Drive Cutting-Edge Progress by Improving Inner Engagement
Introduction: Definitions and Principles
Definitions: The outer, conventional world and the inner, experiential field
Whatever we do in life, it has two aspects, the outer, conventional world of objects, results, and events, and the inner world of our experience, perception, and states of mind.
Today business and Wall Street focus on conventional productivity and the "bottom line," a means of measuring the ‘outer’ financial health of an organization. However, as Timothy Gallwey clearly pointed out, the inner game holds the key to the outer game of our lives. "As everyone who has excelled in any sport knows, winning in the long term is largely a function of one's state of mind."
However, "as a culture, we [Westerners] have put much more emphasis on mastering the outer game and making changes in the external world. . . . our understanding and control of the Inner Game has not evolved equally." (Gallwey, p. xx) A main objective of this book is to help improve our understanding and control of the inner or mental game and how it drives both inner and outer progress.
Definitions: Outer and inner progress
It can be helpful to define two broad types of progress, corresponding to the outer, conventional world, and the inner, experiential world. If your concern is productivity or the delivery of services, you are focusing on what may be called conventional progress, or performance goals, typically measured by the 'bottom line', profits, speed, or quarterly results. On the other hand, if your concern is the quality of experience or personal change, you are focusing on what may be called learning goals or experiential or transformational progress.
Gallwey points out an important, but seldom recognized difference between conventional performance and learning or experiential progress: "The [conventional] performance goals may or may not require any change in capability on the part of the performer. They each describe a single external accomplishment. The learning goals, on the other hand, represent changes in capability. Each learning goal has the potential to contribute to the attainment of countless future performance goals. The difference in leverage between the development of a capability and the accomplishment of a specific task is largely underrated in a performance-oriented culture." In other words, in the West we favor task accomplishment over experiential progress, seldom taking advantage of the leverage gained by the development of our capabilities.
Of course, both types of progress will usually be of interest, and may be monitored and measured for a project. Since on any long-term project, a preoccupation with conventional progress can easily (and often does) lead to poor motivation or even apathy, burnout, and health issues, it's advisable to somehow balance one's focus on conventional progress with a focus on an inner, experiential progress. In fact, it's recommended that a long-term experiential objective be given priority over conventional goals. We'll discuss how to do this in Chapter Two.
Significantly, Gallwey turns around the usual priority of outer performance over inner progress in asking, "Can we play a satisfying Inner Game and at the same time meet the requirements of the outer game?" He replies: "play to learn, to play to fulfill your own potential . . . you will actually get better performance." My research and practice has verified this. Hopefully you will find it rewarding to put these principles into practice with your own objectives.
Definitions: Inner and Outer Engagement or Involvement
Engagement is now a popular topic in the business world. More and more research shows that driving progress by improving engagement--as contrasted with being preoccupied with the bottom line–drives not just productivity, but employee well-being and quality of products and services as well. (For a discussion of this, see Chapter One.) However, engagement has been defined in many different ways, leading to a lot of confusion.
We can distinguish two main types of engagement, behavioral or outer, and inner. Behavioral or outer engagement consists of certain observable, often organizational or social actions. For example, one might join a group concerned with the disarmament movement. This type of engagement is often noted in black-and-white terms--that is, you're either involved in a movement or you're not. Most of the literature on involvement or engagement focuses on this behavioral type of engagement.
However, in this book engagement usually refers to inner, or experiential involvement, sometimes defined as the degree to which one is preoccupied or experientially absorbed in whatever is at hand. A high degree of involvement implies flow, glow, and zero: an effortless yet powerful flow of events, a melding of objects and individuals, and a sense of openness pervading the entire work scenario. A low degree of involvement implies that individuals and objects are felt to be separate, intense effort is required to get small things done, or the work scenario has a heavy or inert feeling. (See Chapter Six on What’s The Zone of Peak Experience and Performance?)
Even among those advocating for improving engagement in organizations, there seems to be little appreciation for the value, methodology, and measurement of inner engagement. To see an example showing the vast potential for improving inner engagement, you can examine the account of a work period in Chapter Two.
