...stop looking for surefire ways to do things! I'm losing count of the number of emails flooding my inbox and the number of posts on LinkedIn with titles like; 10 top habits for personal effectiveness, and 5 things effective leaders don't do, followed by 15 things top leaders do, and of course, 11 ways to know you're in the wrong job, and 17 habits that will make you look more professional, or 30 things content marketers must do to drive traffic, and 9 ways the most successful people see life differently and best of all 27 words you should never use to describe yourself... I mean WTF!
...I mean come on; 27 words to avoid? I wouldn't have minded this last list so much if it had been complete, I know it wasn't complete because neither the word twenty nor the word seven, made the list, but anyone who starts a conversation with me using the opening gambit, "here are 27 words you should never use to describe yourself", would quickly be given a few words (carefully selected from my ready list of 8 words to use in such circumstances of course) with which to describe themselves. Anyhow, you get the gist, we are inundated with quick-fire solutions offering ready-made or oven-baked formulas to handle the increasingly complex and sometimes intractable problems we all face every day; and few if any of them amount to anything. I wonder if Vladimir Putin gets emails like 6 ways to know if your colleagues really like you or Boris Johnson gets 4 ways to run a country...and yes I know, if he does he's obviously not reading them.
I think our social media platforms and inboxes are increasingly full of this stuff because we're all suffering from a severe collective case of FOMO or "fear of missing out", which has now been in the dictionary for over five years folks! And our desire to get better at what we do in 10 easy steps is being fueled by an information industry that has no limits to its production and perpetuates itself exponentially. But the truth is that if the challenges that have faced the human race could be dealt with by "how-to-do lists" then we would have dealt with every issue facing us centuries ago; the 10 commandments have been around a while now and there is little evidence of them being embedded (thou shalt not take someone else's country Vladimir!).
If "how to" was working we'd all have reached Nirvana by now; "how to" clearly isn't working and yet we keep going back for more and more of it, thinking that there is an as yet, untold truth waiting round the corner to be discovered, a new way of doing things or seeing things that will get us where we think we need to go. I think that intuitively we all know that things are just not that simple, but we seem to be increasingly addicted to quick fixes and attracted to those that offer them.
In this blizzard of well-meaning suggestions and top tips, I find it useful to fall back on the principle of farming. Farming and nature offer useful antidotes to a world of quick fixes. You can't create a forest from nothing to a glorious canopy and flourishing eco-system in a week, a harvest can only be yielded if the land is maintained and the crops are planted and nurtured; in short, there is no substitute for preparation and learned life experience and these can't be acquired in 3 easy steps. Living in a rural farming-based community is also a great reminder of the systemic cycles of nature and our ultimate interdependence on each other. I do wonder what my uncle, a fifth-generation farmer, would have made of lists like "3 quick fixes for crop growth" or "5 things to do to ensure your milk yield is awesome" and "7 types of hat you should never be seen wearing at the auction mart". I guess I'll never know but it's fun imagining.
You see one of the problems of the "how to list" culture is that it doesn't cater well to ambiguity and uncertainty...using predefined lists of problem-solving techniques is like deciding which clothes to put on before you've checked the weather forecast. A T-Shirt and shorts are fine if it's 25 degrees outside, but you're going to look seriously daft if it's snowing. I've just revisited the oft-referenced quote attributed to Bill Gates in which he says, "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." I think it's a great quote. Then I visited a post on LinkedIn which told me that the worst thing people can do is listen to any form of negativity; the lesson being offered is that we should stay away from sources of criticism. Of course, there is truth in both these bits of guidance, the trick is knowing when to apply and use them. Context is everything in such situations and next week I'll be sharing my three easy steps to understanding context along with ten ways to remember the three easy steps...