Team Working: 8 Indicators That Your Team Is Not Working

Great article by Bill Thomas

We have all probably been part of teams that have been a huge success and also teams that have achieved nothing. I know I certainly have. If you are leadi

ng a team, what are some indicators to look out for that could indicate that your team is not working or is working below its true potential?

Indicator 1: No-One Trusts Anyone

Trust is a core foundation on a team, a bit like the foundations of a house. Building trust takes a huge amount of time, effort and energy. It might feel like an uphill struggle and it sometimes is. At the same time, unless you can build and maintain trust, you are always going to get sub-optimal results.

Indicator 2: People Are Working In Isolation

One of the reasons why teams thrive is because there is a high level of dependency on each other to deliver the result or outcome. Sometimes teams are created when there is no need for a team at all.

People working in isolation rather than together indicates that there is either a problem with the team or perhaps there in no need for a team at all in order to get the result you desire.

Indicator 3: People Are Not Being Held Accountable

Accountability is one of those areas that is often taken out of context. For me, being accountable is simply about agreeing expectations with people and then allowing them to account for what they have achieved. Sometimes leaders do a great job at setting expectations but a poorer job at following through.

Indicator 4: Decision Making Is Slow Or Non Existent

For any benefit to arise from a team, decisions need to be taken and those decisions acted upon. Too often, especially in more senior teams within larger organisations, people drag their heals or, worse still, avoid completely taking decisions.

Indicator 5: No One Is Listening

Communication is clearly a key element of team working. My experience is that people do a great job at speaking and writing. Listening on the other hand is much more patchy and more of a challenge. Yet in truth it is listening that can provide the biggest gains from team working.

Indicator 6: Free Speech Is Discouraged

Sometimes things on teams need to be aired and brought out into the open. What often happens is that, to avoid conflict, people are discouraged or persuaded to bite their tongues and keep quiet. All this does is build up frustration, resentment and disconnection. Recognise that conflict is just part and parcel of successful teams.

Indicator 7: Creativity Is Stifled

Achieving anything new or different requires a different level of thinking and also an element of risk taking. Sometimes, in the false belief that playing it safe is best, creativity is stifled. To avoid this, start asking what is the worst that could happen if you took a chance.

Indicator 8: The Loudest Voices Get All The Attention

People are different. Some are very extroverted and outgoing, while others are more reflective and introverted. You need all those different qualities on a team and you need to create a way as a team leader of getting the voices of everyone, not just the loudest, heard.

Teams have real potential to deliver great results and often small adjustments can transform the results that you achieve as a team.

9 gems that gives Andy Fell the X factor


One big highlight of recent months was speaking at the BT advantEDGE conference on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia in November. Reflecting on this presentation and others, I have summarised a few key themes. I want to thank Hal Elrod ('The Morning Miracle') and John O'Leary ('On Fire') for provoking me & giving me the confidence and structure to soar to new heights and live life #allin! I want to live generously and share what I do so people find the confidence to reach their true potential.

