Business In a Rut? Stop “Should-ing” on Yourself


What if business success has something to do with being enlightened? In this column I highlight a single skill that can be found in both spritual and corporate success-stories.

Business In a Rut? Stop “Should-ing” on Yourself

One way that leaders in local companies get stuck in a rut is by refusing to accept the current business world… as it is. While it sounds obvious, there are many who are losing profits by complaining incessantly that the local environment isn’t the way it should be. How do you get yourself unstuck, if you are?

A friend of mine once taught me a trick. “If you call a large company (such as your least favorite utility) and get someone on the phone who is incompetent, just thank the person and hang up. Then, using what you have learned, immediately call back and

talk with someone else. Repeat the process until you get the answer you want, using your newfound knowledge on each subsequent call.”

Another American friend of mine (before the 9/11 terrorist attacks) shared that he often received first-class upgrades on flights. How? By simply making a polite request at the counter.

Finally, a vice president in a general insurance company advised me that there are some people who negotiate lower car insurance rates.

“How?” I asked.

“By asking.”

In each of these cases, I was stunned. Like many, I am likely to hang up after the first bad call, feeling upset. I also rarely ask for the extras I want and (even worse) believe that requesting a “bligh” is equivalent to doing something bad.

Now, it’s obvious that I only get myself stuck when I fall into these traps. In each of these three situations, there is an effective approach that most people don’t pursue. When you are a businessperson, the cost of stopping yourself is not only in personal convenience but in profits. What do you need to do to make sure that you can “Wheel and Come Again” as often as you need to, without a hint of frustration?

1. Find the Thought Behind the Stress

If you are feeling stressed for more than a quick instant, it’s a likely sign that you need to ask some deeper questions. For example, if you think the world has to change in order to regain your peace of mind, you will suffer. Jamaica’s recession is teaching us that waiting around for business conditions to improve, and for happiness to descend with it, is suicide. When we understand that stress isn’t predetermined by outside circumstances but involves our own thought patterns, that’s a strong beginning.

2. Look for the “Is-World” Beyond the “Should-World”

One of the stressful thoughts I struggle with is:  “A company should be staffed with competent people who can anticipate my wants/needs as a customer.” It’s a perfect example of what some call “Living in a Should-World.” When I am in this mindset I am preoccupied by the way things should be, complaining that my critical standard is not being met. I become impatient, upset and ineffective.

The alternative is “Living in the Is-World.” In this frame of mind, someone accepts what life has offered at that moment fully and completely. It doesn’t mean that he isn’t trying to change things, it simply implies that progress starts by “hugging up” reality.

Businesspeople who do so are free to act without frustration. They are unfazed, quickly accepting the way things are and acting accordingly. Not to say that this is easy, but a long recession shouldn’t be wasted: it is a special time to comprehend big, lifelong lessons.

3. Realize that No-One is to Blame

Sometimes, in corporate life, no person is at fault. A few CEO’s ago, I was standing at the counter of a Digical store trying to use my loyalty points when I learned they had “expired.” Unknown to me, there was a new policy. Since then I have learned that the company had every legal right to change the programme. Furthermore, it had announced the change in the press.

However, I have spoken with over 10 employees (plus a number of my friends) who also had their points deducted, to their shock. They also had no clue the change was coming, costing them valuable points in their account. One employee’s mother was “killing him” with complaints.

But I’m lucky… I have been using my points over the years. Other patient accumulators are the big losers.

Oftentimes, when I recall the incident, I feel cheated. As if a trusted partner who sends me lots of texts, a monthly bill and regular email chose to quietly remove money from my bank account.

I struggle to accept this reality but try not to give up. On each call to Digicel, I complain loudly about the “injustice.” Here I am writing about it.

Even though I’m clear that my appeals might fail, I still feel empowered when I take action. That’s a benefit of not “Should-ing” on myself and accepting the reality of what is.

Francis Wade is a management consultant, keynote speaker and author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity. To receive a summary with links to past columns, or give feedback, email:

Sep 23 2015 Gleaner Stop Should-ing

Why High Performers “Hug Up” Their Incompetence


We Jamaicans think it’s rude to call someone “incompetent.” In my latest column, I show that this “politeness” is a big mistake on our part as mediocrity is allowed to fester, grow and bear a bitter fruit.

