Staying Agile in Demanding Work Environments
In this episode, Ankush speaks with Dicken Bettinger about how state of mind is a major factor in having more clarity, productivity and resilience in demanding work environments. Some of what they discuss include:
-How learning the role that thought plays in state of mind can give companies a competitive edge.
-Recognizing that a chronic busy mind is going to stop people from having access to outside the box thinking.
-How awareness of how the mind works is key to work performance.
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Ankush: Welcome everyone to another episode. This episode, I’m joined by Dr Dicken Bettinger. Dicken is a retired clinical psychologist from the USA who spent 16 years working in business, helping people to see the connection between state of mind and business performance. And on a personal note, Dicken has been a mentor of mine on my own training, someone who’s been highly influential, and I’m really glad that you’re joining us today Dicken.
Dicken: It’s great to be here Ankush, it’s really great.
Ankush: I’m looking forward to this episode, which is titled, “staying agile in demanding work environments.” And we’re going to be diving and delving into this subject a little bit. This is something that I know, Dicken, you’ve helped people with, it’s something that a lot of us can relate to, so, I’m just going to start off with looking at the title as I’ve done with many of these episodes, and what do you mean by, “challenging or demanding work environment?”
Dicken: Well, like you said, I think it’s pretty familiar to everybody, but, when I think of demanding work environments, I think anybody who has worked in business, knows what it’s like to have demands placed on them. It might be demands from their boss to get something done, it might be demands from a client who needs something right away, it could be expectations of a team or other people, often it’s deadlines where it doesn’t appear as if you have enough time to complete your work by the deadline, it could be a very very fast paced work environment. It could just be a work environment where you feel a little bit overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do and that’s expected of you, so that’s what I’m thinking of when I think, because that’s pretty commonplace and I think we know what it’s like to be in that kind of situation.
Ankush: Right, and I think it’s also one like we’ve mentioned is, it seems to become increasingly common, businesses are trying to do more with less, and improve performance.
Dicken: Oh yeah, absolutely, let’s utilize our resources in the best way possible, absolutely.
Ankush: So, before we go on talking about how to stay agile in these challenging or demanding work environments, again I’m going to ask a similar question: what does it mean to stay agile?
Dicken: I like the term agility. And it’s one that I first saw in the Harvard Business Review, because so many executives in a company, want their company to be agile, which means very responsive. Very quickly able to respond to demands from the workplace or from customers. I think it also means, to be resourceful, to be able to think about things in a way that’s helpful and helpful right away. Clarity, common sense, creatively responsive to be able to come up with ideas or new ideas that are helpful in that particular situation, that means to have the capacity to be productive in the face of high-stress, high-demand environments. That’s how I see agile, and it’s also being used of recent, as the capacity for an individual or a group to be very resilient. In other words, no problem experiencing stress, how quickly does the team get over it? No problem feeling overwhelmed, how quickly do you get over that? No problem being confused, how quickly do you get back to clarity? So that’s resilience, or agility.
Ankush: And it sounds like that’s something that could be really useful and really really helpful to many of the listeners. As we said, considering how many demands are now being placed on so many people in employment, and I guess actually as well as those in self-employment. So how do people do that? It sounds wonderful if we could have more clarity, more resilience, more creativity and return back to that when things throw us off balance, but how do we do that?
Dicken: Well I think state of mind is the key, it’s often in my mind when I’ve worked in companies, it’s the quality that is most directly responsible for how well people do in any particular situation, you can see in some states of mind, people are incredibly agile, very resilient, and in other states of mind, people get stuck in a morass of over-thinking, unhelpful thinking, thinking that generates more and more anxiety or stress, it’s very difficult for people to be productive or agile, while they’re in those states of mind. So it’s often, state of mind, is often the most undervalued quality in the workplace because it’s often not very well understood, what I would see as an individual or a group of people in any company that I work with, gained a greater knowledge of what accounts for their state of mind, and what state of mind’s are most helpful, they became more productive. Every single time, hands down, they made better decisions, they responded quicker to demands, they experienced less stress, they communicated more clearly, learning about the role thought plays in state of mind, and creating our state of mind is, I think for the value, the most practical thing that can be learned in a business context, and it certainly, often in a company becomes the marker that sets that company apart from other companies and gives them a competitive edge.