  1. Self-development is THE key! It builds self-confidence, belief & a sense of growth progress and momentum. Whether its reading, podcasts, Ted talks or other videos a consistent investment in yourself pays huge dividends over time. 'Always learning' is the mantra for 2017 and beyond. Matt Church taught me two things today: download Blinkist so you can 'read' a book in 5 swipes! Adopt the TedMill - watch 2x20 minute TedTalks whilst on your treadmill & you exercise and educate at the same time. Time matters so make it count.
  2. It's  a 100% attitude game. Ability gets you into the game, attitude determines whether you win the game. Hal Elrod's 'SAVERS' morning routine is initially difficult but once mastered it provides a great platfrom to start everyday with a superb, positive, can do mindset. It is the best set-up. 'I had no shoes and complained, until I met a man with no feet' is my favourite quote in this regard. Be happy, be positive and be grateful for what we have and not lament what we have not.
  3. As Jack Welch once said: 'the future belongs to action orientated leaders.' My process is 'Decide - Commit - GO!' to ensure I do not over-think things and get stuck. Planning matters but actions matter more. As one of my coaches once said 'the only way to start is to START.' Develop pace and urgency as #speedstuns.
  4. Actions need to be centred around achieiving your goals. When your goals line up with your vision you live life with purpose. My new coaching framework centres on this as I see many people who need help to link their purpose to a clear set of goals underpinned by the right actions to help them make progress. Progress creates momentum & thereafter success breeds success.
  5. When you hit a bump in the road, #rhinorationale matters. This is the ability to keep going. Have a thick skin. I see this as a key differentiator in today's world. Without #rhinorationale people stay in their comfort zone and hence fall well short of achieving their true potential. Thanks to Shane Cai for teaching me today about the Adversity Quotient. 
  6. Self-talk matters. The power of affirmations has grown in my life over the last 12 months to be a critical part of my daily routine. Start everyday by saying: 'I am a fantastic..........' or 'I am amazing at...........'. Feed your subconscious mind with what you want to become rather than allowing self-doubt to creep in. In the picture above, the slide behind me talks about being a player (positive, can do, action orientated person) v a cynic/victim or spectator. Ensure your self-talk is always at the player level as the other 'types' will take you away from the ideal performance state.
  7. As per a previous Linkedin post I wrote, visualisation AND vision boarding play a big role in so many ways to ensure you go in the direction of your goals and dreams. Reinforce the words you use with the images you want to see both mentally and physically. As well as a vision board, ensure your screen savers show something you want to achieve. Repition and positive reinforcement matter for both self-talk and imagery.
  8. Winners go to winners' - choose who you spend time with. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, make you feel good and challenge you to stretch and soar to new heights. Relationships are the foundation of everything, so choose them wisely. Networks matters even in today's technology driven world. I believe the old cliche of A grade players choose A grade players and B grade players choose C grade players rings true.
  9. Slow down to speed up. I have learnt that 'greatness requires stillness'. It is a wonderful combination and, at times, contradiction to live with pace, urgency and passion and yet be able to slow down to think, reflect and innovate/create. 'Mozart' time matters - time to yourself, time for yourself & the time to think about what matters most. It enables you to think about what makes you unique & how to live true to your 'why.'

Whether you are stuck at the 'craggy rock' or in the 'sky blue', 'chinese bamboo' or 'rhino' zones I trust the above will help refresh your thinking so you create movement towards your own 'golden meadow.'

Written by

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4 Australian Industries that will boom from China's Growth

Inspired by  Sam Volkering and Harje Ronngard of money morning

The 4 areas in Australia that should benefit significantly from CHAFTA (China Australian Free Trade Agreement) are 
  • Healthcare, 
  • Agriculture, 
  • Copper (BHP) 
  • Tourism and 
  • Property

Taking the place of iron ore , lng and coal 

  • Healthcare

Aged Care 

Because of the one child policy set in the 1970s, China  went from one of the fastest growing nations on earth, to one of the fastest greying nations. 

At present, it only has 1.8 nurses for every 1,000 people. That’s way below the OECD average of 8.8/1,000. 

The ChAFTA will help Aussie providers take advantage of this opportunity. It’ll give providers free reign to set up business in China, opening up a market of 120 million potential customers. 

The Chinese government is embarking on building 7,500 new public hospitals over the next 10 years. How can Australia help?

The ChAFTA gives Australian providers access to acquire and run hospitals in three municipalities.  Beijing, Tianjin and Shanghai. 
And there’ll be opportunities for business in four other Chinese provinces. 

Pollution and related illnesses 

In China, there are 4,000 people dying every day due to pollution related illnesses. That accounts for roughly 20% of all deaths. 

Equally, China’s home to the most avid smoking population in the world. It’s the largest manufacturer and consumer of tobacco globally. Chinese smokers consume one third of all cigarettes. In 2012, that worked out to an average of 1,711 cigarettes per person in China. This is  breeding a new set of illnesses. 

Heart disease is on the rise. As is obesity and cancer. 

China is relatively inexperienced in dealing with these illnesses. Yet Australian healthcare providers are among the best in the world. 

In 2012, China set aside just 5.4% of GDP for healthcare spending. That was less than the OECD average of 9.3%. And less than a third of what the US spends on healthcare, at 16.9% of GDP. Chinese spending on healthcare is US$480, lower than the OECD average of US$3848 a year. 

 The Chinese government will have little choice but to do exactly that. Demand for healthcare is going to keep rising in China. And not just for years, but decades. 

Unlike mining, the demand for healthcare will not stop! 

In the future, China will increasingly need expertise in this field. High quality Australian healthcare providers will be able to serve China’s ageing population. 