While inner engagement is also occasionally seen in simple black-and-white terms--whereby one is either 'involved' or 'not involved'--it can be defined and used more precisely as a multivariate performance variable measured along one or more dimensions of the experiential field (see step 2 of the "General four-step approach to accomplishment, creativity, and change" in Chapter Five).
Outer engagement behavior, such as attending meetings, is often correlated with improvement in inner engagement, such as an intention to contribute more to the organization, but these two types of engagement aren't always closely aligned: it's well known that people can just ‘act the part’: "talk the talk" outside, but still not "walk the walk" inside. On the other hand, it’s pretty obvious to most of us that "Our state of mind creates our state of results." (Hansen and Allen, p. 28) Thus of the two, inner engagement is prior, much more important than behavioral engagement.
Definitions: Peak performance, peak experience, the 'zone'
When people talk about ‘being in the zone’ they’re talking about peak performance, an exceptionally rewarding or successful way of doing something, such as sports or work. Being in the zone is an example of peak experience, which Abraham Maslow defined as “a generalization for the best moments of the human being.”
Maslow used the term peak experience as a kind of generalized concept because he “discovered that all of these ecstatic experiences had some characteristics in common.” (Maslow, 1971, p. 101) “The person in the peak-experiences usually feels himself to be at the peak of his powers, using all his capacities at the best and fullest. . . . He feels more intelligent, more perceptive, wittier, stronger, or more graceful than at other times. He is at his best . . . . This is not only felt subjectively but can be seen by the observer.” (Maslow, 1962, pp. 105-6)
Although these preceding statements provide useful descriptions, it’s not clear what these states are, nor how they differ from ordinary experience. Because of this lack of understanding, for most of us, the zone is a nearly magical state of supernormal performance that, at best, we might ‘fall into’, almost accidentally. Precisely what this state is, and how we might foster its more regular appearance, is largely a mystery. This is unfortunate, since the term zone represents the most fulfilling and productive human experiences. How can we hope for more ‘super’ moments–during work, education, sports, spiritual pursuits, etc.–when we know so little about the zone?
Suppose we pick some of the statements people have made about the zone, and compare them to our ‘normal’ Western experience. What might we discover? What is the nature of the zone? How can we characterize it? Is there anything in common to all zone experiences? What if there are several very different kinds of zone experiences? Anything we can learn will probably be helpful in finding the zone ourselves, or at least in avoiding any dead-ends ‘on the way’ to the zone. These questions and others are taken up in Chapter Six.
Definitions: Self-actualization need, self-actualizing motivation
Self-actualization is a term that has been used in various psychology theories, often in slightly different ways. The term was originally introduced by Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one's full potential. In Goldstein's view, it is the organism's master motive, the only real motive: "the tendency to actualize itself as fully as possible is the basic drive... the drive of self-actualization." The concept was brought most fully to prominence in Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory as the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are essentially fulfilled and the "actualization" of the full personal potential takes place. ( See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-actualization ) According to Maslow, “Self-actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption.” (Maslow, 1971, pp. 43-44)
Andrew Grove, former CEO of Intel, discusses motivation--especially self-actualizing motivation--in his book High Output Management. “How does a manager motivate his subordinates? For most of us, the word implies doing something to another person. But I don't think that can happen, because motivation has to come from within somebody. Accordingly, all a manager can do is create an environment in which motivated people can flourish. . . . For Maslow, motivation is closely tied to the idea of needs, which cause people to have drives, which in turn result in motivation. A need once satisfied stops being a need and therefore stops being a source of motivation. . . . " (pp. 158-9)
