Part of Franklinâ€™s definition of success included being a virtuous person. In fact, he drew out a whole â€œplan for attaining moral perfectionâ€, a kind of revolutionary Getting (Moral) Things Done method. Whatâ€™s funny is Franklinâ€™s surprise in finding out how hard attaining that perfection seemed to be. (â€œI soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.â€)
In his autobiography, he delves into just why changing for the better was so hard:
â€œhabit took the advantage of inattention;
inclination was sometimes too strong for reason.â€
These days, attention seems such a scarce resource, and habit such a strong, even overpowering force with its own gravitational pull fanned by repetition. Franklinâ€™s spot-on observation is yet another great reminder to cultivate an awareness of your habits, to consider when to push against that pull when youâ€™re looking to change or grow or evolve in some way.
This is also why we so often suggest keeping a work diary or including the sphere of work in your personal reflections. The practice pushes against a sad notion of productivity that downplays or ignores the time required for self-analysis and focuses â€œtoo simplistically on output and end results, on just doing it and getting it done.â€ When you ignore the journey and the process, you ignore yourself. Franklin, despite his insecurities, paid attention to his journey, understanding that inattention would not carry him where he wanted to go.
In examining why we keep repeating fruitless meetings when thereâ€™s such an overwhelming recognition of its efficiency and morale problems, I found that it basically came down to being a bad habit. We keep doing it because bad habits are irrational, take advantage of our inattention, are sometimes too strong for reason. To escape from that inertia takes effort, and â€œpeople overcome bad habits all the time by consistently trying to improve rather than repeat them.â€
But what about good habits? Thatâ€™s where habit taking the advantage of inattention seems like a desired result â€” make good behavior cost less of our willpower and voilÃ , winning! Indeed, that can work to your advantage for awhile, perhaps a good long while, but youâ€™re still going to run into a similar mental shift where you could lose a valuable, hungry awareness and start tuning out of your journey.
And that goes for groups and organizations as well. Walterâ€™s recent post on preserving startup culture struck a chord with many readers, perhaps for the slight twist on business advice. Faced with fantastic growth at Evernote, CEO Phil Libin took to heart advice from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo not to hold on too tightly on its homegrown, very successful startup culture, because â€œif you try to preserve [company culture] then youâ€™re locking it into place, it starts to stagnate.â€
Stagnation is a very close neighbor to getting too comfortable with yourself, whether itâ€™s your capabilities, outlooks, or approaches. Of course the comfort and ease of sure footing can feel warm and familiar and even serve as powerful fuel, but it can also lead to blindspots and be the kind of security blanket that hides inclinations that become too strong for reason.
Our friend Ben also has this quote very often attributed to him â€” â€œWithout continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.â€
Whether he uttered or wrote these words or not, they seem very much in his inquisitive and enterprising spirit. Growth, in some sense, happens through a constant editing of our habits. Whether as an individual, a group, or a huge company, you always have to remember to look inward to figure out whether youâ€™re moving where you want to go.