And the ChAFTA which came into effect Dec 15, is our shoe in 

If nothing else, the healthcare sector will be one to watch out for on the ASX over the next 12 months. 

Where once we relied on the mining for our prosperity, we’re looking towards healthcare for the next boom. 

  • Agriculture - Meat and Dairy 

Chinese demand brings boom to agricultural sector 
Chinese consumers love buying foreign products, and they live buying it online.....  and what they want is agricultural products. 

WeChat(a Chinese popular messenger), and Ali Baba (China's answer to Amazon) is being used as an online market place, enabling our Australian entrepreneurs access to their markets. Ali Baba's CEO Jack Ma was in Australia discussing this opportunity! 

Small exporting businesses are scouring the Australian market place. All wanting to capitalise on China’s demand for beef, dairy and infant milk. 

China is going through an economic shift as well as a cultural shift. The Chinese diet now consists of more meat and dairy  than ever before. 

And by 2020 China import $150 billion dollars of meat annually. Over the last few years China’s imports for meat have rapidly increase. None more so than beef, highlighted in green in the below graph: 


Surveys have highlighted the rapid growth in dairy consumption. Expectations have been eclipsed by what we have seen in recent years. Some are calling it the golden era of prosperity for the Australian dairy industry. And it’s likely to continue. It’s expected that demand will further increase in the next few years. China’s demand will provide opportunities for international producers. 


China is already Australia’s biggest trading partner. And with demand for agricultural products set to rise further, Australia could experience another boom. Not a commodity boom, but an agricultural boom. 

  • Copper 

Chinese increased consumerism  brings boom to Copper

Since 2005, Australia has experienced tremendous growth due to the mining boom, But over the past few years there's been a bit of a bloodbath. 

However, there will be one commodity that will surprise  Copper! 

Cooper is needed from  its use in consumer-end products. 


China has been transforming  over the past few years. They have moved from an industrialised economy to a consumerist society. 

Finished products are what China wants. And what’s helping along this consumerist mentality? China’s newly rich and the rise of their middle income class. 

The predicted values speak for themselves. China is expecting their population’s wealth grow more than 400% in the next 30 years. 

And there could be a way to capitalise on China’s buying habits. Electronics and home appliances will be just some of the products demanded by the newly rich. Yet this is a natural progress of developing economies. As income increases people spend more on consumption. 

The graph below shows the actually and forecasted increases in private consumption and investments. What is interesting about the below graph is that while disposable income increases consumption, not investment, will increase. 


With both consumer goods and infrastructure set to rise, China will need more copper wire. Around half of the copper mined is used to manufacture electrical wire. Maintaining China’s energy demands will also require copper wiring. 

Australia’s biggest miner, BHP Billiton [ASX:BHP], has already placed long-term bets on copper. The graph below shows the projected copper consumption into the next two years. China’s consumption is expected to eclipse 25,000 tonnes of copper.

BHP has repeatedly said they are working to increase copper production. BHP’s copper division head, Daniel Malchuk, believes the long-term fundamentals of copper are positive. 

China wants less dirty coal and more copper. 

2017 might just be the year that copper starts its resurgence. 

  • Property and Tourism 

Chinese wealthy wanting to visit and  invest in Australian Property

We can see the effect that the increased wealth and prosperity of Chinese has had on the Australian tourism and property market. 

This does not seem to be abating 

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Claire Robinson joins Yahoo 7

Yahoo 7 has appointed the former communications manager for Frost* Collective Claire Robinson to the role of corporate communications and public relations manager.

Robinson replaces Peri Wilson who finished in the role in January this year, joining PwC Australia as strategic comms lead.

Most recently Robinson was the client services and business director for Holt Design. She has also worked with Specsavers as the national PR manager, and agency side for PPR, 2iC Integrated Communications and Robin Smith Communications.

Robinson will be tasked with driving awareness and affinity for Yahoo7 and its properties across Australia and New Zealand.

Kate McBean, head of marketing and PR ANZ for Yahoo7, said in a statement: “It’s essential we have the right senior talent to deliver on our 2017 objectives to deliver premium client and consumer experiences, leveraging Yahoo7’s unique offering across data, content and technology. We’re thrilled to have Claire’s expertise in the team and I look forward to working closely with her to champion the business and its continuing success.”

