3 Psychological Traps that Keep Your Startup in the Trough of Sorrow

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You’re stuck in the trough of sorrow. No matter what you do, nothing in your company is improving.

You look around you, and everyone you know is crushing it. Their companies are getting acquired, they’re raising huge funding rounds, and they’re announcing new product features that people love.

But not you. You’re stuck in the trough of sorrow, and it feels like you’ll never get out. It’s emotionally trying and tough to handle psychologically, and you’ll want to quit. That’s why famed startup investor Paul Graham has said that the number one underlying cause of startup death is that “the [founders] become demoralized.”

How you handle those plateaus, psychologically, will determine whether you remain stalled there forever and your company ends up in the startup graveyard. You’ll face these three psychological traps — avoid them, and you’ll have a chance of making it out alive on the other side.

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95% of Managers Follow an Outdated Theory of Motivation

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What, by a long shot, is the most important motivator for employees at work? Is it money, pressure, or praise?

Typically managers believe the idea that pressure makes diamonds. The thinking is that if you want exceptional performance, you align employee objectives with end-of-year bonuses for hitting certain milestones and then employees will turn up their work ethic to reach them.

Long-held conventional wisdom on management dies hard. That’s because it’s based on gut instinct and superstition — and managerial understanding of motivation is no different. A massive 95% of managers are wrong about what the most powerful motivator for employees at work.

Not only that, they’re thinking about employee motivation fundamentally wrong.

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3 Surprising Science-Backed Ways to Find More Time Today

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Somehow, time is your enemy, while more time is also a luxury.

Things weren’t much different a few centuries ago in 1682, when William Penn wrote: “Time is what we want most, but what, alas! we use worst.

Understanding our strange relationship with time simply helps us manage it better. When you feel like you have time, the world opens up. You’re motivated to act and explore on the one hand, and savor and breathe, on the other.

Contrast that when you feel like you don’t have enough time. It’s stressful and taxing and you start making decisions based on that anxious feeling of lack. It might mean reaching for the quick, unhealthy snack rather than your usual walk and putting those non-urgent (but important) activities that nourish and enrich you, like exercise, personal projects, and relationships, on hold.

Since how you think about time affects the reality of how you spend it, the ability to influence that perception can be incredibly powerful. Here are three surprising methods, backed by research, that will help expand your sense of time and motivate better decisions about how you use it.

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Failure & Cake: A Guide to Spotify’s Psychology of Success

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Nobody enjoys failing. It’s never really what you set out to do.

At Spotify, failure is cause for celebration, because it’s seen as an opportunity for growth. Jonas Aman, who is part of Spotify’s People Operations team, told us that instead of treating setbacks like speed bumps you rumble over in the course of running a business, they “celebrates thing that don’t work. It’s about the effort, not the result.”

Sometimes, failure calls for cake.

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How to Stop Life from Passing You By: the Weird Science of Stretching Time

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One unnerving aspect of getting older is how life seems to start speeding up. Feeling that whoosh as time rushes past you can be disheartening as you wonder where the days, or months, or even years go.

Yet we’re not doomed to march to time’s relentless beat. Your sense of time is weird and pliable — stretching, compressing, coming to a standstill. And you can mold it, to some extent, to move to your own beat.

When you encounter the familiar, time seems to constrict and when you acquire new knowledge, it expands. Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains:

Time is this rubbery thing…. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, “Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,” it shrinks up.

That relationship between time’s elasticity and whether your brain is processing new information gets at why time seems to turn up the tempo as we age. As the world starts to become more familiar, we learn less and sometimes even seek information and experiences that fit within what we already know. There’s less adventure, play, exploration, creativity, and wonder to invite and engage with newness.

The way you spend your time influences how you perceive it. So the choices you make about what to do now impacts how you’ll manage your time later. Here are two ways to make your days richer and more memorable so that your sense of time expands and life doesn’t pass you by.

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How Fast Web is Impairing How You Think

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Before you realize, habits form. How much thought do you put into your daily routine, and how much of your routine is formed as a response to outer influence? In other words, do you know why you work the way you do?

Being purposeful with your work philosophy might be the missing key to achieving a healthy rather than hasty, always running-behind pace. Understanding the psychological benefits of controlling the flow of your time and attention reveals the wisdom in taking things slow.

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Why Stack Rank Doesn’t Measure Up

In this two-part guest series, Ellen Chisa shares her experience at Microsoft and how its review system affected her psyche and productivity. (Read part 1 for an overview of Ellen’s time at Microsoft.)

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Stack ranking is a performance review system that ranks employees against each other. Critics point out that a review process that creates inevitable losers and requires managers to fight on behalf of reports is unfair and disconnected from the quality of the performance itself. Microsoft recently decided to get rid of the stack rank.

Stack ranking hurt Microsoft employees. It negatively impacted the work and damaged people’s views of themselves and their ability to improve.

Here’s how:

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Why Work Loneliness Isn’t Just a Personal Problem, and What to Do About It

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Work is a social thing. It’s done with people, and at the very least, for people. At the same time, you are one person with a job to do. When those personal and social gears are out of alignment, when you’re not connecting with the people you spend so many hours a day with, you get lonely.

Loneliness seems like such an intensely personal, private problem, but it’s much more than that. Loneliness and isolation is a collective issue. And at work, loneliness is yet another effect of the inadequate attention paid to the human side of getting stuff done together.

Whether it’s the inertia of interacting with the same people every day in a way that’s unique from all your other relationships, there’s a prevailing sense that work is this realm where you just deal, that it’s not something that you can improve. While we understand the prioritization of personal friends and loved ones, we often miss out on meaningful interaction with the person down the hall, focus on growing our supposed professional network more than we look next to us to grow higher quality connections.

That kind of thinking is unhealthy, unhelpful, and unproductive.

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The Shit Sandwich and Other Terrible Ways to Give Feedback

Giving feedback well is one of the manager’s most difficult skills to master, because, as famed tech founder and investor Ben Horowitz points out, it’s incredibly unnatural.

If your buddy tells you a funny story, it would feel quite weird to evaluate her performance. It would be totally unnatural to say: “Gee, I thought that story really sucked. It had potential, but you were underwhelming on the build up then you totally flubbed the punch line. I suggest that you go back, rework it and present it to me again tomorrow.” Doing so would be quite bizarre, but evaluating people’s performances and constantly giving feedback is precisely what a CEO must do.

Here are three fundamentally flawed approaches that inexperienced managers take in trying to perform the dark art of giving feedback, and how to avoid them.

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Master Your To-Do Lists

[T]ry picking a stubborn item from your own to-do list and redefining it until it becomes something that actually involves moving one of your limbs… Breaking each task down into its individual actions allows you to convert your work into things you can either physically do, or forget about, happy in the knowledge that it is in the system.

Tom Stafford, “The Psychology of the To-Do List”, BBC.com.

Discover four more helpful to-do list tips and how to master the art of to-do lists by understanding why they fail.