Self Optimization versus Create the Best in you
As leaders in business, we are constantly under pressure to perform at work while maintaining our personal relationships and health. This is extremely hard to do. We often compromise our health. Skipping our yoga class or running around in favor of finishing a data analysis. Or having takeout instead of taking the time to cook after work. We can also compromise our personal lives. We miss out on opportunities to spend time with our families. We miss date nights and our children’s ballet recitals. We are under so much pressure to maintain our health and professional and personal lives that we can end up feeling extremely overwhelmed. So, we look for ways to improve our habits: self-help books, online forums, YouTube videos, e-learning platforms…
And then we come across an idea that seems amazing: self-optimization. We read that if we track and regulate our behaviors and our bodies then we will become efficient, effective, and enduring people. The idea is that if we change our entire lifestyles to fit this idea of being self-optimal, we will be happy and healthy and all our worries will disappear. It seems like tracking your health and habits so precisely sounds productive and efficient. In practice, however, the idea of self-optimization may actually be self-optimal.
Those that adopt self-optimization habits are chasing perfection. They are aiming to optimize their productivity, happiness, intelligence, and health. But do you really need optimization to create the best in you?
Self-Optimizing Your Personal Life
When you keep on trying to optimize your behavior, making your behaviors as efficient as you can, you miss out on life. You lose touch with your humanity. One life-hacker, for example, reportedly spent in excess of $200,000 trying to find a way to live forever. The biohacker, named Serge Fauget, uses technological devices and extreme tracking to ensure that his health is optimal. He wears an Oura smart ring to monitor his sleeping patterns, a $6,000 hearing aid to ensure optimal hearing when he is in public, monitors his glucose levels continuously through a sensor in his stomach, and much more. He takes 60 pills a day, as well as a muscle growth injection.
All of these behaviors are in an effort to become an extremely healthy person. Is constantly monitoring your bodily functions really healthy, though? The real paradox of self-optimization is that self-optimizers are going to these extremities in the hopes of optimizing their futures but end up missing out on real life. These life-hackers truly go too far. This man is spending so much time and energy chasing after the idea that he will be extremely healthy and live forever. He is chasing something ridiculous that might not even work.
This is just one example, and it is certainly an extreme one. However, it represents a lot of the issues with self-optimization. If you optimize yourself, are you really creating the best version of yourself? Being a better person and a better leader does not come from putting pressure on yourself and your body to perform. Adding new gadgets, external measurements, and trends without being in contact with your own needs will make it difficult for you to actually be happy and perform as a leader in business.
If we make our decisions based on data from monitoring our health and behaviors, we lose our self-determinism. This is because we rely on outside data to make our decisions instead of listening to ourselves and our bodies. Optimizers have tunnel vision in their lives. They only focus on their self-optimization goals and miss out on real life. If you live as a self-optimizer, you can lose your connections to others and your feelings for them because you don’t even feel for yourself.
These predefined routines and impulses will cause you to neglect real life and all of its trials and tribulations. This will ultimately lead to unhappiness because you need to experience all aspects of life to truly enjoy it. Forcing yourself to conform to habits and behaviors that don’t truly make you happy will ruin your life experiences.
You may end up optimizing the wrong thing. Imagine spending months of your life focusing on one goal and ignoring real life as it passes you by. You might find that you are unsatisfied once you actually achieve the goal. If you spend all of your time chasing productivity and material success through self-optimization practices, you might find that you are running around in circles instead of following a meaningful course.
If you push yourself to constantly monitor your health and behaviors then you will also lose sight of others. As much as we want to focus all of our energy on ourselves, doing so makes us selfish. If a family member has an issue or an employee needs special attention, you might not realize it because you are so focused on your journey of self-optimization. It is hard to keep your attention on every aspect of your life but it is important to do so. If you don’t do so then you will miss out on the important things in life, and that is exactly what you want to avoid doing.
