To Achieve More, Focus on Your Principles

by Scott Belsky

posted on 06-13-2018

When we want to get more done and be more successful at work, it’s tempting to look for quick fixes, like productivity tips or new tools. But sometimes it’s not the tactics that need to change, but rather the underlying principles that drive us.

Over the past few years, I interviewed some of the most effective and successful entrepreneurs, artists, writers, and executives for an upcoming book, The Messy Middle. The book is about getting through the highly volatile series of ups and downs in the middle miles of any bold project. Many of the lessons I learned were about what to value and what to ignore, and these principles can help anyone who’s interested in working smarter and getting more done. Here are a few to consider:

Resourcefulness is more valuable than resources

When we face a tough challenge, we all want more resources – people, money, time. And there’s no doubt that you need a certain amount of all those resources to get things done. But I think it makes more sense to focus on building resourcefulness – the creativity, determination, and ingenuity required to achieve your goals when you don’t have all the resources you’d like. Resources are like carbs; empty calories that are quickly burned up. Resourcefulness is like muscle; a strength that you can depend on day after day, no matter the state of your headcount or bank account. So, when you’re working under constraints, take the opportunity to build the muscle memory of doing more with less.

Invest in both your product and your organization

No matter what you do, you produce something. Accountants create spreadsheets, photographers make images, florists put together bouquets. When you want to be more productive, the simple approach is to focus all your energy on simply creating more spreadsheets, images, or bouquets. But that neglects the way that you work. We don’t spend enough time testing different ways to do things. It’s like A/B testing, but for how you spend your time, how you meet, and how you measure yourself and your team. Make sure you’re conducting tests to optimize your habits. And make sure you take the time to debrief, regardless of whether things go right or wrong. Sit down to analyze why you ended up with the result you did. Such retrospectives will yield dividends.

Empathy before passion

Many people imagine a solution to a problem and are passionate about seeing that solution brought to life. But that single-minded passion can sometimes blind us to the real problems of our target customers. Better than simply following your passion is to put a priority on empathy. Do the work to really understand the needs of the people you’re hoping to serve: What are the frustrations they face every day? What’s missing from the tools or services that are currently available? What keeps them at the office til 9 at night? Do that and you’ll get farther than passion can take you.

Don’t shy away from big problems

Checking a box on your to-do list feels great. But the quest for that hit of dopamine can lead us in the wrong direction. We solve lots of little problems so that we can tick off the boxes, rather than tackling the big, scary problems that are hard to solve. Remember that lots of people can solve the easy problems – they’re easy! It’s solving the big ones that really shows your worth. Make sure you’re prioritizing a few “boulders” along with all the pebbles you fit into your work schedule on a daily basis.

If you value innovation, value diversity

The founders of Airbnb had a hard time finding funding for one reason: The idea of a stranger sleeping in their spare bedroom just seemed too weird to most investors. And if we’re honest, the first reaction to a truly innovative idea is seldom “You’re a genius!” It’s usually more like “Huh?” The first time we hear a unique and creative approach, it often seems strange and off-putting. Innovation starts with on-the-edge ideas that only gradually reveal themselves to be valuable. The key is to surround yourself with extraordinarily different extraordinary people. What’s on-the-edge for you may be perfectly natural to them. And by bringing those different perspectives together, you can contemplate the possibilities of crazy ideas that may, someday, transform life as we know it.

Gain confidence from doubt

When you tell people about a new job, a new project, or a career move, they may furrow their brows and ask, “Are you sure?” Truth is, most insights ahead of their time strike people as strange. Don’t let their doubt discourage you. If everyone thinks you’re crazy, you’re either crazy or you’re really on to something. Sure, constructive feedback is helpful, but be sure to distinguish between criticism and cynicism. If you aspire to innovate, then you must learn to gain confidence from doubt. After all, nothing extraordinary is ever achieved through ordinary means. Every bold new venture will attract nay-sayers. Think of other people’s doubt as confirmation that you’re working on something interesting, courageous, and potentially important.

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Topics: Creativity, Leadership, Career Advice, Future of Work

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