Thriving Edge Blog
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness ___________________________________________________

When Should You Start?

May 2, 2017

Is it perfect? Almost certainly not, since that’s nearly impossible.

Is it ideal? Not likely, since there’s so much unknown and still unknowable.

But you come up with the best plan you can, combining experience and knowledge and wisdom in your imagination to speculate about what will work, and then you test it. As you test it, “life” gives you feedback on how it compares to ideal, and to perfect.

So you redesign and test again, learning and improving along the way.

You have to test the not-ideal in order to discover what is ideal. There’s no other way I know to get there. Look forward to finding out what doesn’t work and what you don’t like.

“What if there’s something wrong with my plan?”

There surely is! Celebrate that, look forward to finding it, embrace it, and lean into it. That is the path towards finding what you ultimately want.

What Is Your Optimism Style?

February 16, 2017

There’s a little bit of theory I want to share to set the table for the exploration. It’s called attribution theory and includes people’s typical attributional styles. It’s a little complicated, but I hope I can make it simple for you.

Theory? Let’s Not Get Too Complicated
We have three dimensions to consider when deciding how we explain anything that happens to us. We’re looking at causality, meaning assigning a cause for an outcome. One dimension is internal vs. external. Did this happen because of something I did or something about me, or because of something outside of me?

The second dimension is state vs. trait, or stable vs. temporary. If you did well, do you believe you tried harder or that you are always highly capable? Do you maybe believe that in this situation you were lucky, or that you are always lucky?

The third dimension is our evaluation of the outcome. Was it positive or negative? Was it a good thing or a bad thing?

4 Attributions For Whatever Happens
Internal/External and Stable/Temporary create a two by two matrix with four combinations. We have attributions to:

  • Internal Stable factors
    Examples: “I’m naturally talented at math” or “I’m not any good at math.”

  • Internal Temporary factors

    Examples: “I came up with a strategy that worked” or “I wasn’t paying close attention.”

  • External Stable factors
    Examples: “People are generally kind and helpful” or “Things usually go wrong.”

  • External Temporary factors
    Examples: “The other robot broke down” or “It was rainy and the field was slippery.”

8 Categories When You Consider The Outcome
When you include the value of the outcome, positive or negative, there are eight attributions, such as Internal Stable for a Positive Outcome or External Temporary for a Negative outcome.

Optimism plays a role in expecting positive outcomes, but it’s also involved in explaining away negative outcomes. When you consider different paths to optimism, which produce different Optimism Styles, you see how it can be beneficial in some situations and detrimental in others.

Different Kinds Of Optimism: Optimism Styles
Attributing positive outcomes to something Internal and Stable like well-developed skill or reliance on strengths and talents could create an Optimism Style rooted in preparation and ability. Attributing positive outcomes to something External and Stable like luck, “things just seem to go my way,” or “things always works out well for me,” could create an Optimism style that downplays the importance of preparation and effort.

On the other hand, when things turn out disappointing, an Internal Temporary attribution, like “I didn’t try very hard” or “I was having an off day” could be part of an Optimism Style that points to a path to improvement. An External Temporary attribution like “It was an unusually hectic time so I didn’t have time to focus on this” could be a path to self-compassion and also show a path forward because it considers preparation and focus important. But an External Temporary attribution like “The people we had to deal with were just too demanding” could take the heat off and lead to an Optimism Style that focuses more on the luck of circumstances than the controllable impact of preparation and effort.

Let’s consider applications to make this exploration more useful.

Check Your Optimism
Get curious about times you feel optimistic so you can develop a healthy, high-functioning Optimism Style. Notice where your attribution is that leads to optimism.

Do you generally think it’s something under your control or out of your control? Something that you can choose to do, or something in your nature that just leads to positive outcomes? Notice that one path encourages preparation and effort and the other tells you they are unnecessary.

Get curious about how you track the way things turn out for you. Are you pretty accurate? Do you think things go well more often than they really do? Does your optimism keep your attention on good outcomes and tend to ignore the bad ones? If so, you might want to consider replacing those automatic thought patterns with something new and more in line with real outcomes.

