In middle school and high school my dad and I would have massive arguments about my math homework. And by “massive,” I mean arguments that make episodes of The Real Housewives look like polite differences of opinion over tea and crumpets.
The issue was not my struggles to understand the work (though I’m sure that played into things) but rather my insistence on knowing WHY I needed to learn the content in the first place.
My dad, a metallurgist before becoming a computer engineer, seemed to think the answers to “Why?” were (1) you will need to know this in the future and (2) because this is the assignment.
To which I would respond, (1) no I won’t because I’m going to be a lawyer or a writer and even if I’m not those two things I can say with 100% certainty I won’t be an engineer and (2) that is not an acceptable reason.
As you can imagine, things would escalate from there.
In the decades since, with the exception of some single-variable algebra and basic geometry, I have yet to use most of the math that I was forced to learn and I still insist that “because that’s the assignment/the rules/how things are done” is not an acceptable answer.
Usually I apply that same stubborn curiosity to help my clients find and capitalize on opportunities to do things differently and better, create value, and innovate.
But, in the last week as I, like most Americans, find myself largely confined to my home, my curiosity is extending to my own environment and habits and I’m not always prepared for the insights that emerge.
WHY am I trying to maintain all my pre-pandemic habits?
- Initial Answer: Because the experts say I should
- Insight: I have a choice and now is the perfect time to decide which habits to keep and which to change. So far, I’m keeping all habits related to basic personal hygiene, dressing, and eating, while also experimenting with other habits, like how I schedule my time
- Real Answer: We’re in an unusual time of collective uncertainty which makes this the perfect time to examine, re-evaluate, and change the things we often take as given. Like our own habits
WHY am I watching non-stop news?
- Initial Answer: Because information is empowering in uncertain times
- Insight: A screen showing “Breaking News” AND the global and US COVID-19 diagnosis and death counts AND numerous experts AND a crawl with dozens of other stories is not information. It’s noise. If the “news” has been known for 4 hours, it’s not “breaking,” it’s broken, move on.
- Real Answer: I need to schedule my information consumption and focus on facts.
WHY am I not using this time to get feedback from my own customers, especially since this is the first thing I tell my clients to do?
- Initial Answers: (1) I don’t want to bother them, (2) They’re busy with more important things, (3) They never complained so I’m sure it’s all good (4) I need to focus on the future, not the past, (5) I have other things to do, (6) Oh look, another email/text/Facebook post/bird/distraction!
- Insight: I don’t want to for the exact same reasons most of my clients don’t want to have open-ended EPIC (empathy, perspective, insightful, and connected) conversations with their customers — I’m afraid that even though they say they love me they also know that I’m not perfect and will have really great and helpful suggestions that will require me to change. (in all honesty, this is the nice version of what I say to myself)
- Real Answer: Time to put on my big-girl pants, follow my own advice, and go ask for feedback. It’s the only way improvement, innovation, and most importantly, client delight will happen
WHY do I suddenly feel the need to go outside and spend all time with people?
- Initial Answer: Because it’s Spring, the weather is nice, and I like people
- Insight: I want to go outside and be with people because I have been specifically told NOT to do those things. Just as I’m an introvert who does not like bugs or pollen, I also have a rebellious (intrapreneurial?) streak which makes me want to do exactly what I have been told not to do.
- Real Answer: I can go outside or open a window, stand in the backyard, or sit on the front porch. I can socialize, I just need to use technology and bring my own drinks and dinner to the FaceTime/Zoom/Skype/Google Hangout
WHY are there 6 dozen eggs in the refrigerator?
- Initial Answer: My husband is losing his mind OR he forgot that he bought 2 dozen eggs in each of the last two trips to the grocery store.
- Insight: These are strange and uncertain times and that rattles even the most stoic and level-headed of people. My husband was a submarine warfare officer in the nuclear navy and often tells stories of sleeping on the missiles because they were more comfortable than his bunk and unarmed. This is not a guy who reacts emotionally to events or who worries about the apocalypse. He is cautious and practical and, sometimes, annoyingly reasonable. But he also bought 6 dozen eggs in less than 7 days.
- Real Answer: Be patient, have empathy, listen to, and support everyone. Especially they people who you think may least need it. Also, I need to get over my aversion to quiche and other egg-heavy dishes.
Stay curious, turn off the news, be open to feedback and change, be supportive of others, let me know if (1) you’ve ever had to use calculus in your personal life and/or (2) have a great egg-heavy recipe