We need a kind of personal courage that is hard to find, but would let us get past knee-jerk defensiveness.

The article was inspired by the high level of incompetence that surrounds us each day. For example, the recent drought, which apparently caught the National Water Commission by surprise, could have been mitigated by competence. When we don’t strive to deal with our incompetence, bad things happen… leaving us to wonder how and why. The answer is far simpler to implement than it seems, especially for those who already deem themselves to be “smart.”


Why High Performers “Hug Up” Their Incompetence

We all know that it’s rude to call someone “incompetent.” Unfortunately, this polite norm blocks Jamaican employees from outstanding accomplishment. The solution is to embrace rather than eschew individual incompetence. Here’s why.

People who are experts in a field by virtue of their experience or knowledge have something in common with those who are highly accomplished. They all have an acute sense of what’s missing… the gap between who they are and who they could be. Operating on a knife’s edge, they are forever trying  to expand themselves in areas where they feel an acute lack of competence.

This thirst for results drives them to search and eke out the smallest gains, even if it’s just a fraction of a second in a sprint, a few runs in an innings or a tiny bump in sales revenue. They believe that closing these infinitesimal gaps  is all-important; that accurate self-knowledge is the key.

Over time, they also develop an eye for competence in fields which are unfamiliar and unrelated to their own. High performers can recognize each other, but not because they understand the technical details. Instead, they pick up on the blood, sweat and tears invested in closing competency gaps, whether the hours are spent in surgery, sculpture or in the gym.

By contrast, the average person looking at these same people may not see any connection. Too many believe that  becoming great is just a matter of tapping into God-given talents. In other words, for them, it doesn’t take much for Usain to be Usain. All he had to do was wake up and discover his birthright.

This misconception isn’t shared by high performers, who aren’t misled. One indicator they use to separate high performers from the fakes is  a measure of how someone relates to their innate incompetence.

The fear of incompetence

High performers embrace their incompetence, “hugging it up” from sunup to sundown. The rest of us live in a different world. For us, the worst thing that can happen is to be openly labelled as incompetent, or seen by others as stuck in this condition. Therefore, we resist the label and pretend to have what we don’t, acting as if we can do what we can’t.

Smart people, in particular, have this problem in spades.

Oftentimes, they realize they are well above average at a young age, able to process thoughts faster than their peers.  Many use this ability unwisely: instead of pursuing a life balanced on the edge, they seek comfort. A place to relax and enjoy their advantage in peace.

They learn to use their smarts to bamboozle others, showing off their talents as they protect their comfortable place in life.

Some know better. Ask those who have migrated and you may uncover their true experience. Thinking they were highly accomplished, they discovered far away from home that they were nowhere near the edge. For me, that moment came when after, a few days as a Cornell freshman, I discovered that several of my new friends had perfect SAT scores.

I instantly felt very, very small.

To make things worse, a few weeks later, in casual conversation with a graduate student, I reported my 85% mark on my first computer science test. He asked a single question: “What was the mean?” (i.e. the average score.)

“86%,” I answered.

“You only got a C+!… that’s all!”

In response to my shocked expression, he explained that grades in the engineering school did not correspond to a particular, set range. Instead, they were based on a Bell Curve in which half the class received a B- or better, and the other half received a C+ or worse.

His subsequent advice on how to improve my grades were well-intended, but I processed little of it at the moment. I had graduated at the top of my class at Wolmers, but that meant little in this new, demanding environment. Here was stark evidence of my incompetence.

While migrating to experience higher workplace standards may not be a realistic option for most employees, we can all start by owning our incompetence. For example, many workers shine when they are reassigned to a new boss with better interpersonal skills. Too few managers take this fact as evidence of their incompetence. Instead, they deflect responsibility and continue on, business as usual.

It’s understandable. Looking for examples of high performance and measuring ourselves accordingly takes a lot of hard work. The journey isn’t for everyone.

However, there is no escaping the accumulated consequences of this cowardice. When the number of people in your company seeking out new areas of personal incompetence can be counted on one hand, you have a problem. When 3 million people hide from their incompetence, the result is also predictable… decades of anemic economic growth and a worldwide reputation for low productivity. We can do better.

Francis Wade is a management consultant, keynote speaker and author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email:

Gleaner Sep 13 High performers hug up incompetence