Want to Advance Your Career? Think More Selfish, Scared and Stupid.
I realize you probably read ‘think more selfish, scared and stupid’ and thought, ‘wow, they do not sound like good things to be and I seriously doubt they can help me advance my career.’ Yet to be selfish, scared and stupid are natural human traits and understanding them can help us a great deal in getting ahead.
If we want to advance ourselves we need to understand who we are working with and what drives them. We must learn to think in terms of what are they getting out of us getting ahead? What are they afraid of when it comes to promoting us and how we can negate those fears and finally how can we make it as easy as possible for them to promote us.
Too many of us focus on the wrong things and play the wrong game. We think being good at our job is enough and should get us promoted. Yet that is a rather simplistic and perhaps even a little naive approach. Like it or not, our ability to give others what they need, to make them look good, to not threaten their position and make their lives easier leads to success more than being stellar at our jobs.
IBM famously sold themselves by admitting the truth that, “no-one ever got fired for buying IBM.’ They were right. Most people in organizations take the safest path (scared), the one that won’t get them fired (selfish) and that requires the least amount of work (stupidly easy). Instead of lamenting this fact and wishing people were different we need to learn to work with who people are. Yet most of us are a little delusional when it comes to human nature.
Human beings like to think of ourselves as selfless, courageous and intelligent but the truth is most of the time we look out for ourselves and our own, we act out of fear and we look for the path of least resistance and the least challenging way to get things done. Of course we have moments of inspiration, genius, selflessness and courageousness but they are the exception rather than the norm. It is unsurprising that writers and poets like to wax lyrical about these qualities because they are rare indeed.
Here’s the thing none of this is bad or even negative. It is simply the truth of what drives our natures most of the time. Learning to accept this is about learning to work with who people are and not who we wish they would be. Being selfish, scared and stupid is not bad or wrong; rather they are rather useful things to be. They can be magnificent even.
The reason we are all here today is thanks to them. Selfish meant our ancestors did what it took to keep their line alive, they looked out for themselves and their own, scared meant they laid low in times of danger instead of foolishly wrestling that alligator or lion and stupid meant they looked for easier ways to get things done.
If we stop judging human nature and instead learn to harness these traits in others and ourselves we too can get ahead and ensure we not only survive but also thrive in the workplace.
- Think more Selfish
Selfish has gotten a bad rap yet selfishness drives all of us. Even when we are doing things out of the goodness of our hearts we are getting payment in other forms. When we over-deliver, work back late or take on extra work we get to feel generous, capable, loved, important or worthwhile. The important thing to remember is that we all do it, we all unconsciously frame things in terms of what is in it for us.
When you understand it is human nature to come from a position of ‘what is in it for me’ you gain a powerful advantage. The advantage of ‘what’s in it for them’. By shifting our focus from we stand to gain to what they do we learn to frame our sales pitch differently.
See things from their point of view
If we can see the world from others peoples point of view and frame our position so that there is a benefit in it for them we can increase our persuasiveness. At the end of the day influencing someone, whether it be a client, boss or co-worker is about understanding what they stand to gain rather than worrying only what you get out of the transaction.
When it comes to career advancement the more we can sell what we offer in terms of how that benefits them the more successful we will be.
I work with entrepreneurs and big businesses all the time and are constantly surprised at how little business thinks this way. So often you can ask a business about their product or service and they can talk for hours about it but when you ask them about what drives their customers and what they get out of it the chatter dries up alarmingly quickly.
It is the same when it comes to promoting ourselves, we need to spend more time thinking about what they business or people we work with get out of us advancing versus what we ourselves get.
- Thinking Scared.
Thinking scared at work is about using fear for good and understanding how to make it work for you. Fear is not only natural it also gets us into action. Deadlines are a wonderful example of fear used for good. If we build a little healthy fear into our workplaces we can inspire action.
If however, you find fear is getting in the way of getting things done and stopping you then try flipping it. Flipping it means thinking through both sides of the fear equation and stacking the ledger so the fear of doing something becomes smaller than the fear of doing it.
Become more afraid of not asking than asking
If we can see the real risks in not taking action; missing out, being over-looked for a promotion, not being heard, not changing the thing you want to change or simply being angry at ourselves for our lack of action we begin to see our fears differently. Become more afraid of not having a go than you are of trying. We must become more afraid of not asking for that promotion than we are of the possibility of rejection and asking for it.
Understand their fears (and look to negate them)
Understanding human beings are more motivated by fear than courage is vital if we are to advance ourselves. If we can step outside ourselves and see the fears that giving us more responsibility might bring we can subtly alleviate them. It could be that promoting us means they feel like they are on the line and if we make a mistake it will reflect on them or that we might make them look like they had not been doing that great a job or that they will no longer be seen as the hero. Whatever the fear is, knowing it can help us address it or even work around it. For example perhaps giving them credit for teaching you everything you know can help maintain their status.
- The Genius of Stupidity.
Being more stupid at work means constantly looking for less challenging ways to get things done. Necessity isn’t the mother of all invention, laziness is. If you can learn to use humans natural tendencies to favor processes that require less effort you can get yourself ahead. Hacking your work systems can add value to business.
Looking for better ways is a great way to get yourself ahead. This matters as the modern workplace is moving from an Industrial revolution model to a technological model which means work is no longer just about doing but more and more about thinking. Your ability to problem solve, out-think and come up with ideas is more important than ever before as machines and technology take care of much of the doing. So practice your thinking and creativity skills as much as you focus on more traditional ones.
Think in Questions not Statements
A great way to improve your ability to problem solve and bring new solutions to your workplace is to train yourself to think in questions not statements. Questions open up possibilities whereas statements presuppose solutions. Asking someone to ‘build a bridge’ gets you a bridge; the only differentials are design and material whereas asking ‘how do we get across that expanse of water?’ can lead to many other solutions other than a bridge.
Ultimately getting ahead at work is about working with human nature, both your own and that of the people you work with. By constantly seeking to align work with natural behaviours we can make failure difficult and success more natural. We can also better influence others and maybe even get that promotion.
Who you are is perfect. Wonderful. Human. You are ultimately selfish, scared and stupid and so is that person who can help you advance your career. So don’t fight it, use it.
Kieran Flanagan is a behavioral researcher and strategist, specializing in behaviors and belief systems–what drives, motivates and influences us. Kieran Flanagan, along with her partner Dan Gregory, has won business awards around the world for Innovation, Creativity and ROI working with such organizations as Coca-Cola, Unilever, News Corp and the United Nations in Singapore. They are passionate advocates for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership. Published by WILEY, Kieran and Dan’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available in paperback RRP $22.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com.