intimacy?”.
Based on Bernards experience, he realised that losing sleep over a problem often occurs when we think we’re dealing with a question, but in reality, we’re dealing with an answer or solution that may not align with the actual problem we’re facing.
One way to break through this dilemma is to ask yourself, “What would it do for me if I solved this problem?” This answer can then be transformed into a new, more generative question.
For instance, if I haven’t been able to find a spouse so far, I can shift my perspective and ask myself what finding a spouse would actually do for me. If I believe it would give me companionship, then the new question becomes “How might I seek companionship?”.
By reframing the problem, I’m no longer fixated on finding a spouse as the only solution. It’s a simple yet powerful approach that allows me to identify what I truly expect from solving the problem and guides me towards a higher level of thinking and a better question.
You can use this method whenever you find yourself stuck and losing sleep over a problem. It can open up new possibilities and solutions by shifting your focus from the original problem to a more relevant question. Sometimes, letting go of the original problem and addressing the right question is the most effective solution, even if it may seem counterintuitive to some.
So, write down the original problem as a short, simple question. Then ask yourself what it would do for you if this problem were solved. In other words, if you no longer lost sleep over it, what would it do for you? Note down the answer above your original question. Now, convert that answer into a question and take a few moments to explore possible solutions to this new question. It’s a powerful technique that can lead to fresh insights and breakthroughs.
Once you have a problem statement, there are many formal methods that can assist you in generating solutions. Moreover, as you move forward in the problem-solving process, it is important to keep in mind that all problem statements (including POVs) are best regarded as provisional.
Often, when we become aware of a problem, our instinct is to immediately search for a solution. However, reframing problems can lead to much better solutions.
The core concept behind reframing is to introduce a change in perspective into our thinking. For example, consider the variant of the classic light bulb joke: “How many design thinkers does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer from a design thinker: “Why use light bulbs?”
To truly uncover new and innovative solutions, it’s crucial to start with the problem, not the solution. Introducing solutions prematurely can limit the discovery process and hinder creativity.
An important principle to keep in mind is to not simply charge ahead when considering how to achieve a goal or dream. Take a pause and reflect on what the true problem is. Shift to a higher level of thinking and consider what else might be at the heart of the issue. Then, reframe it. Change your point of view. Keep iterating and see where you end up. The real problem may reveal itself in a whole new light.
It’s common for us to choose the first viable solution that comes to mind and then stop actively searching for better options. This premature closure can prevent us from finding more practical, elegant, or cost-effective solutions. It’s important to be aware of this tendency and avoid getting stuck in the trap of settling for suboptimal solutions. Premature closure can occur at any phase of a design or problem-solving process, and being mindful of it can lead to more effective and innovative outcomes.
Rolf Fastes’ Problem-solving tools:
In the Stanford product design program, students are taught to use a problem-solving process (we called it a design process) with the acronym ETC.
The first step is to express an idea: come up with a trial solution.
The next step is to test the idea: see what about it works and what does not.
The third step is to cycle: use what you have learned to come up with a modified or new idea—that is, something new to express.
This is repeated until you have a solution you are proud of—or until you run out of time. In general, the express part of the process is generative. Your attitude here should be one of optimism about your idea. In contrast, when you get to the test part of the process, you need to change attitude and become a skeptic.
A list is a very simple and useful problem-solving tool. As the word implies, just make a list of all the possibilities. The trick is in generating a list inclusive enough to move you toward a solution.
When Paul graduated from college, he decided he would figure out his future by using lists. First, he made a list of all the things he wanted out of his career. He listed things like “Be my own boss,” “Use my engineering training,” “Do some public relations,” “Use my drawing ability,” “Travel,” “Have time for my family,” and “Be located in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
These are lists that contain the names of things from which to make more detailed lists. For example, you make a list of places to visit and then separate lists of things to do for each place.
These are notebooks in which you sketch out your ideas, using drawings, words, and even pasted-in items to create a record of tangible speculations on your part.
This is the process of matching up elements from different columns of attribute lists. For example, if we want to design a clock, we could make a column listing power sources (for instance, batteries, AC, mechanical, solar, water), a column listing timing mechanisms (gears, escapements, vibrations, pendulum), and a column listing indicators (two hands, three hands, LEDs, digital wheels). By forming all possible combinations of these elements, we automatically generate a large number of alternatives for clock designs.
