The Art Of Accomplishment: A Practical Approach To Achieving Success In The 21st Century

Prasad Kaipa, Ph. D., The Mithya Institute for Learning

Success is seductive and addictive. Once we succeed in anything, we want to repeat it, some times, at any cost. Over a period of time, we may find ourselves focusing only on results while not making corrections based on our previous experience. When we can learn from our failures, invent and create new products and services that take into account our capability as well as the market needs, we not only become successful but also feel accomplished and maybe, even fulfilled.

As the product cycle times become shorter and shorter, organizations will be hard pressed to continue to innovate new products and market them in a successful way. For innovation to occur in a repeatable and predictable way, companies have to pay attention to building capacity in both the organization and its people. When people are passionate, they don't need external reasons to do what they want to do. They begin to tap into their intrinsic motivation and live to fulfill their own dreams and aspirations that intersect the organizational vision and aspiration. Hence, In the 21st. century, the word 'success' has to include a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of fulfillment to repeat itself. Organizations, focusing on becoming successful on a repeatable basis, have to concentrate on building capacity, competence and collective intelligence in the system in addition to hiring people with suitable knowledge and skills.

The article 'Building competence and capacity in 21st century organizations' (you can get a copy of it by e-mailing the author) addresses competence and capacity development from a larger perspective. This article is intended to give suggestions and principles for the readers to apply in their own lives and organizations. We discuss six key core competencies that need to be developed in people and organizations that brings a feeling of accomplishment which, in turn, will drive success. Hence we call this article the art of accomplishment.

About six years ago, I began to think about how self-mastery or personal mastery (one of the five disciplines Peter Senge addresses in his book "The Fifth Discipline") is the key to accomplishment and how the organizational equivalent of self-mastery is never addressed by anyone. Since that time, I have been exploring the role of capacity and competence building, organizational intelligence, tacit and explicit knowledge of organizations and their interrelationships. Finally, this article emerged in a conversation with Chris Newham in June 1996. Here when we address accomplishment, it is equally applicable to organizations as well as individuals. You can also read another article that elaborates on the same six components of accomplishment but connects it to individual and leadership more directly. That article also explores how we arrived at the six principles described in this article and connects them to wisdom literature from India.

Chris and I use a particular process to engage with each other that allows us to simultaneously come from a systemic perspective and detail that is required for us to take immediate action. We started with identifying four key cornerstones for accomplishment and settled with capacity, competence, intelligence and knowledge & skills. We examined each of our assumptions around the four cornerstones and made sure that those are distinct and still connected with each other and are necessary ingredients for accomplishment. Then we examined interrelationships between two cornerstones at a time and we came up with key phrases or words that satisfactorily describe the connections. Then we examined the interrelationships between three cornerstones at a time and identified words or phrases that included and transcended the connection. At that time we created what we call a three-dimensional 'pyramid' which, mathematically, is a tetrahedron. This 'pyramid building process' allows us to explore our collective knowledge and generate a shared meaning and a language to describe our discovery. [This process has been used effectively to create a systemic model (literally a 3-D model) that incorporates different view points and bridges paradoxes and contradictions in the group for Boeing, Pacific Bell, Xerox, Mastek and Ford]. You can look at and print pyramids and articles that use pyramids by selecting pyramids section of this website.

We identified six core competencies, that when mastered, can enable us to bring accomplishment to bear. Those are:

  1. Clarity of intention
  2. Awareness of what is going on around you
  3. Empathy for one another
  4. Appreciation for one another and for what you received
  5. Stretching beyond your own limits
  6. Letting go of what does not work and old mindsets

Let us explore each of the core competencies in more detail.