Check Your Pessimism
Get curious about times you feel pessimistic so you can boost your optimism and find a healthy, high-functioning Optimism Style. Notice how you attribute negative outcomes.

Do you generally think something like, “Nothing ever works out for me” or maybe “I’m just not very good at things like this”? If so, you can challenge those thoughts by tracking outcomes, since pessimism is likely to focus your attention on the negative ones and downplay the positive ones. Seeing more positive outcomes than you automatically expect is a great nudge, or kick, to reshape your thoughts.

Get curious about your level of preparation and effort when you have an expectation that you’re not good at something or that things don’t go well for you. Are those beliefs keeping you from doing what it takes to be successful? What could motivate you to do something within your control to try for a better outcome? What belief would serve you better?

Here’s a hint. Take some time to learn about Carol Dweck’s growth mindset concept and see how you can find optimism in it.

Lead it forward: A great place to start is to be aware of whether you think of yourself as a generally optimistic or pessimistic person. Then start noticing how you attribute causality that contributes to your optimism or pessimism. Consider what a healthy Optimism Style looks like for you and find a way to practice new thoughts to replace your automatic evaluations. You might find as a “hopelessly romantic optimist” you need to be more realistic to get better outcomes, or as a pessimist you need to see what is under your control and focus there. Once you’re comfortable sorting out different aspects of optimism and pessimism, look for opportunities to bring this into your conversations with people you supervise and lead.

The Robot Saga Continues
Here’s a follow-up on the progress of my son’s Carroll Dragons Team 7110 Z and their robot, Mikey. They made it to the semifinals in the competition at their high school and the following weekend made it to the semifinals in the last regular season competition. They also competed in skills tests and scored high enough to be invited to the state tournament at the end of the month.

Was this the result of Design Thinking and hard work? Was it just luck? Was it the individual effort of the driver who navigated the skills course?


All of these factors came together to put the team in a strong enough position to qualify. It’s a good example of how optimism fueling effort is a strong combination. They have a hopelessly romantic optimist on their team, after all.

How A Healthy Optimism Style Can Work To Your Benefit
It’s also a good example of how optimism tuned well can down-regulate the focus on negative outcomes and up-regulate the focus on positive outcomes. Go too far with this and you stop worrying about needing to prepare and show effort because you ignore the negative possibilities. But focus too much on negative outcomes and you get disheartened and might want to give up.

It seems that a healthy Optimism Style that acknowledges negative outcomes but focuses more on good outcomes with positive expectation might promote sustained effort towards success. Or is that maybe a limit to my own optimism based on my cautious, somewhat skeptical style? Does believing things work out well really lead to things working out well?

That’s hard for this skeptic to believe. I’m going to get curious about my own skepticism to see how I can boost my optimism.

May you be well, may you do well, and may you Thrive!

Take Care,

Stephen Coxsey, MA, LPC, PCC
Whole Life Leadership Coach

Newsletter Intro 02-2017

February 16, 2017

The robotics competition I mentioned in the previous newsletter is behind us. An exciting update is that I was invited to be one of the judges. More like “volun-told” since it happened at a booster club meeting when the robotics teacher looked at me and said, “I was planning to contact you since I figured you would volunteer for one of these spots.” I had the choice of referee or judge. I chose judge, since I knew what referees had to do and had no idea what judging would involve.

It turned out to be very cool. Judges review the teams’ engineering notebooks and interview the teams. The focus of the exploration is to learn how the teams employee Design Thinking! It’s about their process from the very beginning, when they learned the rules of the competition and had to start deciding how to build a robot that could be successful. It’s about how they have conversations, how they generate and evaluate possibilities, and how they rule out and rule in options. Did I mention how cool that was?

It was incredibly encouraging to hear so many teenagers talk about analytical processes and explain in detail how they moved as a team from decision to decision. And it was refreshing to hear some of the teams be candidly open about their struggles when things didn’t go well.