Robinson will be based in Yahoo7’s Sydney office and begins her role immediately.

Her appointment comes on the heels of Yahoo7 giving commercial director Paul Sigaloff a title upgrade to chief revenue officer.

Most recently Yahoo7 became locked in a tussle with Nine Entertainment Co over which media company commands the larger overall digital audience.

Teaching entrepreneurship to kids!!! What do you think?

In Austin, people stroll the aisles between 110 booths manned by 230 local kid entrepreneurs who will sell to about 2,300 customers. The sellers are kids as young as 5 years old.
We're at the Pease Mansion where Jeff Sandefer, a billionaire Texas oilman, and his wife started the Acton Children's Business Fair, a series of events where kids aged 5 to 15 spend half a day selling goods and services they create.  

 There is expected to be 50 affiliated Children's Business Fairs in the U.S. this year, all created by word of mouth. Across the U.S., a nascent movement is educating kids in entrepreneurship. 

In Austin alone, there are foundations, afterschool programs, summer programs, high school classes, and more. This month, South by Southwest will feature multiple sessions about youth entrepreneurship and a youth startup pitch competition.
One of Austin's most ambitious programs is the nation's first K-12 public school entrepreneurship track. The program culminates in an incubator class in which teams of students launch businesses and compete for funding, followed by an accelerator class in which they run the businesses.

 The program, now in its second year, created a nonprofit, INCubatoredu, to license its incubator-class curriculum to schools around the country, and more than 60 schools in 13 states have signed up.
The reality is that work has changed. We all must become entrepreneurs, or at least like entrepreneurs. The jobs of the new economy are ones where you have to be entrepreneurial. By the year 2020, 40 percent of the jobs will be entrepreneurial in nature. The factory-style education system doesn't prepare kids for that environment.  The question is whether entrepreneurship and the traits that underpin successful entrepreneurs can be learned?
Of course, the students at Acton come from households that push them to achieve. Though the Children's Business Fair is open to all kids, the efforts aren't reaching a huge chunk of underprivileged communities. If youth entrepreneurship education aims to help a generation navigate a new world, it will need to go a lot wider.
Across town, David Crockett High School houses 1,500 primarily Hispanic and lower-income students. Less than a decade ago, it was in danger of being shut down. In 2008, the district hired a young principal from New York City and since then the school has become a celebrated success with the launch of the Student Inc program two years ago, Crockett has emerged as a model for other local schools.  Their year will culminate in a Shark Tank-style pitch competition to score $2,500 grants from a local VC firm; next year, they'll run their companies in an accelerator class.
Student Inc. begins in elementary school with a program called Microsociety, in which the whole school runs a mock small town complete with businesses and government agencies, and holds regular market days in which the town comes to life. In middle school, kids on the entrepreneurship track run an on-campus store that sells school-spirit gear such as T-shirts and beanies.
One of the biggest tasks is lighting a fire under all of the groups, but ultimately it comes down to that underlying drive: It's easy to be a wantrepreneur, but it takes a special kind of student to make that leap.
But, it is certainly on the right track.   If I offer you two kids. one graduates with top grades, has a lot of book knowledge, and knows how to score an A on a test. The other has built a business and maybe broke even on it, knows how to go out and hustle, did a couple of internships, and has a growing network. You're an employer. Which one do you want to hire?

Let me know if you want to be involved is creating a boot camp in your area.

Ask and you will receive


One of life’s fundamental truths states, “Ask and you shall receive.”

It’s simple, and so so so powerful…

As business owners, we seem to lose our ability to ask. But, here’s what you need to understand:

The world responds to those who ASK

So ........ just ask. It's all their waiting for you! 

Taking the leap from an accounting firm into Xero tech

GreT insures by Elle Burke who has made the move fro an accounting firm to a tech company 


Tips for millennial accountants looking to take the challenge

The approach of my six-month probation at the accounting tech company Xero has got me thinking – how did I end up in this job and how did I become so comfortable in the world of tech? 

Not long ago, I was sat in a mid-tier firm with my head buried in a computer. The firm knew I was fast worker, compliant and eager to please – and I was taking on more work by the day. I wanted to add value by going above and beyond to learn new information and then train teams on the ins and outs of cloud accounting software.  

But after almost two years, I was outgrowing my role and I was hungry for more. I either had to move up the chain, or ship out. 