Clarity of Intention

Most of us know, at some level, what we are going for. Many a time, though, we do not have a clarity of our goal. Or our deeper intention behind our actions and goals is not clearly understood or prioritized. In those circumstances, many times, we end up compromising our efforts and that is never a satisfactory solution. It may be important for us to ask ourselves the following questions to gain clarity: What is it that I am going after? How important is it for me and what am I willing to give up to achieve it? If I have more than one intention, which one should I go after first? What am I really curious about? What motivates me? These questions bring to surface some of our assumptions and help us prioritize our actions before we initiate them. If all things are equal, we should go after what gives us energy, and what we are really curious about to explore and learn.

Without a crystal clear intention, we rarely experience a sense of accomplishment even if our intentions are fulfilled. Once we know what we are going after, we can build a team or work with the team members to focus on what they bring to help us accomplish our goals. Of course, to work together effectively, clear intention alone is not enough we need to be aware of what is currently going on and build an empathetic partnership with one another.

Organizations have to examine their strategic intent regularly and see whether they are moving in that direction. Hamel and Prahalad discuss how strategic intent is the key and once we have the key, we can examine our core competencies that allow us to fulfill the organizational intent. Without this step, companies will be continuously examining what they can do with their core competencies and never move ahead competitively.

Awareness of what surrounds you

We don't live in a vacuum either personally or organizationally. I am conditioned by my family, my culture and am continually being shaped by the environment that I live in. I use the word 'environment' to include everything that is outside of me and that could influence me. The more I become conscious of what is influencing me, the more I can exercise my judgment and choice. I can choose to change my intentions if the environment does not allow for it to happen or move to another supportive environment where I could fulfill my intentions. If I am not even aware of my surroundings and their influence, my intention alone cannot carry me through to accomplishment.

Let us see how this applies to organizations. IBM is trading its stock on Dow Jones. IBM stock may drop along with other technology stocks if the index itself is dropping. IBM's stock may gain if the index itself is going up even though IBM itself has not done anything to affect its stock price. So one can say that IBM operates in a 'field' (technology stocks, and even the Dow Jones index) and the more we become aware of that field, the better IBM can respond to what is going on. To be successful, a company needs to be continually be aware of what is going on with its customers, competitors and its employees. When my company is aware of my customer needs, how other employees feel, how the market is responding to our competitor's product, there is more of a chance for us to come up with a successful product. We have to remember though, awareness is about now---not about yesterday or about tomorrow. If not, I may end up building services based on yesterday's needs (market has moved beyond my service offerings) or tomorrow's aspirations (market is not yet ripe for my product).

In the personal context, awareness without empathy could lead to arrogance and could be a foundation for breakdown in relationships. We feel valued when we receive the gift of deep listening when somebody else is aware of our situation.

Empathy for one another

Awareness and sensitivity are the foundation for empathy and mutual respect. When I begin to be sensitive to body language, the unsaid and motivation behind, that might allow me to inquire further. Once I am sensitive to where you are and what you want, in other words be open, I begin to see new possibilities that I have not seen before. Openness, mutual respect and trust are ingredients for a lasting relationship and, of course, for a meaningful conversation. Deep listening, not just to the words but the meaning behind the words, is the foundation for empathetic relationship. When I can empathize with you for the decisions you made, (even those decisions that affect me directly) it is possible for us to learn from each other and work together towards a common goal. Empathy, I found, begets more empathy and is the source of a creative partnership.

Passion, while extremely important to accomplishment, can also make us blind. Empathy comes from the heart and engages with the spirit of the relationship. Empathy is the seat of passion, and when mastered, leads to compassion.

Acknowledgment is a path to demonstrate empathy. It is important to let you know that I noticed what you did and such acknowledgment brings each other to higher state of functionality and vice versa. When you acknowledge me, I become more sensitive to noticing what I can acknowledge in you. It builds a deeper relationship when it is done authentically. To be authentic, I have to become sensitive to what is going on around you. As you can see, it goes in a circle.

What does empathy mean in an organizational setting? How can one establish partnerships with customers, stockholders, and suppliers without empathy?

