Bye-bye mediocracy, say hello to your superpowers

Fish jumping out of fishbowl representing superpowers
Posted on: Sunday 23, June 2019
Category: Thought Leadership

In this article, I argue why settle for Meh! Instead, we need to harness our superpowers. I explore why mediocracy is more common than you think and how to say No! to meh and start to harness your superpowers to achieve better results.

The mediocracy of meh!
In this changing world, will there be a place at the table for accepting 'average' performance or being mediocre anymore? I know, I know, it sounds like a ridiculous question; has there ever been a place for mediocracy I hear you cry? Perhaps true. Although some argue, well every organisation requires its foot soldiers, right? So, does that mean we should put up and shut up about meh in the workplace? I don't buy into that either. Alternatively, perhaps you might assume that all the decades of continuous change and constant restructuring that all that dead-wood has surely been eradicated by now. Moreover, we know this isn't true, either in reality - don't we still bump into the mediocracy of meh in our workplaces?

Bye-bye old world, say hello to the new economy

The currency of the new emerging tech economy won't be just bitcoin or Libra. The new kid on the block will be the ability to harness our superpowers. 
(Andrew Jenkins)

Oprah Winfrey recently said these powerful words at a recent keynote speech, 'There has never been a moment quite like this one.' We all stand at a crossroads between two worlds: the old economy, which had its zenith and is now fading; and the new emerging tech economy which is rising. We stand in the cross-hatched zone of disruption and confusion. Researchers often cite this as the era of uncertainty. Charles Handy, business guru and futurologist of the '90s called it the age of unreason

The question is which curve do you want to ride? The choice here is only an illusion by the way. We all know where the old economy is heading. That is an inevitability. However, that doesn't mean we have accepted 'the new programme' (a term used in the film: The Matrix) yet. Moreover, we are all still trying to figure out the rules of this new economic era. What is certain, though, is that this 'playbook' is very different from the rules of the old economy.

What seems to be shifting (to the millennials at least) is that in the new emerging economy, our identity won't be about what we do anymore. That was the old economy, the king then was our job roles, our titles and status. Its rules centred themselves around building a career and competing for promotions. Interestingly I coach a lot of leaders and executives and it turns out that often folks can be quite miserable in this stereotype way of working!

Move over baby-boomers, here come the new kids on the block
Instead, the new economy seems to be more about whom we are becoming through our work. What's in play now is reaching for our dreams and desires now (not later), fulfilment, core purpose. Also, exploring the very best version of you and inventing one's career around this. Playing more to one's strengths is favoured over, not wasting time ironing out weaknesses.

So, move over baby-boomers here come the new kids on the block. Their working world will be much more about: 

  • Taking more personal control
  • You are your career
  • You are your personal brand, and you build it
  • More people will have portfolio careers

The analogy here is like pension plans. In the old economy, we worked towards a company pension. In today's world, portable pensions pots are the thing – so it is with careers in the new economy. My experience of being a vanguard of the points above in my career is that people seem to be a lot happier when they take control of their career pathways. The rise of portfolio careers is an authentic example. That is, where one chooses to work multiple career paths at the same time. Here people seem to become highly motivated and energised doing so. Mainly because they are perhaps calling the shots and they are in control. Freelancers, contractors, the self-employed or small business owners are current examples of this approach. (See also blog on How to master second curve thinking).

Why do we settle for meh?
Why do we settle for meh? That's an interesting question. I love this quote in the film, Kung-Fu Panda, 'There is no charge for awesomeness!' Feeling awesome about ourselves is certainly a choice, and I would argue too that we all have the programming and tooling to be awesome. To get there though, we need to access and develop our built-in superpowers (I'll return to this shortly). However, so many people feel, well, meh about themselves!

For example, when we suddenly have to face an issue or difficult situation it feels like being smacked by one of life's 'curve-balls', or we hit a 'speed-bump' that gets in our way and slows us down. At these times many of us perhaps default to, 

  • 'Well, I'm nothing special.'
  • I haven't got any superpowers' or,
  • 'I'm not good enough to make a difference.'

Or, so you might think! But, why is this? 

The upstairs and downstairs brain

We can find some of the answers to this question in our heredity make-up. You see it's all down to what I call our downstairs brain. We are hardwired instinctively to survival - we share that with the whole animal kingdom. Our downstairs brain acts as a default (albeit basic) protection and defence programme. It selects for us the next Nano-second ahead based on what's going on compared to our past history. It presents this decision forcefully too. So, when we hit 'tricksy' circumstances, mentioned earlier, our downstairs brain screams at us and often just takes over. At this point, we often get emotionally hijacked by it. Professor Steve Peters, in his book The Chimp Paradox, termed this the chimp brain. But, this isn't the whole story either. As Peters points out, we have the necessary tooling to override and grow beyond these basic and default responses. This is achieved by accessing our upstairs brain - through development and learning. (we'll get to that shortly).