"All of the [ordinary] sources of motivation . . . (physiological, safety/security, social/affiliation, esteem/recognition needs) are self-limiting. That is, when a need is gratified, it can no longer motivate a person. . . . For Maslow, self-actualization stems from a personal realization that "what I can be, I must be." . . . Once someone's source of motivation is self-actualization, his drive to perform has no limit. . . . unlike other sources of motivation, which extinguish themselves after the needs are fulfilled, self-actualization continues to motivate people to ever higher levels of performance. . . . A virtuoso violinist who continues to practice day after day is obviously moved by something other than a need for esteem and recognition. He works to sharpen his own skill, trying to do a little bit better this time than the time before, just as a teenager on a skateboard practices the same trick over and over again. The same teenager may not sit still for ten minutes to do homework, but on a skateboard he is relentless, driven by the self-actualization need, a need to get better that has no limit." (pp. 163-4)
"Once in the self-actualization mode, a person needs measures to gauge his progress and achievement. The most important type of measure is feedback on his performance. For the self-actualized person driven to improve his competence, the feedback mechanism lies within that individual himself. Our virtuoso violinist knows how the music should sound, knows when it is not right, and will strive tirelessly to get it right. . . . What are some of the feedback mechanisms or measures in the workplace? . . . The most important form of such task-relevant feedback is the performance review every subordinate should receive from his supervisor." (pp. 167-8)
However, a performance review is typically the opinion of others--and this is very different from the feedback mechanism available “within that individual himself” mentioned just above. An example of how to set up a truly internal self-actualizing feedback system is provided in the extended work example in Chapter Two.
Grove had some additional suggestions about how the competitive spirit of self-actualization can be brought into the workplace ‘playing field’: “Thus, our role as managers is, first, to train the individuals…and, second, to bring them to the point where self-actualization motivates them, because once there, their motivation will be self-sustaining and limitless. . . . Imagine how productive our country would become if managers could endow all work with the characteristics of competitive sports. And the best way to get that spirit into the workplace is to establish some rules of the game and ways for employees to measure themselves. . . . This is key to the manager's approach and involvement: he has to see the work as it is seen by the people who do that work every day and then create indicators so that his subordinates can watch their "racetrack" take shape. Turning the workplace into a playing field can turn our subordinates into "athletes" dedicated to performing at the limit of their capabilities—the key to making our team consistent winners." (Grove, pp. 168-171) Again, for examples of how to set up self-challenging ‘playing fields’ at work, see Chapters Two and Four.
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Table of Contents
Click on a heading to go to that part of the book.
Introduction: Definitions and Principles
Chapter 1: The Peak Performance Principle
Chapter 2: Case History--Monitoring a Transformational Variable
Chapter 3: A lab exercise--Sorting Cards into Books for Time
Chapter 4: Case History--Monitoring an Emotional Intelligence Variable
Chapter 5: General Four-step Approach to Accomplishment, Creativity, and Change
Chapter 6: What’s the Zone of Peak Experience and Performance?
Chapter 7: Building An Engagement Playing Field
Chapter 8: The Full Range of Our Engagement, or, "Who Are We, Anyway?"
Bibliography and References
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Principle: Improving engagement drives inner and outer progress, or actualizing values drives inner and outer progress.
The secret of doing things well while learning and feeling satisfied, is:
IE = k * WB * P * Q
In words, inner engagement in whatever is at hand is proportional to the worker's well-being, productivity, and the quality of the products and services delivered. Thus you can drive balanced, overall personal and organizational progress and well-being by focusing on increasing personal engagement/involvement, not by being preoccupied with the scorecard, productivity, or the bottom line.
