Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Wrong Environment

In How Brain Science Can Save You from the Wrong Job, child psychiatrist Edward Hallowell makes the analogy between a child who is struggling in the classroom and adults who can't get engaged in their workplace.

"My diagnosis in each case is a “disease” called disconnection. It can spread like a virus. It saps companies of their vital juices. And given the rapidly changing world of work—where new is soon old, fast is slow, private is public, focus is fragmenting, loyalty is decreasing, debate has devolved into sound bites, and policies have become platitudes—it is now rampant in organizations. How do you perform at your best under those circumstances?

The question of how people can achieve peak performance has been my focus for 30 years, as a specialist in child development and learning differences such as ADHD and dyslexia, and as a counselor to people of all ages. The process I’ve developed to help kids like Tommy and adults like the three executives I just described is the Cycle of Excellence. It consists of five steps: select the right tasks, connect with colleagues, play with problems, grapple with and grow from challenges, and shine in the acknowledgment of your achievements."

It's a great idea, but of course not everyone has the complete freedom to switch environments, classrooms, schools, or jobs. Be that as it may, a personal crisis is often:

Specific person + environment = crisis

Sometimes the answer is to try and change the person, sometimes it's to change the environment, and sometimes it's both.

Hallowells's checklist for  "Is your job a good fit?"

1. What are you best at doing? It is amazing how many people spend years trying to get good at what they’re bad at instead of getting better at what they’re good at.
2. What do you like to do the most? This is not always the same as the answer to question 1. Unless it is illegal or bad for you, do what you like. If it is also productive and useful, it ought to be your career.
3. What do you wish you were better at? Your answer may guide you to a course you should take or a mentor you should work with. It may also indicate a task you should delegate.
4. What talents do you have that you haven’t developed? Don’t say none.
5. Which of your skills are you most proud of? This often reflects obstacles you’ve overcome.
6. What do others most often say are your greatest strengths? This question helps you identify skills you may not value because they seem easy to you.
7. What have you gotten better at? This gives you an idea of where putting in additional effort can pay off.
8. What can you just not get better at no matter how hard you try? This tells you where not to waste any more time.
9. What do you most dislike doing? Your answer here suggests what tasks you might want to delegate or hire out.
10. Which skills do you need to develop in order to perform your job? Your answer to this question might lead you to take a course, read a book, or work with a mentor or coach.
11. What sort of people do you work best/worst with? Do you love to work with highly organized, analytic types? Do creative types drive you crazy? Make up your own categories.
12. What sort of organizational culture brings out the best in you? It is amazing how many people won’t leave a culture for which they are hideously unsuited.
13. What were you doing when you were happiest in your work life? Could you find a way to be doing that now?
14. What are your most cherished hopes for your future work life? What could keep you from realizing those hopes?
15. How could your time be better used in your current job to add value to the organization?Your answer here gives your manager valuable input he or she may never have thought to ask for.



  1. What would be really great is if people used this checklist BEFORE they make a career choice, say, in high school or early college.

    An additional benefit: children with learning disabilities can use this a modified version of this checklist to help them identify what their areas of interest are.

  2. I agree with hands-on learning. This is a really good questions for those who are still can't make up their mind on what course they should take in College.