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Day 14/08/2013

Robert Steven Kaplan On Why You Need To Be Aware of Your Failure Narrative & Other Tips For Reaching Your Potential

“You’ve got three stories, I’m only interested in one of them. There’s the facts of your life story: where were you born; where did you go to school; your parents; your family–just the facts. There’s a second story, which you’ve got a lot of practice at, it’s called your success story, which is the story of how you overcame obstacles, excelled and got to where you are now. It normally has drawbacks, it has failures, it has terrible things that happened to you and you said, “I will not stand for that! I will overcome that and I decided right then, I was going to do this and then I went and I did it.” There’s a third story, this is not one that you’re telling in your job interview and this, I would call, is your failure narrative. And every one of you has got one and it’s based on the same facts of your life. “

 …*

I first heard about Harvard Business School’s Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, Robert Kaplan’s, concept of the ‘failure narrative’ last week while watching this short excerpt of an interview he did with Big Think. I was thrilled to hear him stress the importance of writing down one’s perceived narrative to drive awareness and facilitate change as I’ve been experimenting with a similar type of cognitive intervention entitled Self-Authoring these past two weeks (more on that next week).

In the video below, Kaplan elaborates on the failure narrative while highlighting the key steps of the process he outlines in his new book, What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential, to help people reach their unique potential.

Kaplan argues that the reason why so many of us don’t reach our full potential is that we don’t understand that it is an ongoing process, instead we “tend to think of it as a magic answer or a destination.” Kaplan notes that most of us would find it a bit ridiculous if one of our friends told us that they were trying to lose weight and wanted to go on this diet and then never have to worry about their weight again. Obviously, that wouldn’t work, change needs to be maintained. Same thing with growth–reaching our potential is a never ending journey, not a destination. Here Kaplan highlights five critical steps of the process necessary to reach one’s full potential, while providing tips on how to put each of them into action.

1. Assess Your Skills ~ Reaching your potential starts with an honest, accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses relative to a job. You need to learn to get in the habit of writing notes down, relative to a job and seeking the feedback of those that observe you so you can do it accurately. 

2. Find Your Passions ~ Passion is the rocket fuel that allows you to work on your weaknesses, makes you get advice from people and helps you do all sorts of other things, bad days, bad months, bad years–tolerating adversity. Passion is the rocket fuel that lets you do it but you do need to know what tasks you’re passionate about. You’ve got to be able to write that down. It is hard to perform at a very high level for a long period of time unless you’re passionate about what you’re doing. 

3. Understand Yourself ~ Why do people fail? Why do people fail to get feedback? Why do they fail to be able to understand their passions? Why don’t they go for it when they see something they want to do? Why do they keep quiet when they should speak up and act like owners? Normally, it’s doubt. 

  • What is that doubt for you? 
  • Can you write it down?
  • Are you aware of it?

The reason why being aware of your own failure narrative is so crucial is that, as Kaplan points out, “The biggest issue many people have is they don’t understand themselves.” We can’t always explain our rationale for our decision making and behavior. To develop more productive habits and further our chances of reaching our full potential, we need to be aware of our own beliefs. We need to examine what it is that is holding us back and triggering the self-doubt that we all feel throughout our lives.

Injustice happens. The key is, for most people, it feeds into your childhood, maybe events growing up, injustices that happened to you, maybe a difficult boss feeds into your self-doubt. And all of you have a narrative that’s in your head, whether you’re aware of it or not, right now that says, “I’m not good enough, I can’t do this. I doubt that I’ll ever be a _____ at ___, I don’t think I can.” And if you don’t think you’ve got [ a failure narrative], let me give you an assignment: write down your failure narrative. And the reason I urge people to write this down, this is [a narrative] that’s not politically correct to talk about, you’re not sharing it with your peers. Most of us wear a mask every day but we have self-doubt about something. And I might ask it to you this way: what’s your biggest fear? What is your biggest area of self-doubt? What is it you can’t do? And for many people, they’re not even aware that it’s in their head, but I can tell you it’s affecting what you do every day. It’s affecting your ability to reach your potential. Write it down, it may surprise you. 

Here’s the reason I like talking about the failure narrative. First of all, if you have the failure narrative always in your head, it might make you feel better to know, you’re not the only one. Everyone, to varying degrees has one. Most people think that their failure narrative is unique to them and they’re the only one–not so. Everyone has a failure narrative that is in their mind much more than you would believe. Now, they cover it over, they look great and their hair is nice and everything is great but I’ll tell you, if you watch them enough and you see what they can do and where they just can’t do it–that failure narrative is there. So step one is to realize you’re not the only one–there’s not something wrong with you because you have a failure narrative. Step two is, do you know what it is? And then step three is, how is it affecting your behavior now? And then you get to a question: do you need to be a prisoner of it? You’re not going to get rid of it, by the way, I have no clue how to get rid of one, but I do believe, if you’re aware of it and you try to address it, you don’t need to be a prisoner of it.

4. Performance and Career Management ~ What’s the vision? What are the top two or three tasks you must do well? Can you write them down? You should gear your skill development against those. Your dream job–you’ve got to think about the tasks you would dream about. You need to take ownership of thinking about these things. 

5. Good vs Great: Character  & Leadership ~ Once you’ve done strengths, weaknesses, passions, your story, matching all that to the job you’re in and what’s most important–do you act like an owner? […] Do you stick your neck out, appropriately? Do you help others who need help even though you don’t get any credit for it? This is what makes the difference, in my experience, between the people who are decent or good and great. Great companies are built around people who act like owners. Do you? 

via AtGoogleTalks, published on YouTube, August 9, 2013.

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