This is the process of purposefully modifying your ideas to make the conventional into the unconventional. Alex Osborn, the famous early creativity guru, created a checklist of possible modifications, with items such as magnify and minimise, which referred to changing the scale of an idea.
This term, derived from the Latin word “synectica,” refers to “the joining together of different and apparently irrelevant elements.” In the context of creative problem solving, it involves using analogy to generate solutions. The synectics method encourages thinking of situations or items analogous to the problem at hand, with the hope that the analogy will reveal new insights and ideas.
Another valuable concept within the framework of synectics is “compressed conflict,” which involves combining two seemingly contradictory concepts. For example, “safe attack” was central to the development of vaccines, where a safe dose of a disease is used to attack the body, triggering the production of antibodies for protection. Embracing seemingly contradictory lines of thought can open up new avenues for problem solving and creativity.
This is an excellent approach to kickstart idea generation with questions. What if there was no gravity? What if there was blast-off house paint? What if there was a joke-telling trash can?
Working backward, you can imagine that the problem has already been solved and then trace the milestones back to the beginning. This approach can provide valuable insights for scheduling and planning, among other things.
This diagram can be used to redefine a problem, much like our method for changing the question. The idea is to generate a diagram showing a string of causes and effects. For a given problem the diagram lists a way of doing something—the how—and then why it is done. A lot of ideas can be generated this way. There are many variants, such as the how-why-why diagram, or the why-why-why diagram.
For you to succeed—even to win a job or a promotion over someone else—does not require you to cut down the other person. If anything, complimenting your rival shows class. Just work on yourself; be concerned with your own strengths and qualifications, and don’t worry about what your competitors are up to.
For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. —Aristotle
Whenever a significant change occurs, it’s often triggered by a switch flipping within. It could be someone who has struggled with their weight for years finally deciding to get fit, or someone who has tolerated an abusive boss reaching their breaking point and quitting.
A shift takes place that makes action more appealing than inaction.
Failure is an inevitable part of the human experience, and though no one desires it, it’s something we all encounter. There’s no need to fear failure. It’s a price we pay for taking action, and it’s important not to sweep it under the rug or deny its existence. The most empowering way to acknowledge failure is to celebrate it.
A system that punishes failures instead of recognising that they are a natural part of the journey towards success stifles creativity.
TRYING AND DOING
As we’ve established, there is a significant distinction between attempting to do something and actually accomplishing it. These are two distinct actions, and the challenge arises when people confuse them.
When you are truly doing something, regardless of how many obstacles you encounter or how frustrating your original strategy becomes, you are committed to completing the task. You bring inner determination and focused attention to fulfil your intention. Doing requires intention and attention.
The lesson here is that if you don’t genuinely want to do something, the world may present you with reasons why it can’t be done. However, if you truly want to do it, those reasons will not deter you.
We can also apply the concept of trying and doing to a person, rather than just their actions. Instead of seeing yourself as merely trying, you can view yourself as a determined trier, and instead of just doing, you can see yourself as a proactive doer.
The overreach of science
The phenomenon of science extending its reach too far may have stemmed from the proliferation of baseless claims and irrational belief systems being propagated. In response to this, a form of scientific vigilantism has emerged to combat fraud, exploitation, and ignorance. For some, nothing is deemed valid unless it carries the seal of scientific approval.
Bernards primary concern is that this insistence on scientific verifiability can lead to the devaluation or outright dismissal of valuable sources of personal wisdom that exist independently of formal experimental verification.
Unfortunately, experimental verification itself is an imperfect tool. It’s crucial to recognise that when we refer to science or research, we are not invoking infallible beings with access to absolute truths, but rather fallible individuals working within a currently accepted paradigm and shaped by the socialisation of scientific culture and job structures.
Our mode of communication with others holds substantial influence over their perception of us. It’s not solely about the words we choose, but also about the manner in which we convey them. Enhancing our communication skills can foster healing in relationships, create opportunities for better employment, and allow us to effectively reach larger audiences with the messages we wish to convey.
The existential situation almost always requires the conjunction “and,” not “but.” However, we often interchange “but” with “and.” This substitution has become so common that it sounds correct, but unfortunately, it often changes a neutral statement into a negative one.
Let’s take an example: “I want to go to the movies, but I have work to do.” The sentence uses “but” to connect “I want to go to the movies” and “I have work to do.”