Appreciation for each other and what you receive

It is always easy for us to find fault with each other and see what is missing or wrong. Unfortunately, focusing on what does not work only leads to unleashing failure around us. Research has found that catching somebody doing mistakes leads them to make more mistakes whereas catching them doing something right encourages them to be right more often. Appreciating a person boosts their morale and makes them feel good that somebody is paying attention to them and hence they continue to do what brought them appreciation in the first place. Unfortunately, most often, we grow up discovering our limits by being told what not to do and what doesn't work more than being encouraged to explore what is possible. We have to 'unlearn' our patterns of identifying what does not work and intentionally concentrate on appreciating what works however minute that may be. Appreciative inquiry, developed by Case Western Reserve University researchers, is being hailed as a powerful methodology for organizational development as it is producing results where none were expected. Cooperrider, the main proponent of appreciative inquiry methodology, is discovering that appreciative inquiry works in diverse cultures, diverse organizations and boosts energy of the participants and interviewers.

I can only appreciate others to the extent that I appreciate myself. So appreciation is also about self acceptance. We rarely appreciate who we are and what we receive because of our conditioned expectations. It is possible for us to come from an attitude of 'never enough' and such attitude is quite transparent to others even though we might be blind to it ourselves.

By the way, appreciation does not mean that one should accept everything and everybody and be inauthentic about it. Inauthentic appreciation is picked up very quickly by others and it damages relationships instead of building them. Authentic appreciation, on the other hand, allows people to go beyond their own limits.

Stretching beyond your own limits: We operate mostly in two modes---creative mode and the 'take it easy' mode. Many people are quite comfortable with who they are and what they got and never explore beyond their own comfort zone. In such cases, they may never discover their personal boundaries and depend on others to tell what their boundaries are and do not participate in anything that makes them uncomfortable. We can operate as catalysts with each other to identify our self-imposed limits and examine the appropriateness of those limits in the current context. Curiosity, empathy, and appreciation provide the impetus for people to engage in an activity that is personally challenging and, hopefully, discover their own untapped potential. Such exploration can only be done in supportive environments and appreciative relationships. While nobody can change anybody else, an empathetic, appreciative person who is aware of my circumstances will definitely make me think again about my mindset and I would be willing to stretch a bit beyond my comfort zone to explore what is out there.

Letting go of what does not work and old mindsets

While 'unlearning' is a more appropriate word for the new millennium, it also raises our antennas regarding what to unlearn. Letting go is, in that context, a very powerful competence to develop. Letting go is equivalent to giving up. It is continuing to engage in the game without worrying about the results. The best example I can think about comes from basket ball NBA finals this year. When Chicago Bulls led 3-0 over Seattle Sonics, Sonics did not give up. They let go of the focus on the results and played to win the next two games. Of course, Bulls won it 4-2 but Sonics were respected a lot for their fighting spirit. At that time, they had to play for being in the game and not for winning (letting go of the intention of winning NBA title). When combined with a clarity of intention, deep listening, awareness and appreciation, letting go is a natural next step. Even though I came with a strong intention, I should be willing to move on to what works gracefully and let go of my old mindset. Otherwise, I would be left with resentment and anger or frustration instead of accomplishment. A good, creative person knows what to hold on and what to let go and when to do what.

Letting go is also about flexibility and good judgment. When I know what to let go, I can take responsibility for what I can hold onto. When I do not have the freedom to let go, I cannot take accountability for anything. Unless we learn to be flexible, it is going to be difficult to compete in the 3rd Millennium.

These six competencies are a good beginning and give you a sense of accomplishment though they may not necessarily include all you need to be successful all the time. While we may think that just by knowing about these competencies, we pick them up, it requires awareness and periodic self-inquiry on our part to make these part of our lives. One approach I use is to ask myself the following questions and reflect on them. The questions are:

  • What core competencies do I have right now?
  • What core competencies am I currently interested in developing?
  • What structures and practices am I willing to set up to help me develop those competencies?
  • What is the best way you can give me feedback so that I can listen to you?

