My main New Year’s resolution for 2017 is pretty much the same as always: Stop eating Christmas cookies, cut back on the drinking and get back to the gym. This resolve tends to stick for much of the year – only during the next holiday season does everything invariably fall apart again. Maybe I should consider making this a pre-Thanksgiving resolution.
I’ve had some other resolutions on my mind this week, though, and it struck me that they might be of wider applicability for a year that so many people are approaching with a hangover – literal, metaphorical or both – and a lot of trepidation. Also, while I don’t really believe that New Year’s resolutions are the key to ending the productivity-growth slowdown that has been weighing on the economy for the past decade-plus, they can’t hurt, right? So here goes.
Go outside. Modern professional life generally happens indoors. That’s inevitable, but for me staying in the building often means getting stuck in a rut, or even a funk. Just walking around the block shakes things up a little, but I’m lucky enough to have a job where I can count wandering around a California alfalfa field or a Chinese theme park as work. So why am I not doing that more often? And on weekends, why am I not spending more time exploring the gigantic, endlessly surprising city I live in? Seriously, I need to get out more. Maybe you do too.
Talk to human beings, in person. This is obviously key for a journalist, but it seems kind of important for all of us. Virtual interaction is efficient. It can open up new worlds. It’s also incomplete, and often one-dimensional. Interacting with data can be great, too. But it comes with its own biases and blinders. Actual conversations take time. They complicate things. That’s why they’re so important.
Be generous. You can’t be generous to everybody. But it’s too easy to use that as an excuse not to be generous to anybody. I’m not just talking about panhandlers on the subway (although I am talking about panhandlers on the subway). It’s also that friend whose book manuscript is waiting to be read, that family member who could use a little encouragement and help, that good idea that might wither without some attention and promotion. I’m never going to be another Adam Grant – the tireless Wharton School professor who has made helpfulness into a personal and professional credo. But I do think Grant is right that generosity benefits the generous. (Which is, of course, a terribly ungenerous reason to be generous, but, well * )
Have a plan. Benjamin Franklin famously made a habit of asking himself every morning: “What good shall I do this day?” After that he would, “contrive [the] day’s business, and take the resolution of the day.” This is the basic rule of personal effectiveness – have some idea of what you aim to accomplish before you head out to face the day, or week, or year. As a self-help skeptic I’m a little alarmed to realize that I’m now basically writing a self-help column. But I’m also alarmed at how often I start my workday or workweek without any kind of plan. Plans aren’t necessarily for sticking to. It’s just that without them, all you can do is react. This goes for organizations, too.
Go out on a limb. No, I haven’t chosen the limb – or, more likely, limbs – yet. I’ll look for sturdy ones! But at a time when the consensus view has been wrong again and again, departing from that consensus seems like almost a safe bet. This isn’t the same as being contrary. It means coming up with unique, independent arguments – or, short of that, giving attention to those who have. I’m big on being reasonable, but reasonableness always risks settling into consensus-seeking caution. And what fun is that?
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Justin Fox is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the editorial director of Harvard Business Review and wrote for Time, Fortune and American Banker. He is the author of “The Myth of the Rational Market.”
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