Existentially, movies and work are not in opposition. The use of “but” in this context is acceptable in common usage, but it does not truly reflect the situation. In fact, using “but” creates a conflict (and sometimes an unnecessary reason) that doesn’t really exist.
The use of “but” tends to close off the conversation space, while “and” opens it up. Furthermore, what often follows “but” is often seen as vague or insincere reasoning. In improvisation terms, “but” is considered blocking and should be avoided as much as possible.
When striving to achieve a goal, it’s important to notice where we might be blocking ourselves by shutting down the conversation with “but.” For example, let’s say your goal is to obtain a popular internship that requires extensive travel. If you tell yourself, “I want this internship, but I’m afraid of flying,” your brain might interpret it as, “Oh, well, too bad. I guess we’re not doing this internship.” However, if you open up the dialogue with “and I’m afraid of flying,” your brain can then consider how to deal with both aspects of the situation.
To get a sense of this, try changing the word “but” to “and” in your mind the next five times you use it. Repeat what you just said out loud, but with only this one word changed. Notice how it feels.
HAVE TO/WANT TO
Next on our list of words to be minimised is the phrase “I have to.”
To better understand this, replace “have” with “want” in your mind the next few times you say “I have to.” Do this silently, just repeating to yourself the sentence you just said out loud, with just that one word changed.
Let’s compare “I can’t” with “I won’t.” An effective way to test this is to use the same procedure as in the previous exercise. For instance, if you said out loud, “I can’t stop breathing,” you can then say to yourself, “I won’t stop breathing.” The simple change from “can’t” to “won’t” can be empowering. “Can’t” implies helplessness, while “won’t” signifies volition and choice.
HELP VS ASSIST
Another word that can benefit from being discarded or minimised in usage is “help”. When you compare “help” to “assist,” the issue with using “help” becomes evident. When you help someone, you may inadvertently convey the notion that they are helpless and only you possess the capability to assist. On the other hand, when you assist someone, you treat them with dignity and acknowledge their capability. “Assist” is a language of empowerment, whereas “help” can sometimes come across as disempowering.
Consider the difference in impact between saying, “I will help you” versus “I will assist you.” The latter conveys a sense of partnership and equality, while the former may imply a power imbalance or a lack of confidence in the other person’s abilities. By choosing to use “assist” instead of “help,” we can foster a more empowering and respectful communication style that recognises the capabilities of others.
Minimise the use of “why” questions in interpersonal communications, as they can carry a negative and disapproving connotation, often putting the other person on the defensive.
Instead, opt for clear statements using “I” statements to express your position. For instance, rather than asking, “Why did you choose Jane as your co-leader?” you could say, “I felt hurt that I wasn’t chosen to co-lead.” This approach avoids placing blame and encourages open communication.
Here are Bernards top suggestions for good interpersonal communications:
1. Speak for yourself. Say “I know,” “I think,” “I feel,” “My reaction is,” not “Everyone knows,” “We all think,” “We all feel,” “Everyone’s reaction was.” It is much better to take responsibility for what you say than to attribute it to others. You hardly know what you yourself really think, let alone what others think.
2. Don’t be judgmental. If you need to be judgmental, especially in an argument or a tense situation, speak for your own feelings and reactions
3. Acknowledge other people’s issues. People want to know that you heard them. Acknowledge their problems only; don’t try to solve them unless they explicitly ask you to.
4. Don’t ask why questions. Make declarative statements about your position. Asking people why they do things puts them on the defensive.
5. When you are telling a story, be clear what your point is. Be prepared to be misunderstood and misinterpreted. If it really, really matters, make sure your message got across by having it replayed to you.
In this chapter it discussed about making productive changes in your teamwork, physical space, body language, and communication to make groups work better for you.
In Bernards workshops, he has adopted a feedback system for criticism that he learned from the late George M. Prince in a Synectics workshop. The approach involves providing criticism in a supportive manner that encourages positive evolution of the students’ work. It starts with two “I like” statements followed by one “I wish” statement.
For instance, I might say, “I like the way you took into account concerns about safety, and I like the way it looks.” Then, after a brief pause, I would continue, “I wish we could find a way to make it smaller.”
Notably, there is no “but” between the “I like” and “I wish” statements. They are separated by only a short pause, without any other intervening words.