What’s Luck Got To Do With It?
These conversations gave me additional insight when talking with my son about his robotics team and their robot. But something fascinating showed up in those conversations. After the tournament at his school and during another tournament the next weekend, he talked less about how they redesigned their robot to meet challenges and more about how luck was on their side. When going up against some of the strong robotics teams, they came away with a win because a robot malfunctioned, fell over, or quick working.

Expectation Aims Your Focus
My son is a pretty hard-core optimist so he expects things to go well most of the time. I, on the other hand, am very adept at seeing the things that can go wrong. Researcher Heidi Grant Halvorson writes about this difference when she references the “promotion mindset” that is looking for the way forward and the “prevention mindset” that is looking to prevent catastrophes.

But Some Expectations Are More Helpful Than Others
My son’s optimism boosts his effort sometimes because he is confident he’s going to get a good outcome. But at other times his optimism inhibits his effort — because he’s confident he’s going to get a good outcome! With detailed, demanding projects he has postponed things until it’s almost too late, certain that he can do it and do it well. And his optimism prevents him from learning quickly whenever this belief is not helpful!

Optimism is a tricky thing. It takes many forms and shows up in different styles. I’m not an expert on optimism so this is more about me sharing my exploration of a topic than offering tips or pointers. Let’s get curious together.

Click here to continue to the article on Optimism Styles.

Innovation Through Design Thinking

January 26, 2017

Design Thinking is an approach to innovation that provides a process for creatively bringing in and trying out new ideas. Expanding from the idea of designing a “thing” for people to interact with, it incorporates designing the way the person interacts with the “thing.” The “thing” becomes less important than the change in human behavior the “thing” evokes. The “thing” can even be an experience, such as checking in to a hotel or dining in a restaurant.

In this way, Designing Thinking can be seen as a process for Making Things Right. It is a response to dissatisfaction, allowing the dissatisfaction to be expressed as action for improvement.

Making is the key
A sublime gem of an idea from this approach is that Making Something is the default approach designers intentionally learn to use. When they don’t know, they Make Something. Making requires lots of little decisions, so it forces the designer to wrestle with difficult decisions and make a choice.

There’s not time to make everything perfect. It’s not even possible to make the right decision! There is no way of knowing what the right decision might be without exploring the Something after it is Made.

Making is the way to test things
Making involves other people, so those interactions provide a feedback loop with different perspectives. When the “thing” is made, there is an additional feedback loop that flows from asking yourself and others, “How well is this working?”

Making involves the expanded mind of the embodied brain
Making Something also requires Externalization. The ideas don’t stay confined to the mind. They enter the world. This process of Making Something involves Embodied Cognition. Making prompts new neural pathways to form because it engages the neurological system throughout the body, beyond the realm of imagination up in the newer part of the brain. Because Embodied Cognition activates the fuller nervous system and prompts new neural pathways to form, Making can rewire the brain.

Making is more profound than planning
Making Something is not Planning. They are very different. Planning leads to talking-about. Talking-about leads to talking each other out of bold ideas. This makes the outcome less innovative.

Making is learning
Making is used as a process in order to Understand. The idea in your imagination is manifested in the world to explore it within context, how it interacts with other “things” and how well people can interact with it. Many of these outcomes can only be explored when the “thing” is manifested, or made real, in the world.

Making is improving
The process of Making Something is intentionally iterative – which means it is expected that the “thing” will be created through many versions, each of which is incrementally better than the previous version. An initial version of the Something is Made, then tested, and then made better in another version based on the feedback loop; then tested again with that feedback leading to improvements in the next iteration; and so on.

This creates a pattern: Try – Fail – Improve.

Making embraces Failure as the path of improvement
Notice that “Fail” is an intentional part of a Design process. Notice also that this is more than carefully constructing something after thinking through lots of possible outcomes and then looking for small “tweaks” to make it better. This process involves Making Something to get the ideas outside the mind where they can be explored and understood in ways that cannot happen in the mind alone. It anticipates Failure because it accepts from the beginning that the person cannot know all the elements without Making.

There is no possible way to “get it right” in imagination alone. There is no possible way to test all the possible outcomes in the mind. It must be brought into the world to be tested.