The job description: doubt creeps in

One Friday afternoon, I received a random LinkedIn message from a recruiter at Xero – and there was a familiarity that came with the message. I’d been working around Xero for over six years; I had used Xero in my own small business and used the software on a daily basis as an accountant. Xero was a refreshing change for our industry, and for small businesses.

The role advertised was for a ‘Partner Consultant’. Sounds impressive right? I immediately doubted my skill set when reading the job description:

.      You will work closely with the Sales team to deliver business plans for clients and meet territory revenue goals

I’d never worked in sales before. Do I need to pitch something? I don’t have a persuasive personality by nature…

·       Assist partners with data conversions through detailed project planning and facilitation of training

I haven’t done any formal study around project planning. They wouldn’t hire an amateur would they?

·       Handling partner technical queries and educate partners on all partner resources available

I’ve been studying debits and credits, how could I possibly learn a completely new world and educate people on it!? It would take me years!

·       Present educational sessions in the form of webinars and classroom training to clients

Present? Oh no, you’ve lost me there – I’m like a deer in headlights when I have to speak to a crowd!

An interview with the MD  

Nevertheless, I let her know that I’d be interested in learning more – a conversation can’t hurt and I was curious. After speaking with her, I felt comfortable that I would have the support to make a career move but I still had my doubts. Was I ready to take such a drastic career move? I’d studied so hard to get to this point in my accounting career, was that all going to go to waste to move into tech?

The team whisked me through different interviews with key people within the company and I had my final interview with Trent Innes, the MD of Xero Australia. We spoke on a number of different topics: the future of the industry, cloud accounting for small business, hobbies and my personal background. I was feeling more comfortable the more we chatted. 

Trent spoke so highly of his team and was clear about making them priority. He knew Xero was an unconventional career move for me – as it had been for a lot of accountants who had already made the transition. It became comforting to know that if I took this opportunity, the person at the top would be gunning for me all the way.  

Shifting worlds

In a strange twist of fate, my bi-annual performance review at work was booked in right after my chat with Trent. I walked into the meeting buzzing from a great interview, and knew that the review would be make or break for me.

They didn’t offer me the promotion I was hoping for, and it gave me the courage to go with my gut. Just days later, I contacted Xero to accept the job.

Before I knew it, my notice period finished and I walked out of the world of public practice and into a small CBD office with stand up desks, Apple laptops, meeting areas with comfy couches and greenery, and beers in the fridge. There was so much to learn, it was almost overwhelming at first. But then, with the happy help of my supportive team, I settled into my stride.

For me, going from reconciling an account to presenting to a firm of over 50 staff happened almost overnight. Sure, it takes self belief and hard work but it can definitely be done. So I wanted to leave you with a few tips that I have for anyone else who is looking to make the switch:

Making the switch? My advice to you

1.   Jump in head first. What have you got to lose? 

My second day working for Xero was Xerocon South – their largest partner event of the year with over 2,000 delegates attending. I showed up without any formal training, and I put myself out there. I was honest with partners, saying, “It’s only my second day! Let me see if I can help, otherwise I’ll go and find someone who can”. 

People value your honesty and your drive. The feedback I received was great; people were surprised, but impressed that I’d put my hand up to take on the challenge.

You don’t have to start working at a tech company on their biggest day of the year for this tip to apply. Don’t be afraid to make your first phone call to a customer. The sooner you do it, the better or you’ll find yourself worrying about saying something wrong for weeks.

2.   Ask a million questions. The team want to help!

There is no such thing as a stupid question, and in such a supportive environment – everyone wants to step in to help you succeed. There is no fight to the top to make Partner, everyone wants what is best for the company and you’ll get wrapped up in it too.

The more questions you ask, the better off you’ll be. Learning on the fly is tough for everyone regardless of your personality – don’t be afraid to buddy up with another staff member who is more experienced.

3.   Be around and be available

Be around the office as much as you can. Be ready to get on the road and visit customers with other staff. Be ready to attend an event that might not be part of your job description. That’s how you learn, being present and picking up information as you go. Chances are, someone else will ask the same question of you at some point and, because you heard it from another team member, you’ll know how to help.

4.   Don’t doubt how valuable you are. Back yourself and don’t stop!

In a tech company, everyone comes from different career backgrounds – it’s not just a firm of accountants with a similar knowledge set. Your prior learnings can be so unique in a team working in tech. Your opinion and experience is invaluable and genuinely valued, so don’t be afraid to speak up.