When our downstairs brain is in action, it is like being in our comfort and fear zones in the infographic below. That's part of our habitual human conditioning. If we don't stretch or grow beyond these two zones, we can find ourselves trapped here. That is because the comfort zone is very sticky. So, until we make smarter decisions, our under-developed selves tend to decide for us and get fixed in the blue zones. Besides, negative inner mind chatter can become the ongoing and habitual narrative that goes on between the ears. For example:

  • I'm not good, clever, smart enough
  • I'm a failure, I'm useless, I'm not worthy
  • People don't like me.

Recognise any of these?

This set's off a chain reaction of all the other stuff shown in the blue circles. That eventually leads to the mediocracy of meh! So there you are – it's a reason, but it only answers part of the question we began with -  how we access our superpowers. So read on dear reader.

Pipe down your chimp brain and crank up your soft skills

As human beings, we may tend to defer or default to our chimp brain; however, as also mentioned earlier, we can override this. We are designed to grow beyond our default settings. I call this the upstairs brain. When we use our upstairs thinking (i.e. our cortex or frontal lobes), we can make smarter choices. Albeit, they tend to be around 10 seconds behind our chimp brain. So, when we wait out our emotional responses, we can make so much better choices.

So how do you achieve this? Well to move out of the blue circles to the red ones you need to crank up your soft skills. That starts with the learning zone. In this zone, these soft skills are certainly not namby-pamby or fluffy either — quite the opposite. You see, by cranking up your soft skills, you begin to develop the capacity to pipe down your chimp brain. You do this by stretching and growing beyond the rubber band effect of being conditioned to the comfort and fear zone. 

Being in the learning zone isn't just a mind-shift thing either! In the comfort and fear zones, your cortisol levels – a stress-based hormone tend to sky-rocket. However, in the learning zone, it quickly flushes out. Besides, you also get a boost of happy chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin. They all start to assist you too positively. Not only that, your testosterone levels spike as well – bonus! This cocktail helps motivate you and make you assertive to take action. Your outlook and confidence levels improve, you develop a growth mindset and your language changes to being positive – Zinger!

Entering into the superpower zone
What's more, the more you crank up your soft skills, the more you build up the bandwidth to transform into the superpower zone as well. As you can see from the above infographic, in this zone, you take your soft skills learning even further. Here, you stretch into reaching for your dreams and desires, setting proactive goals, invent yourself through work by becoming the very best version of you and making the world better.

That is where high-performance teams operate. The critical thing is, you have to take time to develop and learn this stuff – it takes effort. However, I argue that the results are worth it.

Concluding take-aways
Here are a few take away messages:

  1. In the new emerging tech economy, experts are telling us to expect that many jobs will disappear due to technology and Artificial Intelligence advances. So, it follows that we will all experience unexpected things happening and challenging times ahead. Building resilience (a soft skill) will be crucial. 
     
  2. Playing to your strengths and not your weaknesses is vital to sky-rocket your superpowers. for example, a strong leader finds strength in themselves and in others. A poor leader picks at weaknesses and breaks themselves and others down - quote by Andrea Marshall.
     
  3. The current gap in soft-skills (and there is one) will have to close as the demand for these will only increase exponentially in the next few years. I believe that it is not solely a personal responsibility to make an effort to develop one's soft skills. It will also be an organisation responsibility too. Wrapped up in this is that our organisation cultures must change too (see blog the leadership evolution). Our businesses and institutions need to be smarter at becoming far more collaborative and cohesive (both are superpowers) workplaces. Only in such 'superpower' cultures can high-performance teamwork thrive and where everybody matters. Otherwise, all the smart people will choose not to work there. Perhaps there is a place for the mediocracy after all (J) – I don't think so!
     
  4. Also, workplace jobs won't last forever, even in our institutions. Because of point 1, we will all experience reinventing our careers a few times as we move into the future. That means that the smart money is on being adaptable (a soft skill) and continually reinventing our careers (this requires your superpowers). In turn, it means riding second, third and fourth curves, or more in all our working lives. That will become the new normal - and your superpowers too.
     
  5. And what's more, I believe that there will be no room for mediocracy here. The market place will see to that. Only those willing to embrace high performance and growth mindset attitudes (i.e. your superpowers) will be the winners. 
     
  6. Also, more and more people will purposefully leave one-job employment to have portfolio careers at some point.
     
  7. All the above also means that people will need to retool and retrain too regularly. So, the rise in Further (and Higher) Education will be necessary. Governments and organisations will have to start waking up to this and better fund our education establishments.

[1,880 words]

This blog was based on a keynote speech I did at #gccchanginglives conference 2019 in Glasgow.

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Graphics and phrases used in the article
The source of the cartoon of the man in a hospital bed is by the talented Bob Mankoff, Cartoon Bank of the New Yorker magazine. The circle's infographic is influenced and adapted from @thewealthhike. The fish and fishbowl is purchased as a royalty-free image from Dreamstime.com.

Mediocracy of meh - Author of Hustle, Patrick Vlaskovits

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