Tag Archives: psychology

The Trouble with “Smart”

Tell me if this resonates with you.

I’ve been called ‘smart’ my whole life.

I hate it.

“You’re so smart” discounts any effort I make about educating myself, learning things, questioning assumptions.  It narrows it down to merely a trait, over which we have very little conscious control.

“You have brown hair” … “You’re so smart”.

It can be intended as a compliment, or a communication of disappointment.  “You’re so smart, why did you do this dumb thing?”

It raises expectations and makes failure a lot more perilous, because its becomes less about trying something lightly and moving on if it doesn’t work and more about (say it with me now, those of you who’ve ever had a report card) “Not living up their potential”

Great. So if I try something and I’m not good at it right off the bat, I disappoint those who care about me, who have high expectations of me (including myself)? Well then, I’d better not do things that I don’t already know that I’d be good at.

And the world becomes small.

It turns out this is an actual thing amongst kids praised for their smarts rather than their effort, and not just me being crazy.

But I think there’s a secret to this whole “smart” thing.

The thing I’ve noticed about others who are perceived as smart is this: It’s not about knowing stuff.  It’s about being able to connect seemingly unrelated things at speed.

“Smart” is all about pattern matching.

And the best way to learn how to see the connections between otherwise unrelated parts of the world is to be curious.

But I’ve done plenty of writing about curiosity already.

So maybe I’m not Smart.

Maybe I’ve trained myself to see connections.

Thats a much more interesting thing to be, and do, and a conscious choice.

It gives one credit for their own brain.


Adjusting Course: A User’s Guide For People and the Places They Work

I just turned 30 this past April.  As my birthday was approaching, I spoke to lots of people who had gone through their 30s, and all the feedback I received centered around one thing: Your 30s are a time of change, and will be much more awesome than your 20s were.

To that end, I thought I’d share some self-reflection strategies for those times where change needs to happen that just happen to be carefully worded so that they can apply to business as well.  Wasn’t that clever of me?


CGC Eagle

I. Accept the reality of your situation.  Go ahead, give it a shot.


Chances are, things weren’t what you thought they were – If the bottom has fallen out of your situation, consider for a moment the prospect that you may have been judging the reality of your situation inaccurately to begin with, and that the new realizations and trends can serve as a reality check and give you a new place to work from.

Rethink, don’t combat – There is the tendency when we feel attacked both as people and as professionals to want to strike out in anger against those we perceive are doing the hurting (e.g. See: RIAA suing its customers, the venom with which traditional print media regards bloggers, blaming society/our parents/ex-girlfriends for our current situations).  Often, those people are not actually the root cause of the issue, but rather are symbolic of a deeper, more internal issue.  This is a perfectly natural reaction, but once you’re done throwing a tantrum, it’s time to look within and see exactly what led to this behavior.

The goal is to rebuild, not to regain – Take this opportunity to look at what’s not working and change it, rather than trying desperately to get things ‘back to the way they were’.  Things will never be the way they were, because the world and your place in it is fundamentally different at this moment than it has ever been. Accepting this can free you to decide where you ultimately want to end up.

II. Figure out where you want to go

Identify and embrace core values.  Figure out what they’re not, then figure out what they are. – Get back to basics.  What do you stand for? Be as specific as possible.  In thinking about your core values, throw out all the mottos, taglines, things people have complimented you onand phrases that you’re used to parroting back into the world.  If it helps, write them all down on paper and cross them out with a big pen.  Those are not your values. It’s time to get real.

Your core value statement is what sets you apart as unique in the world, it will need to be specific enough that you can measure every action you take against it to see if you are aligned or not.

Start from scratch, sort of – OK, so take those core value statements that you came up with, and consider: if you had the chance to reset yourself, without being beholden to all your current baggage and learned behaviors, what specific values and activities would you embrace?  What would you  immediately leave by the side of the road? What would you take out back and stomp on repeatedly? How would you interact with others? What kind of impression would you want to make?

III. Identify barriers to getting there

Figure out why you’re not there already – An important step in being able to take action is to look at why you haven’t yet done so.  Accept that some of the reasons may be emotional in nature and therefore not objectively rational.  The important thing is to get as many of them ‘down on paper’ as possible, so you can evaluate whether they should continue to be able to hold you back.

Identify the consequences of not doing anything – Chances are, if you’ve read this far, you are at least considering addressing change.  However, to really drive the point home, it may be helpful to take a look at what might happen should you continue on your current course. Just keep in mind that not making a decision is, in fact, a decision as well.

IV: Do something about it!

Yes, this is the scary part.  Hopefully parts I-III have given you enough preparation and data so that you can be aware of what you need to do, how to gauge whether you’re being true to you core goals.  If you’ve made it this far, you are ready to act.

Don’t try to do it all at once, but do something. – Take some small steps, measure, adjust.  Try something new, do something differently than you have in the past.  Put yourself out there in a way more aligned with your real goals. Commit yourself to ramp up the process.

Measure, measure, measure –  As you get more comfortable with the action -> measurement -> adjustment loop, you will find that opportunities for change begin to present themselves in a way that they haven’t before.  As with the actions you took when ramping up, it is critical to test new opportunities against your core goals and values.  If they are in alignment, then act, measure, adjust accordingly.  If not, dont do them.  When reviewing, always remember to ask yourself whether you getting where you want to go.