The “I wish” statement is used solely to express something that could be changed, without suggesting a specific direction for improvement. Additionally, a third set of feedback is given in the form of “What if?” statements.
With this approach, feedback may sound like, “I liked meeting as a group” or “I wish we spent more time in our group,” followed by “What if we met after class?” This allows for constructive feedback while promoting a positive and supportive environment for growth and improvement.
It has a positive pull similar to the question “How might we . . . ?” Both “I wish there was a way to accomplish _______” and “How might we accomplish _______?” are good ways to get people to move forward in a proactive problem-solving frame of mind.
Take a moment to reflect on the viewpoints of your family and how they have impacted your adult life.
Consider their beliefs about money. How do they view wealth, financial success, and material possessions?
Think about what they consider to be a suitable life path for you. Do they have specific expectations or aspirations for your career, relationships, or lifestyle?
Reflect on their views on authority. How do they perceive authority figures, such as parents, teachers, or government institutions? Do they emphasise obedience, respect, or independence?
Consider their perspective on hard work. How do they value diligence, perseverance, and ambition? Do they prioritise career achievements or other forms of accomplishment?
Think about their views on grades or academic achievements. Do they place a high emphasis on academic performance, or do they have other measures of success?
It’s important to recognise that our family and community influences can shape our beliefs, behaviours, and choices. However, it’s also crucial to evaluate if these viewpoints align with our own values and aspirations or if they have led us to become mere imitations of others. While social constraints can serve valid societal functions, it’s essential to critically examine and choose our own paths in life based on our genuine desires and convictions.
HOW YOU SEE YOURSELF
Our self-image, which encompasses our perceptions of ourselves, including our bodies, emotions, actions, and thoughts, shapes our understanding of who we are. Take a moment to list five short descriptors that you believe describe the type of person you are.
Next, ask five friends or family members to each provide five descriptors that they believe characterise you. Compare their twenty-five items with your own five descriptors to gain insights into the accuracy of your self-image.
It’s important to recognise that our self-image may not always be completely realistic. Research by Harvard business psychologist Chris Argyris has shown that people often act inconsistently, unaware of the contradictions between their self-perception and their actual behaviour.
Aligning our behaviour with our self-image requires being honest with ourselves and avoiding self-deception or rationalisation. It’s important to acknowledge that our self-image may evolve and change throughout life as we gain new experiences and perspectives.
Who am I in terms of what I have?
Who am I in terms of what I do?
Who am I in terms of my being?
This exercise provides an opportunity to pause the constant internal chatter and objectively examine what you possess, what you do, and who you are as separate entities. It allows you to dig deep and assess how your life aligns with your self-image.
For instance, teaching could be seen as something you have, something you do, or even part of your core identity, depending on how you perceive it. Similarly, various aspects of our lives may fall into different categories for different people, and there is no definitive right answer as to which category they belong to. It’s a subjective perspective that may vary from person to person.
Consider an issue in your life that you genuinely desire to eliminate. Begin by asking yourself if you are truly willing to let go of it. Can you imagine it vanishing from your life right now? This may be more challenging than you think, as we often have a tendency to cling to certain issues. We use them to define our identity and connect with others. For example, some of us may enjoy being seen as victims because it garners sympathy from others, and we use it as a way to relate to our friends. It’s important to honestly evaluate your willingness to let go of such issues in order to create positive changes in your life.
Imagine you have only ten minutes to live. What would you do?
Imagine you have only ten days to live. What would you do?
Imagine you have only ten months to live. What would you do?
Imagine you have only ten years to live. What would you do?
Imagine you have only the rest of your life to live. What would you do?
Looking at your answers to these questions, you have a lot of information about yourself.
Life presents us with various crossroads and possibilities, and it’s often challenging to predict which path to choose and which opportunities to seize.
The limitations on our career trajectories are often self-imposed. While it is commonly believed that we all reach a point of incompetence, Roth challenges this notion. Instead, he suggests that we often rise without thoughtful consideration, acting impulsively and without deliberate intention.
Work and self expression:
In his scholarly work “Labor and Monopoly Capital,” Harry Braverman highlights the importance of work that allows for self-expression and satisfies human needs. He traces the trend towards deskilling of work and workers, categorising machines that enhance people’s skills as life-supporting, and those that deskill people and devalue their work as life-destroying.