In addition to self reflection, I also find it useful to become part of a group or support community that is also interested in developing these competencies. In a community each of us can develop, assess and give each other feedback regarding the progress and it is lot more fun to learn together. Through regular practice, you begin to notice that not only competence has gone up but your capacity to act also has been impacted. In addition, you begin to discover that your ability to accomplish has shifted into high gear.

Bringing Accomplishment into Your Life

Accomplishment is about results and a sense of completion and sometimes a feeling of fulfillment. I like to imagine accomplishment as a cyclical process and the cycle has the following components shown in the following diagram.

Accomplishment cycle has four components: passion, possibility, creativity and discovery. All the four components play a role in keeping the accomplishment cycle turning. I gain insights into myself whenever I use questions to reflect with and to see what I am caught up with and how I could explore other components of accomplishment:

  • Which word attracts me the most on the accomplishment cycle?
  • What do I see as blocks to moving through the accomplishment cycle?
  • What am I /my team passionate about right now? What do I /my team have energy for, or get excited about, right now?
  • What new possibilities do I see that I/my company can take advantage of?
  • What will unleash creativity for me? What creative actions and generative steps that I can take to ground one possibility in my life/work?
  • How do I reflect on my discoveries? And did any of my discoveries stimulate more passion for me?

Connecting Accomplishment Cycle To Core Competencies

Whenever I have difficulty with my passion, I begin to pay more attention to the cornerstone 'Intelligence.' Passion sometimes blinds me and I have to work hard on paying attention to what is going on and to listen to what others are saying. In addition, whatever I am passionate about, I should be willing to let go to really be open to other alternatives. So Intelligence can be brought to passion when I develop and use the following core competencies: Awareness, Empathy and Letting Go.

Whenever I feel stuck while working on a problem and do not see many possibilities or options to take action, I begin to question my Competence. In other words, even if I see many possibilities, if I do not feel competent to explore them and build on them, none of those possibilities ever become a reality, at least in my life. As I practice the core competencies, I am learning to focus on what my intention is and become clear about it, listen and pay attention to others on the team, and be willing to go outside my comfort zone and these steps seem to help me see more choices and possibilities. So Clarity of Intention, Empathy and Stretching are closely connected with the development of personal Competence.

There are times when I go in a circle and have difficulty coming up with creative alternatives. Then I pay attention to my current Skills & Knowledge base and see whether I can update them. If I cannot implement my own creative ideas, then who else can? So I need prior experience and knowledge of the subject matter to see whether ideas I come up with are worth following up and may result in an invention. While developing Skills & Knowledge , I found concentrating on the following core competencies help immensely: Clarity of Intention, Appreciation and Letting Go.

Discovery is closely connected with Capacity in the system. Whenever capacity is lacking in my workplace, we are overwhelmed and overworked and do not have time to reflect and see the validity of our actions. We might come up with creative ideas but rarely put them into practice because we have no time or resources. When we become aware of what surrounds us and listen to our customers, employees and stockholders with appreciation and stretch to fulfill their needs, we find that discovery and capacity are happening together. Following core competencies build Capacity in the system: Awareness, appreciation and stretching. You can see that the six core competencies from the first section are closely connected with success and mastering the art of accomplishment.

Finally, till the fear and helplessness is removed from the organization, it is not possible to bring accomplishment into it. Desperation makes the brain downshift to fight or flight mode and that mode is only useful for survival and not accomplishment. You cannot build accomplishment on the foundation of people's fears. While we did discuss some of these issues in Building Capacity and Competence in 21st Century Organizations, and Creativity, Empowerment and Leadership articles, I do plan to address fear and helplessness issues in detail at some other time.

I thank Chris Newham for his partnership and the ideas in this article are a reflection of many conversations with him. Paul Gleiberman, and Annabel Jinkins read both the drafts and gave me valuable suggestions: Thank you!

Prasad Kaipa is the founder and the managing director of the Mithya Institute for Learning and Knowledge Architecture.

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