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If hard work doesn’t work, play harder!

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Feeling the pressure

I taught a really really big class in New Zealand.  We had 800 to 900 students each year.

We took all comers.  We had people coming back into education after a long break.  We had A+ engineering students in their final year.  We had nervous 17 year olds in their first year at uni.  We always had 33 nationalities ~ though different ones every year.  And we failed 25% ~ as a matter of policy.

Students felt the pressure.  The course wasn’t hard. It wasn’t intended to be.  You can teach intelligent university students almost anything without making it hard.

But their marks yo-yo’d around.  A few more questions right or wrong in the quarterly quiz and their class rank could change by 100.

Dealing with disappointment

Some students worked like mad. They even worked hard when they were averaging 80+.  I explained that 80+ translated into A+ and 9 points on their GPA and there was no point in working harder.  But they felt a compulsion to work more even though there was no reward.

Others could see no reward for themselves.  They beavered away and got mediocre or even ‘failing’ grades.

They came to me in anger or distress.

“I work so hard”, they wailed.

My friendly but brief reply was “Don’t!  Be logical. If working hard doesn’t bring results, don’t. Go out and have a good time.  Be logical!”

Many did. Most did.  They could see no other way forward.

Playfulness often brings better results

They would visit me the next quarter with a big smile on their faces.  “It worked,” they’d beam.  “It worked!”  “I partied all term and my marks shot up!”

Of course, there could be many reasons why their marks shot up. No matter!  What they had learned was an invaluable life lesson.

  • We don’t control everything, particularly in a competitive system where our results depend as much on what we  do and on what other people do.
  • Rewards are not linearly dependent on effort.  Working harder does not necessarily bring a reward.
  • People don’t reward us because we want to be rewarded.  “The world does not owe us a living.”

Business does not reward you for working hard

So they learned the first lessons of business. And I hope they will be better managers for it.

  • Do the basics, do them professionally, do them at the right time, and STOP.
  • Do what the customers want, not what you want.
  • Go out and play. Other people will like you for it. You will like yourself for it. Business may even boom!

The simple lesson is that if hard work doesn’t work, try something else!

Smile.  Take a deep breath and just do something differently.  Mix it up!

And stop being such a control freak!

There!  Gave myself away.

Ah, well, if you must, then turn it into an AB experiment.

  • Record your results now.
  • Every day, write a short journal of how the day went.
    • Ask yourself what went wrong and how you could do better.  Then ask yourself why did you do so well.
    • Jot down the misunderstandings and confusions that you were able to explore to the benefit of you and the other person.
    • Ask yourself what questions you pursued with no guarantee of an answer.
    • Ask who you treated kindly, as if their lives were going to end at midnight.
  • After a month, ask how you life is going!  Will you carry this on for another month?

Or will you do an ABA experiment and go back to the way things were?

For the poets among us: this short poem gives the same message lyrically.

Published in Business & Communities


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