More fully, the key to all types of progress--both inner and outer--is (1) to keep one's conventionally designated goals in mind, and then (2) focus on optimizing inner involvement, engagement in whatever's at hand. This seems to be what we all naturally do when performing at our best. (See Chapter One.) We concentrate, integrate our energies, and build our awareness, moving toward absorption in the task at hand. Then the results take care of themselves. “When we keep our eyes on consistently operating our business by aligning with our core values, the scoreboard does in fact take care of itself!" (Blanchard, p. 49)
We could reword it this way: Actualizing values drives inner and outer progress. When people perform at their best, their attention is primarily on qualities of the immediate experience of working, or on what could be called inner performance values (see Chapter Five)--but they are not preoccupied with measuring or tallying the products and services they are producing or delivering. Again, as Blanchard says, when people do their best, "all of their attention is on what they’re doing . . . . The results just seem to flow from this focus of energy . . . . Lots of companies seem to watch only their scoreboard–the bottom line.” (Blanchard, p. 3)
Timothy Gallwey asks, "Can we play a satisfying Inner Game and at the same time meet the requirements of the outer game?" His answer is that if you "play to learn, to play to fulfill your own potential . . . you will actually get better performance." Gallwey's publisher says that his books "have led many to realize that the Inner Game holds the key to the outer game of their lives." "As everyone who has excelled in any sport knows, winning in the long term is largely a function of one's state of mind."
Still, rather than our states of mind, most of us are quite obsessed with the conventional, or the ordinary things and activities of life. But then we've lost touch with the most effective means for realizing our goals, both inner and outer: changing our perspective, the qualities of our experience, and getting completely engrossed in whatever is at hand.
As Tarthang Tulku said, "Caring for our work, being really involved in it, is the secret of doing things well and of deriving satisfaction from whatever we do.” Hunt and Hait wrote, “When we . . . are totally absorbed by the activity at hand, we become our most positive and productive selves.” (p. 66) By consistently improving performance variables measuring our engagement--such as 'flow', 'glow', and 'zero'; or energy, concentration, and awareness, as explained in Chapter Four--we can clear away obstructions and realize our goals. See Chapters Two and Four for examples of how engagement measures are used moment by moment at work.
The following organizational environment will foster a natural, unimposed meeting ground for both personal fulfillment and organizational results, and inspire people toward peak performance, self-actualization, and optimal well-being–all at the same time: Define a playing field in which people can endlessly challenge themselves to both improve and progress no matter what task or role is at hand. Whatever they can do to dissolve limitations–and in particular to decrease the holding strength of our complexes, negative habits, and other experiential structures (which are absent during peak performance--see Chapter Six on the Zone of Peak Experience and Performance)–will help deepen engagement, contribute to their improving performance and fulfillment, and approach the ‘zone’ of peak performance. Employees can challenge habits that limit progress while participating in a naturally inspiring search for essential qualities of experience such as flow, 'glow', and openness.
Tracking involvement or engagement in the current scenario is a natural "peak performance principle" that can be used while doing any task, as you switch between tasks, or even when there is no apparent task at hand. In addition, as discussed under the self-actualization definition, it gradually relieves management of the need to motivate employees, and decreases the friction commonly experienced between employees and management.
Principle: Awareness brings change (ABC).
Given that being completely involved is the secret of doing things well, to excel with whatever task is at hand, we try to become aware of, and somehow deal with, any and all obstacles and limitations--anything that keeps us from a totally engrossed state.
But rather than simply trying to get rid of, or suppress these obstacles, Gallwey suggests that "Before you go about trying to change something, increase your awareness of the way it is," being aware of the variables that matter. "As you notice what distracts you, your priorities become clarified and focus is strengthened. This is the heart of practicing the Inner Game in any activity. As focus increases, self-interference decreases, and performance inevitably improves." . . . "Paradoxically, it is conscious acceptance of oneself and one's actions as they are that frees up both the incentive and the capacity for spontaneous change."
Tremendous awareness and perseverance are required to break bad habits. Still, it's often said that "What we can measure, we can manage." Or perhaps we could say, "What we can be aware of by means of measuring, we can manage and change." Awareness brings change.
"When we experience this kind of focus [of awareness], excellence in performance seems to happen magically, almost effortlessly. If we could learn to understand the nature of this kind of full attention, we would be able to perform much better in whatever we do, learn faster and more comprehensively, and enjoy ourselves much more in the process."
Gallwey seems to view this more intuitive 'focus' as a simple contrasting alternative to our 'normal' self-awareness and self-image, when our minds are "filled with self-criticism, hesitation, and over-analysis, our actions were awkward, mis-timed, and ineffective."