If you focus on self-optimization in your life, you might also limit the potential of your business and its employees. Focusing on self-optimization will cause you to ignore the environment around you and its needs. When you are putting an excessive amount of focus on your personal health goals, you might overlook your business and miss out on harnessing the skills of your employees. If you create a balance, you might find that people’s best ideas and work come out.
Self-Optimization in Business
You can also apply the concept of self-optimization to your business, which may, in some cases, end up compromising its success. Self-optimizing a business would involve a central element of micromanagement. In this instance, you would track and measure every element of the business to ensure that your employees are working efficiently, such as number of phone calls, emails, activities, visits… However, the analyses are being further refined. Data on physical fitness and mental state has begun to be collected and attempts are being made to use this knowledge to achieve certainty in guiding optimal performance in the interest of the company.
Companies are applying methodologies to pursue scientific ways to design high-performing teams with predictability. In the course of personality tests, which are carried out before recruitment interviews or in the course of annual reviews, but also regularly within teams and at executive level, personal characteristics of people are recorded and analyzed, which reveal their suitability for the job and general compatibility on the basis of their elicited personality traits. From this, one tries to achieve a high degree of talent optimization through derivable classifications of people into behavioral and personality traits and to achieve complementarity of employees within the corporate structure as well as of executives to each other.
This is the contemporary approach that many modern companies adopt as they evolve. It supports the effort to view consolidated results as an optimized set of figures that is easily accessible and can easily be compared to competitors.
This model, however, can stifle your employees’ growth. Top performers, leaders, outstanding employees, and motivated individuals that all contribute to the success of the company will likely experience frustration out of these self-optimization policies. For example, there is a growing number of companies that are notorious for tracking their warehouse employee productivity. Here some online retail firms use automated tracking to assess the amount of time that each employee spends packing orders in a shift. The system goes as far as measuring if workers take a break from scanning packages for too long, called “time off task” and abbreviated to TOT. If workers take too long breaks, they are sent automated warnings and can be terminated. Some companies fire more than 10% of their workforce annually for productivity reasons, according to The Verge’s estimations.
Models like this do not harness the skills of talent and actually discourage improvement and growth. Monitoring and tracking your employees can lead to negative effects that, if not identified early, become risky tipping points that can have repercussions all the way up to the top of the company.
Some companies make it their normative standard that employees have to explain and report each action that they take, breaking every project down to the finest element to allow managers control over every aspect of their work. This is an excessive amount of detail and will prevent employees from taking time to focus or taking initiative for developing, revising, presenting and executing their best ideas because they are too busy and exhausted trying to meet and report on micro targets. Or employees would simply be so frustrated with being totally controlled in their jobs that they would not even want to stay in the company. This would ultimately make it harder to retain your best and brightest employees and increase turnover.
You do not want to lead your business without organization and structure. To do this successfully in today’s economy, it comes down to a vigilant and thoughtful measure of meaningful balance. It is more optimal, however, to not conform so rigidly to managing every aspect of the company with the hopes of increasing efficiency. This leaves no room for growth or true optimization. Measuring and managing staff in this way risks losing the connection to the most important asset of the company: the employee. No matter if the employee is a highly-skilled top performer or an inexperienced new starter, whether he or she is a team player, a caretaker who can help resolve conflicts, or someone who is good for the working atmosphere. Micromanaging on this level dehumanizes employees, essentially treating them like robots that need to perform – or else. This method of working will frustrate these employees, as they are aware of the quality and quantity of the data they produce, the reports they create, the aggregation of all that can’t be entirely consumed by any superior.
In the end, what is most important are hard success factors that actually end up in quarterly company reports and being disputed in earnings calls: Sales figures, revenues, profit margins, growth rates, employee turnover, CEO approval rates… This has always been a key measure of success for a company and has never changed. By achieving critical success factors, you can’t either rely on or enforce such a fine-meshed web of data-collecting sensors laid across the workforce.