Braverman’s insights are further reinforced by E. F. Schumacher, who takes a Buddhist perspective on work in his classic essay “Buddhist Economics.” Schumacher emphasises that work serves the basic human need for association with others, and it fulfils several fundamental needs:
Utilising and developing one’s faculties.
Overcoming ego-centeredness by working with others towards a common task.
Producing goods and services for a meaningful existence.
Schumacher goes on to explain that work is not merely limited to economic meanings, but is a fundamental human function that transcends such limitations.
By choosing the meaning we assign to the people and things in our environment, and by holding ourselves in high esteem with a positive outlook on our future, we can ultimately control our own experiences, regardless of the type of work we are engaged in.
Taking stock of what you don’t notice:
The assumptions we take for granted form the foundation of our self-image and give meaning to the things in our lives. By making these assumptions explicit, we have the power to affirm or change them, transforming ourselves from puppets to autonomous beings.
Create a list of all the things in your life that you typically overlook, under the heading “Things that are too obvious or too trivial to list.” For instance, your list might include items like “Not truly listening when my spouse talks to me,” “Neglecting to clean out the garage,” or “Not getting enough sleep.”
Over the next few days, pay close attention to how much of your behaviour is based on the items on this list. If you are content with these aspects of your life, you can continue as usual. However, if you wish to make changes, physically and metaphorically cross out those items on the list, and take action towards transforming them.
Where does the story start?
In the midst of ongoing conflicts between individuals or nations, each side often justifies their actions by pointing out the wrongs done to them by the other party. Each side’s narrative seems logical and validates their responses. However, what often goes unnoticed is that the justification depends on where they choose to start the story. Bernard Roth refers to this as a question of punctuation, and though it may be overlooked by the conflicting parties, it holds great significance.
History is a continuous flow without a clear beginning or end, except for our individual lives. Therefore, any story that begins at a certain point is a distortion of what has truly transpired. The starting point of the story influences its meaning and justifies the position of the storyteller.
The issues in a marriage, for example, do not solely originate from when one’s spouse went out with an ex-boyfriend or failed to clean the garage. By choosing where to begin the story or where to place the period, the storyteller assigns meaning to it. Changing the punctuation can transform the hero into the villain, and vice versa.
PROBLEMS ARE GOOD FOR YOU
The word problem has negative connotations. It implies there is something wrong that needs fixing. However, if a problem is reframed as an opportunity to make things in our life better, then it becomes a positive, and problem solving can be recognised as one of our basic life forces.
So what are problems? Bernard uses the word problem to describe any situation that we want to change. Usually problems are stated as questions (“How do I get a job?”) or statements (“I cannot afford college”). Generally we want to deal with problems in order to effect a positive change in some situation. Remember, life consists of solving a series of problems.
PROTOTYPE YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS
A prototype serves as a sample or model that is created to showcase or test a concept, with the intention of learning from it. Incorporating prototyping into your problem-solving process can be an effective way to move forward.
It’s important to note that prototypes do not necessarily have to take the form of a physical object. They can come in various forms, such as conversations, written drafts, short movies, skits, physical representations of social or personal issues, or actual physical models of objects. The key is that prototypes provide information in any form.
The term “mock-up” is often used to refer to an early-stage, non-precise prototype. However, a more apt term to describe an ideal early prototype would be a “crap-up”, as it conveys the notion of an imperfect yet functional representation.
Prototyping serves different purposes depending on where you are in the solution process. Let’s categorise this process into three stages.
In the first stage, prototyping is used to inspire a concept (referred to as a concept prototype).
The second stage involves evolving the solution in a concrete manner (known as a feasibility prototype).
The final stage is to validate that the solution works as expected (called a functional prototype).
While these terms may not be used in everyday personal issues, the concepts of prototyping can be applied to most problems. For every issue you encounter, you need to seek inspiration to generate solution ideas, refine the details of the solution, and validate its effectiveness.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
It’s important to recognise that others are not overly concerned about our hairstyle or attire; they are preoccupied with their own lives and struggles to pay much attention to us. People are mostly focused on their own careers and problems, rather than being preoccupied with ours. Despite this reality, many of us tend to believe that we are the main catalyst for other people’s actions.
A more accurate perspective is reflected in the mindset of “It’s not about me.” Bernard Roth realised that when he initially thought he was the reason behind someone’s behaviour or mood, it later became clear that their actions had nothing to do with him.