Build momentum, but be mindful of your speed – One of the things that may have gotten you to the place you were was years of momentum.  If we aren’t careful to be mindful of our goals and values, our momentum can take us down disastrous paths.  Remembering our high school physics, it takes much more energy to stop and reverse direction than it does to always be adjusting your course.

Accept setbacks, ignore haters, keep to your path as much as you can. – This is pretty self-explanatory.  Whether we’re talking about you or your company, there are going to be wrong moves, there are going to be people who are waiting for you to fail, or fudge a result or have your adjustments be ‘all an act’.  Those people are easily ignored.  Stick to your guns and your values, and the vast majority will appreciate the improvement!

So there you have it.  Jeremy’s not-so-concise guide to handling change, both personally and in business.  I’m looking forward to seeing what my 30s have to offer!

Don’t be so humble, you’re not that great: Addressing Tweetup Behavior.

Whenever I go to tweetups (in-person group meetings of people who know each other online, mostly via Twitter), I notice two distinct types of interaction between people.

  • One kind of person will who use it as an chance to get to know people as people, talk about all kinds of things and generally chitchat, making a real connection with others.
  • The other kind is much more limited, focusing on what I like to call “talking about talking.” You will hear phrases out of this persons mouth like “Well, I twitter about such-and-such” or “As I wrote in my blog…” more frequently than most.  They relate to people through how they already know them.

I’m not going to say that one level of interaction is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another, I just find it curious.  I’ve always tried to chat with people that I know online about things not related to online, because hey, we’re all people first.  Is it possible that the second type are looking for some kind of validation from those around them.

In thinking about it, it seems like perhaps many of the ‘talking about talking’ folks are used to being a ‘big fish’, so to speak.  When you surround yourself (intentionally or by virtue of your job) with people who are less familiar with online communications than you are, I think we all have a tendency to go into ‘guru-speak’, talking about talking, in order to evangelize the importance of the medium.  Some folks have a hard time turning that off when they’re in a room with other online-focused people.

So I guess my message to this second type of person is:  Relax, you’re amongst friends.  You shouldn’t feel the need to prove your net-savvy, or active in the online world, that’s why you’re attending a tweetup!  In-person meetings are the time to get to know people as people.  Find out what music your favorite blogger is into, complain about the weather, start a drinking game.  Talking about talking really just comes off as trying too hard, and makes me want to roll my eyes and go talk to people I know have no interest in talking about follower counts over beer.

Tweetup (via @socialmedium)
Tweetup (via @socialmedium)

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Leave ’em in the comments :)

What’s the opposite of 9/11?: The Power of Shared Experience

This post is inspired by the film “Seven Days in September,” available via Netflix or on YouTube in 10 minute chunks. It’s a very difficult but worthwhile watch.

On September 11th, I lived on Bond Street, which is a few miles from what later became known as Ground Zero.

Top-right is Home and work, Bottom-left is WTC site
Top-right is Home and work, Bottom-left is WTC site

Needless to say, I was front-and-center for the raw emotion, shock and pain in the immediate aftermath. Plenty has been said on every scale about that part.

What was maybe a little less focused-on was New Yorkers immediate response to each other.

There has always been an underlying sense of camraderie between the people who manage to make it work living here, even through our brusqueness, seeming indifference and occasional shouting matches with cabbies.  I’ve always been proud to call myself a native New Yorker.  What came out in the weeks and months after the event was a bubbling to the surface of the connections that had previously been understood but not acted upon.  People everywhere were actively connecting with each other through this new ‘safe space’ that made it okay.

While that safe space has receded somewhat in the months and years following, I think any New Yorker would agree the city has increased the conscious level of connection between its citizens, which is a positive effect of an otherwise horrendous event.

Watching this movie made me start to think about the safe space that was created, and the value that it brought to the community.  What can each of us do to create a shared experience and a safe space to connect?

One of the best micro-examples of what I’m talking about appears in a segment of the Jimmy Fallon show they call “Shared Experiences,” in which Jimmy, The Roots, the guests and the studio audience all share in something silly (like wearing Slankets, or crazy sunglasses).  It may seem like just a bit, but by including everyone in a single act, intimate connections are made, people are valued and we are all left with more of a sense of unity than we started out with.

One of the true tests of the net effects of so-called Social Media and new tools like Facebook, Twitter, and the internet as a whole will be when we create a measurable effect on the circumstances by which we all identify with each other as part of a community, a city, a country, a planet, a species.  That’s when we will truly be changing the world.

And thats when the terrorists lose.

Jeremy’s resolutions for 2009

I have about six different blog posts half-written on all different subjects (including the failure of classical music to catch on with many of today’s music fan, something about the economy, and other goodness) but partially inspired by Chris Brogan’s “Things not to do in 2009” and partially due to the typical end-of-year reflection and thinking about the future, I wrote some resolutions for myself in my personal journal.

Upon thinking about it and discussing with a few folks, I present them here, unabridged, with the thought that some of you may find a few of them useful to yourselves.

Jeremy’s Resolutions for 2009

  • Collaborate more, professionally and personally. Engage others and allow myself to be engaged with.
  • Trust, share and value my emotions during the course of every day.
  • Spend more time with friends in person (especially if travel is necessary), reconnect with peripheral people.
  • Treat myself and the world around me with more love and respect.
  • Go after what I want without letting fear stop me. Say yes more than I say no.
  • More precisely define my passions, figure out how to make them more core to my day-to-day existence.

Your feedback, additions, thoughts are very welcome.