A revolutionary approach to ideation
The “Aha!” experience I had during this presentation was not because all of the ideas were new to me. Many were familiar. I use the concept of the growth mindset with coaching clients to point out that we can improve in skills and qualities with intentional effort. I include this notion and other ideas to encourage an open, explorer’s approach to new things, plus extending grace to yourself knowing you will stumble and fall whenever situations and experiences are new. I use phrases like “fail fast” and “fall forward,” especially when talking about creating or growing a new small business.

The “Aha!” experience for me evolved from the way these concepts are woven together in Design Thinking. The very early start to Making was enlightening — that idea of creating the earliest version when you don’t know much because you can’t really know much yet, since imagination is limited.

Because the material world is sometimes BIGGER than imagination
The acceptance that imagination is limited in its ability to test out its own ideas seems like it can be transformational. This not only means understanding that things and experiences we create will not be perfect. More strongly, it means we create without any concern for it being “perfect” or even “ready” because we know it can never get to the point of excellence, or even “good enough,” until it has gone through many iterations.

It is through Making that we explore and learn about the idea. It is an interconnected part of the process.

Sounds pretty liberating, doesn’t it? Ultimately I think it produces much better outcomes than outlines, lists, and even mind maps. And it’s a lot more fun!

For more information on Design Thinking
The overview I presented here is based on my notes from the presentation given by Kate Canales, Director of the Master of Arts in Design and Innovation (MADI) program at SMU. She was the featured keynote speaker at the October 6th, 2016 Prism Symposium put on by ICF North Texas.

In her presentation Kate specifically referenced Ralph Caplan’s book By Design if you would like to learn more. You can also click here to see Kate’s TEDxSMU presentation on Disruption by Design.

Lead it forward: Find a low-risk or at least managed-risk way to try out this approach. Take the idea you are crafting in your mind and create a manifested version of it in the world so you can see how it interacts with the world and can get feedback from others. Wherever you lead or mentor others, help them see ways to Make Something as part of the process of ideation. Encourage them to embrace the learning that will come from Making a version and gathering the feedback.

May you be well, may you do well, and may you Thrive!

Take Care,

Stephen Coxsey, MA, LPC, PCC
Whole Life Leadership Coach

Newsletter Intro 01-2017

January 26, 2017

My younger son, a high school senior, is in an engineering course on robotics. The focus of this class is for the students to work in teams designing and operating a small robot that meets certain specifications for competitions. Part of the experience requirement for the course is to participate in the competitions. Parents are encouraged to come support the teams, so I have recently learned about these robot competitions.

Not quite the Terminator — so far
Disappointingly – to me as well as to some of the students, including my son – the competition does not include explosives, fire, projectiles, or any sort of intentional destruction. There is a basic game field, with two robot teams paired in an alliance on each side of the field. The objective is to place the fairly lightweight foam objects on your side of the playing field across the dividing fence onto the other side.

It goes back and forth until time is called and points are tallied. Put more objects across the fence and further away from the fence and you win the match. Pretty straightforward. There is a 15-second “autonomous” round where the robot moves objects according to an uploaded computer program. The rest of the time a driver uses a remote control similar to those for video games.

How is this a class?
The engineering aspect is in creating a functional device for a particular purpose that is easy for a programmer to interact with and for a driver to interact with. This includes mechanical, electrical (at a simple level), and computer engineering. The students’ approach to learning is to plan, implement, observe, and modify. This is a basic approach to “thinking like an engineer.”

We’re all Engineers, we’re all Designers
What excited me about this opportunity for my son is how similar the process is to Design Thinking. I was introduced to Design Thinking last year through an article and an online video and then had the opportunity to hear a professor of Design and Innovation present live at my local professional coaching association’s annual event spotlighting coaching within organizations.

See how you can apply my summary of that presentation below to your own projects and goals. And please send up a cheer for the teams of 7110, Carroll High School, as they host their own robotics competition on February 4th.

Give a special shout-out to Carroll Dragons Team 7110Z and their robot, Mikey. We will all definitely appreciate the support!

Click here to continue to the article on Design Thinking.

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