It is much more important for all leaders in the company to take time to meet people on a 1:1 level and allow understanding through personal, mutually supportive conversations. Every CEO should ensure that this is implemented through all levels of the hierarchy and becomes an integral part of the company culture.
Understanding the situations of your employees, why they may not be able to realize their potential at the moment, creates a connection between the company and its talent. Creating understanding and support gives an employee confidence, support, and security, fostering a bond between employer and employee. There is no need to check your watch – there are reasons why your people or even yourself come in early or late that day. In return, the company will experience strong loyalty and motivation, which will be reflected in new successes and achievements over time. The whole becomes greater than the parts. Performance soars.
Optimizing mania may not work well for companies over time. Closest KPI monitoring and PIPs can get in the way of long-term success. Breaking down the specified enterprise targets, measuring critical success factors and their progress against the fiscal year and quarter ends are important management and control elements. However, they should be carried out in a well-balanced manner and at a depth of measurement that is also considered meaningful and understood by the workforce. This is where the connection between real performance and its measurement comes into play.
The goal of your business should then be to promote the best in your workforce, locally and globally. Each individual employee should feel valued and promoted and that their work matters. This will create strength and cohesion in your workforce.
It is the combination of leadership and attention. Being on mission, as Mark McGregor says, with a strategic perspective, clear communication of vision and execution, working across boundaries, working with engagement and with executive presence, self-awareness, promoting learning agility, leading globally, leading by execution and results, increasing personal rapport. These are the foundations of a successful business. This all is not optimization; this is classic leadership. Running a company in this way is tireless hard work but it creates bonding, motivation, followership, and cohesion. People for people. It promotes success and growth. Ultimately, adopting a model like this will create the best in a workforce.
Alternatives to Self-Optimization
There are different approaches that you can take to find a truly valuable and meaningful course in life. The principle of ‘Create The Best In You’ is defined by reflecting on yourself and your choices.
Mark Lack is the CEO of Shorten the Gap and his philosophy to create the best version of yourself is three-pronged. His three pillars are 1. Being, 2. Having, and 3. Giving.
The first step of being the best version of yourself, according to Lack, involves creating your masterpiece. You need to deep dive into your life and ask yourself what your life would look like if it were a masterpiece. Be honest with yourself and ask yourself if you are living your life to its full potential and what you need to do to have a full life.
The second step involves the simple formula to becoming happy, healthy, and wealthy. Think of three daily habits you can implement with the aim of achieving these three elements. For example:
Happier: take your dog for a walk every morning.
Healthier: go for a run every morning.
Wealthier: check your finances daily.
Think long-term. Think about where you will be in a decade, as opposed to a year. This will set you up to really think about your goals and what you truly want. Life is a marathon, not a sprint – treat it that way. Don’t overestimate what you can accomplish in a short period of time and be careful not to lose anyone along the way. Do not forget to take some time to check in with yourself and assess your emotions in the short term. Find the source of any negative emotions and try to fix what is bothering you.
Always think about what you are striving for and put it in relation to yourself, how you feel about it, and how you interact with those around you in the process. Mark McGregor’s paradigma in 10-Principles of Leadership and Life with its M.C.C.L. model reflect this attitude and can be an indispensable compass for your actions in life:
- I strive for a balance in life
- I give and take with awareness
- I live with empathy
- I demand participation and diversity
- I give deposits in the relationship
- I recuperate on a weekly basis
- I want to re energize myself and my employees
When you engage in the concept of self-optimization, you can lose focus on the environment around you. You want to live the best version of yourself without ignoring the environment. You should strive to adopt a lifestyle that encourages you to be more loving to yourself and others. To develop more liveliness again, to cultivate a different attitude and relationship culture, and to strengthen cohesion. Don’t demand anything, focus and work hard and you will naturally develop the strength to be the happiest and healthiest version of yourself without compromising your business.
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