Ankush: So let’s be clear. What you’re not talking about here is, kind of pumping up a state, this is something I came across maybe 10 years ago in, I guess what’s called, the personal development world, and I would play certain music to get me into a certain state and pump me up, and now I know you’re not talking about that, and you talked about the role of thought, so, could you say more about the difference between those two things?
Dicken: Yeah, I’d be glad to. Pumping up is trying hard through your own will-power and efforts to create a more positive state of mind, and, when people receive that kind of teaching or think that motivation has to do with getting all hyped up and pumped up, it might be helpful for a very short period of time, and then I would go back into the company a month later and no-one was still making the effort to pump themselves up that way, it wouldn’t have much lasting value. So there’s something already built into human beings that’s better than that. In other words, you take any human being, I don’t care who they are in the workplace, as their head begins to clear of thinking that generates stress or tension or upset, always without doing anything else, they become more present, more engaged, and the quality of their thinking automatically improves. But very few people understand that their current state of mind is created 100% from the thinking that they’re doing, so that’s one of the things that we would teach people when we would go into a company, that stress does not come from circumstance, stress does not come from demands, clarity is our natural state. When our minds are open, we have all the clarity we need, all the common sense we need, all the creative thinking is available to us in those states of mind.
Ankush: So are you saying that people need to change their thinking? Or are you saying something else?
Dicken: People need to be aware of the fact, that their state of mind is created by thought rather than circumstance, people need to recognize, that their resources they need to do well in the business context are already built into them, they just get covered over by a lot of the thinking that we do that’s not very helpful, that generates stress, anxiety, worry, confusion, a busy mind, constantly chronically… If you take any human being and they’re constantly chronically thinking about things, they’re not going to be able to access new thinking, fresh thinking, responsive thinking…
Dicken: … because that comes, just like in sports, when a person is really really present, they have greater access to new thinking, to creative thinking, to outside the box thinking, to higher perspective thinking, for big-picture thinking, and is built into people to do that, that’s our natural state.
Ankush: Some people may be listening to this and they might be a little bit confused as to how just understanding the difference between, where stress comes from, whether it’s from our environment or from our thinking, how that can make a difference. And I’m reminded of a coach I had many years ago, who used to have a saying, that awareness is curative. And this training I did with him, he was basically pointing to his belief that, the more we are aware of how something works, that in itself is transformational. Is that what you’re pointing to, with regards to agility and the great stuff that comes with that, the more we are aware of how our mind works, automatically that changes how we deal with demanding or challenging work environments?
Dicken: That awareness of how the mind works, is key. Let me give you an example, if I put my hand on a hot stove, the instant I’m aware that the pain I’m experiencing is created by having my hand touch the stove, without any technique, without working on it, without trying to think positive, without trying to motivate myself, I take my hand off the stove. When I walk up to people in business and saying, “are you aware of what state of mind you’re in now?” And very often people are not even aware of what state of mind they’re in, and I say, “well how conducive to doing work, do you think your state of mind is, or to making a decision or to responding to your client. And they reflect on that, they haven’t been aware really of what impact their state of mind might have on their work performance. And I say, “well, what are you experiencing right now, are you calm, are you relaxed, are you present…?” And sometimes they are, and sometimes they’ll say, “no, I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed, I’m feeling pressured to get this done, I’m feeling anxious about being able to do this before the deadline.” And if I ask the person at that point, “where do you think that feeling of pressure, stress, anxiety, worry is coming from?” I have never once had people say, “well that’s obvious it’s being created from thought in the moment.” Because we haven’t been taught that, we haven’t learned at 100% of our experience in the is being created from thought, we think very often that it’s circumstance that’s creating the feelings we’re in. So, when people become aware of the fact that their experience is created from their own thinking, people naturally without any technique, without trying, begin to take their hand off the thinking that’s creating their tension, stress, worry, bother, frustration, upset. And when people did that, it’s built in for us that when we let go of that thinking, we come back to our natural state of presence, openness, new thinking, aliveness, and it seems so simple, and it’s hard to believe that just that awareness alone, can help people begin to have less and less thinking on their mind that’s not productive. And yet I’ve seen that for years and years, I’ve seen executives that I’ve worked with, teams, leadership teams, individuals, customers, clients, wake up to how it is that their mind is actually working. And that’s the key to resilience and to being agile.
Ankush: Do you have an example of where you’ve maybe worked with a particular team, helped them see the connection between state of mind and their experience of their work environment, which has led them to being more agile afterwards?
