A Radical Approach to Success at Work
Every day, you are performing. You step onto stage whether you are in the lead role or whether you are supporting others. Before the curtain goes up on today’s performance, study these 5 performance fundamentals so that you can perform at your peak.
Who better to teach these fundamentals than Cathy Salit? Cathy is the CEO and founder of Performance of a Lifetime. Her firm helps leaders and companies with the human side of business and strategy. For over twenty years, she has created custom workshops for companies ranging from American Express to Coca-Cola. Her new book, Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work is filled with lessons that will transform your performance.
Performance Fundamental 1: Choose to grow.
You talk about growing instead of knowing. What’s the difference? And why is that important?
We live in a culture where knowing — having all the data, getting the right answer, knowing how to do things as a precondition for doing them — reigns supreme. I call this the “Knowing Paradigm,” and it’s commonly accepted as crucial to success in school, at work, and for life in general. And in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with knowing — it’s critically important when you want to cross the street in traffic, calculate a tip, perform brain surgery, etc.
But to the extent that the Knowing Paradigm crowds out everything else we can do — the growing and developing that comes not from knowing an answer or being right, but from the interplay of our creativity, emotions, perceptions, relationships, and environments — we’re missing out.
This wasn’t a problem when we were little kids (a time of enormous growth and transformation), when we were free to experiment, play, pretend, imagine, and perform. That kind of learning — sometimes called “developmental learning” — is how we learned to walk, talk, ride a bike and about a million other things that weren’t based in facts and we never studied for. And we got a ton of support from the adults in our lives to experiment, explore, and grow in this way.
Illustrations © 2016 by Drew Dernavich for PERFORMANCE BREAKTHROUGH. Approved for use by Drew Dernavich.
But it doesn’t last. For most of us there comes a point when we go from being praised for trying something new (even when we didn’t get it right) to being told we didn’t get it right (even though we were trying something new). Now it’s time to color inside the lines, stop playing around and get serious.
And by the time we get into the job market, the support we got to learn developmentally as children is long gone. As an adult, it can be embarrassing to not know. There are repercussions if we don’t get it right. We feel stupid, and we make others feel stupid if they don’t “have it together.”
That’s one of the downsides of the Knowing Paradigm, and I think we need to challenge it. Being “smart” in this way is making us not so smart in other ways. We get stuck in our roles and our “scripts.” We narrow our interests and forget how to see and act in new ways.
Fortunately, we can start growing again — by reintroducing play, pretending, performing and improvising into our work and lives. We’re not just limited to what we already know and who we already are. We can be who we are and who we’re not…yet. We can be who we’re becoming. This is called the Becoming Principle, and it underlies everything we do and teach.
Embrace the Unknown
We shun the unknown and the ambiguous, but you say that embracing it is often the best path toward growth. Why is that, and what can help us to embrace it?
Oh, yes. Don’t we all wish we could know how things are going to turn out! Should I take this job? Get married? Come out? Move to another city? Have a kid? If only I knew for sure!
But we can’t know it all, and embracing the unknown and the ambiguous is a way to get in tune with that basic fact of life. As I’ve said, data and information are important, but they’re not all there is. For many of life’s opportunities, instead of “look before you leap,” I think you should “leap before you look.” Perform that new job, that move to a new city, that new relationship — and in the process live life, learn, grow, stretch, and go places and do things that can enrich you. And that goes for things that ultimately fail, as well as succeed.
Improvisation innovator Keith Johnstone said, “Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” If you perform in a more adventurous way, you will have more adventures! If we are only who we already are — then we can’t grow. That’s why I write about the Becoming Principle, which is about being who you are and who you’re not…yet, at the same time.
Performance Fundamental 2: Build ensembles everywhere.
Why are ensembles so helpful?