You were hired because you’re amazing. On the days that you’re worn from change, and you don’t think you can handle searching for the answer to another thing you don’t know, just keep moving. There is a point that everything falls into place, just like it did in practice. 

So now I’m coming into my sixth month in tech, and feeling like I left practice a lifetime ago. I remember walking out the door and saying to myself, “If this doesn’t work out, I can just go back into practice.” Now that I’m here, I don’t think I could. 

Now, let’s just hope I pass my probation… 

If you’re interested in careers at Xero, you can visit their website here

Millionaires make Sydney 1st Choice


23rd Feb 2017: Two years running OZ ranks No # 1 by Millionaires seeking a new home.

 Last year 11,000 Millionaire Immigrants settled in Australia; 10,000 in USA; 3,000 in U.K.

Four Key Reasons: 

  1. Safety for self and family. 
  2. Best Heath Care system. 
  3. Proximity to key Asian markets for  business.
  4. Global Education.

Over the past 10 years, total wealth in Australia has risen by 85pc compared to 30pc growth in the US and 28pc growth in the UK.

As a result, the average Australian is now significantly wealthier than the average US or UK citizen, which was not the case 10 years ago.

A major advantage is Australia's New Business Migration Visa Schemes, enabling business men and women to gain Permanent Residency Status. See Posts.

Education is another incentive. Australia's exciting New Children's Visa Program, allowing children access to a global education, can lead to Permanent Residency Status.

Join us in OZ...

Aussie's will welcome you with open hearts...and you too with fall in love with OZ.

Vanguard's Investment Tips in 2017

By Bill McNabb, chairman and chief executive officer, The Vanguard Group, Inc.

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
January 2017

As we begin 2017, I'm struck by the questions we've been receiving from our investors. Never before — not even during the Global Financial Crisis — have investors come to us with such specific concerns about the movements of the markets and governments around the world.

We're living in unprecedented times, so we certainly can't predict what this year will bring. And if you know Vanguard, you should know not to expect “hot” tips or “sure bets” from us either. But I do have four suggestions that I believe can help investors reach their goals. 

1. Prepare for uncertainty. Several political and economic events caught observers by surprise in 2016, including the results of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, the presidential election in the United States and the federal election in Australia. Markets respond to surprises with volatility, and we expect more surprises in 2017. With a new US administration comes the potential for changes to policies that affect investors. Some may be beneficial; some may trigger market volatility. The best approach in any environment is to maintain a long-term perspective and a balanced and diversified portfolio. 

2. Save more. In addition to potential near-term volatility, we expect the equity and bond markets to produce lower returns in the next ten years than they have over the past several decades. This will place the burden on investors to save more. Saving more is an asymmetrical proposition: If you don't save enough and the markets don't assist you, there's nothing you can do. If you over-save and do well, great – you can retire a few years earlier. 

3. Safeguard your assets. As the threat of cybercrime continues to grow, we work hard to protect our clients' assets and data. But investors must be aware of the risks and take precautions too. 

4. Stay well-informed. Great investors understand how all the pieces fit together. Become familiar with all the components of your portfolio and know the role that each one plays in your investment plan. Stay abreast of the markets and economy but don't be driven by their movements. I realise it sounds paradoxical to say, "Stay current but resist the urge to act." But that's exactly what you should do. 

Thank you for entrusting your assets to Vanguard. Here's to a prosperous 2017.

F. William McNabb III
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
The Vanguard Group, Inc.

Is your negative mindset affecting your progress?


“I’m not pedaling fast enough.” “I’m not good enough at my job.” “I look silly in these Lycra leg warmers.” The chilly morning fog pierced through my many layers as I pedaled through Golden Gate Park. My 40-minute morning bike commute to downtown San Francisco features a morphing landscape: a lush urban forest that eventually sprawls into skyscrapers and organized chaos. As my mind and body began to warm with every pedal stroke, like a car engine on a frigid morning, a thought popped into my head: What if I were to count the number of negative thoughts that flowed into my mind during this commute?