Dicken: Yes, perfect example. President flew to see me in and he is the…
Dicken: … president of a very large publishing company that their product was professional trade magazines. So they would put out professional trade magazines for all different work situations. And he had branches of his company, all over the United States, and he said, “my company is doing very well, all of the branches are doing well, except one. And that particular company, and that particular city is a mess, they keep making mistakes, they can’t get their magazines done on time, and when they do, the magazines are filled with mistakes, and customers are irate, and I’m thinking of closing down the company. And to tell you the truth, we’ve been taking away more and more responsibility from people in the company, and we’ve been trying to run the company from corporate, but that’s just not working out very well, so I’m thinking of taking a few of the best people and closing that branch down completely, before I do, would you be willing to go into the company and talk to people, see if you can turn things around.” So I flew to the city, and I walked in and I had an opportunity to talk individually with quite a few people in that company, and oh my gosh the amount of stress and upset and corporate had been firing people left and right, and everybody was all worried and insecure about losing their jobs and the more worried they got the more mistakes they got, and they were resentful that corporate was taking away their right to make their own decisions and the people were very very stressed and very angry. So I went to do a training with them, and I have never in my professional career met a group of people that were more angry and even disrespectful, they would turn their chairs around and face away from me, they would read newspapers, they would talk to each other, and they wouldn’t even pay attention during the training, and so I stopped the training and said, “let’s just stop for a minute, what’s going on? why are you being this way?” And no one would say anything, and I said, “listen, I’m not going to force any of you to be at this training, if you really feel that strongly about this, but I am curious, what’s going on?” And one person finally said, “well you’re a psychologist right?” And I said, “well yeah, I’ve been a psychologist.” And he said, “we know why you’re here,” and I said, “why is that?” “To let corporate now which one of us to fire next.” I said, “that’s not at all why I’m here, let me tell you why I’m here, I used to live with a high degree of anxiety and stress, and I learned something that helped that, pretty much disappear from my life, and I’ve seen it have a profound effect on people I’ve worked with when they’ve learned what I learned about this. And I was hoping that it might be of help to you.” And one of the people in the back said, “let’s give him a chance.” So I said, “listen can we start over?” And I worked with them for 2.5 days, it was unbelievable. They settled down, they started to pay attention, they were very respectful, they began to learn about how thought creates their moment-to-moment state of mind, and how every one of them has perfect resourcefulness, creativity, common sense, potential for new thinking already built into them, and if they tap into that, then they can solve any problem, no matter how difficult it was. By the end of the second day they were in such a creative state of mind, they came up with solutions for every problem that they were having, and I wrote them down, they didn’t come from me, they came from them, when their heads were in a really good place. And I went back to the boss and told them about their recommendations, which really meant, re-structuring their whole company. And the boss said, “this didn’t come from them, this is your idea right?” And I just said, “no, this wasn’t my idea, this 100% came from them.”
Dicken: He said, “well I was thinking of doing this, but I thought they were such a mess, I never thought they could pull it off.” And he thought about it for a while and he says, “you know what, what do I have to lose? I was going to close the company anyway’s.” A year later, I got invited to their annual meeting as a keynote speaker, and before the meeting or at the beginning of the meeting, each branch of the company reported their financial situation, guess which branch of the company had the most productive year of any branch in the whole company? It was that one that I had visited that went from the least productive to the most productive during that year, it’s just an example of if people have a greater understanding and awareness of how their mind works, they can begin to utilize it very quickly in a way that’s productive and efficient and responsive and helpful and the enjoyment in work comes back in and the creative responsiveness and agility came back in, it’s very rewarding, it was very rewarding to see that happen.
Ankush: That’s quite a turnaround story Dicken, and one that I know you’ve probably got more examples of too. We’re kind of out of time now, but if there was one thing you wanted everyone to take away from this episode what would that be?
Dicken: We’re all thinking up our experience moment-to-moment, and just the awareness alone of that or the understanding that that’s where your experience comes from, is all it takes, honestly, it’s the beginning of taking your hands off, of more and more of the thinking that we innocently do every day, that gets in the way of us being agile and resilient.
Ankush: Well, thank you so much for that Dicken, if someone’s listening to this, and they either want to hire you and bring you into their team or just to talk further with you, how can they get hold of you?
Dicken: My email is Dicken.firstname.lastname@example.org
Ankush: Fantastic, thanks once again for talking to us about staying agile in demanding work environments, I will be back next week with another episode and another guest with me, thanks once again for listening.