This idea didn’t come out of the blue. For the past few weeks, I had slowly tapped into an awareness of my internal monologue, and to my dissatisfaction, my mind was a magnet to self-criticism. So in this 40 minute period, unencumbered by an iPhone to distract me, I decided to turn my attention inward. Unsurprisingly, I observed a flood of negative thoughts, from the fear that I was under-performing at my new job, to the idea that I needed to be pedaling faster. What shocked me was not the negativity of my thoughts, but rather how many of them I had. I gave up counting after my total eclipsed three-dozen in under one mile.

Naturally, I was discouraged at the sheer magnitude of my self-negativity. But that experience encouraged me to think about how I could become more self-compassionate. Through trial and error, I’ve concluded that the goal is not to suppress these negative thoughts, but rather to learn to understand where they come from.

What shocked me was not the negativity of my thoughts, but rather how many of them I had. 

Dr. Carol Dweck is a professor of Psychology at Stanford and author of Mindsetswhose book had been recommended to me twice, once by a good friend and then by my manager. Learning about her groundbreaking research on the difference between what she calls a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset” has completely upended how I view challenges and failures.

Dweck defines a mindset as “beliefs about yourself and your most basic qualities.” She says that those with a fixed mindset believe they are born with a fixed amount of talent and intelligence that cannot be changed – you either have it or you don’t. On the other hand, those with a growth mindset believe their qualities can be developed with hard work and dedication. Essentially, those who have a fixed mindset tend to be more self-critical, see themselves as “not good enough,” and are less likely to embrace challenges for fear of failure and imperfection. The fixed mindset sounded quite familiar. I saw myself on every page of Dweck’s book and realized that the sooner I could open my mind to the idea of "life as challenge" instead of "life as a test," the sooner I’d be more compassionate and understanding of my flaws.

...viewing failure as an action instead of letting it become a label shuts off the flood of self-criticism at its inception. It’s the difference between stopping a flood of water at its source and trying to hold it back downstream. 

My challenge has been toeing the line between embracing my imperfection – being OK with myself as I am, while still striving to improve. This delicate balance isn’t always achievable, but as I learn more and more in my role as a recruiter, I’ve slowly embraced the fact that perfection simply isn’t achievable. Sooner or later, we all slip up and have to face the consequences: be it through the cringing embarrassment of a pitch to an unimpressed candidate, the shocking realization of a forgotten email that deserved a response, or the shame of a completed project disliked by your manager.

The goal is not to strive for the elusive and unattainable nirvana of perfection and then beat ourselves up when outcomes, which are not entirely within our power, don’t go our way. Rather, the goal should be to put the most sincerity and hard work possible into our endeavors, and to learn from our mistakes. Doing so switches the nature of how we perceive failure itself, changing it from an all-encompassing label into an action, from “I’m a failure” to “I failed at this task.” This little distinction is important: viewing failure as an action – and sometimes due to inherent dispositions or external factors out of our control – shuts off the flood of self-criticism at its inception. It’s the difference between stopping a flood of water at its source and trying to hold it back downstream.

“Life is not a test, it’s about learning.” 

I’ve followed Dr. Dweck’s advice and created a laminated sheet containing a comparison chartbetween the growth and fixed mindsets, and I set a goal to spend a few minutes each morning internalizing how it will be applied to the coming day. In addition, I repeat a motto to myself: “Life is not a test, it’s about learning.”

So I’m back on my bike commuting to work a few weeks later, and halfway to the office, I noticed that my back seemed less sweaty than usual. Then it occurred to me: I had forgotten my satchel, containing all of my work necessities, at home. My thoughts quickly turned negative: “You suck. Now you’ll really be late.” But then a strange emotion took over: excitement. Why excitement? Because I realized that my failure to gather my belongings before leaving my apartment exposed a deficiency in how I gathered myself. To be more specific, applying the growth mindset to this situation would improve my ability to stay centered and present, providing benefits well beyond simply remembering my belongings in the morning. The opportunity to improve is what excited me.

I won’t even pretend that I have perfected the growth mindset - I still have days where I beat up on myself or where I’m flooded with negativity. However, I am aware that I have a conscious choice in how I interpret failure. I can either see it as a condemnation of my abilities or as a gift. I’m trying to choose the latter.

Alec Kassin is an associate in the Business Leadership Program for Global Sales at LinkedIn, dedicating himself to creating economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. When he's not in the office, he's often on a mountain or road bike, watching a Cubs game, singing Frozen in French, or learning guitar.

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