Caught in the Act

Bosses, parents, teachers, clergy and government officials are well trained to catch you doing something wrong.  There are elaborate systems for checks and balances, controls and consequences. It’s apparently very important to catch the mischievous child or the wayward employee in the act of disobedience.

With so much effort spent catching people doing something wrong, it’s time to start catching each other doing something right.

In our society, wide spread labeling is an insidious force that robs individuals of achieving their true potential.  When a parent tells a child they are average, slow, or stupid, these sharp words become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the erroneous labels are internalized.  When a boss repeatedly lashes out at a team member pointing out their every flaw, confidence becomes shattered and performance plummets.

When a kid is slow to pick up violin or painting, teachers and parents routinely label her as “not creative.”   Physicians dispense labels like ADD with reckless abandon.  And business leaders are quick to pick favorites while admonishing the laggards.  These labels seep into our souls, and we end up becoming their personification.  Label a kid as a troublemaker, and trouble he will make.

The good news is that labeling can work the other way too.  Catch a team member in the act of delivering great work, and you’ll inject her with confidence and energy.  Label a colleague a rock-star, and they’ll kick out the work version of a Grammy.

This last week was a thrill for me, having been invited to the White House with nine other entrepreneurs to be recognized as a Champion of Change.  President Obama launched this program to celebrate Americans who are making a difference, innovating, and “winning the future.”  As I watched the faces of my fellow award recipients beam with pride, I realized the power of catching people in the act of greatness.

Each of us will return to our home states full of positive energy and confidence, and will over-perform as a result.  We’ll energize our communities.  We’ll help others.  We’ll make a difference.  One simple label will embolden us to reach our true potential.  Think about how you’d behave differently if you were Jim Smith vs. President Barack Obama’s Champion of Change, Jim Smith.

Most of us have self-talk that’s so negative we’d be institutionalized if we said it out loud.  Maybe you should catch yourself in the act of doing good more often, and celebrate those wins auspiciously.  Maybe that extra shot of energy you give yourself will be the difference maker in reaching your own goals and dreams.

This week, let’s all flip the poison of negative labeling, and catch each other and ourselves in the act – in the act of doing things right.  These new, positive labels will tip the scales in favor of results, momentum, and overall achievement.

By the way, great outfit!

Read More

New Thinking for the New Era of Business

Albert Einstein famously noted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” In our post-COVID world of ...

When an Astronaut Needs a Pen

Ever get stuck on a problem, only to realize you're solving for the wrong thing? That's exactly what happened when the rocket scientists at NASA ...

How Shake Shack Drives Innovation

Do you prefer the crispy mozzarella, tempura watercress, and black garlic mayonnaise cheeseburger or the pumpkin mustard, bacon, cranberries, and sage hot dog? For something ...

Lady Gaga’s Secret to Creativity

Just before she won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, I watched Lady Gaga dazzle the live audience with a pitch perfect performance of ...

Creativity: Does Size Matter?

For some reason, we’ve been taught that for creativity and innovation to count they need to have a magnitude the size of the 1989 San ...

The Lexicon of Creativity

There’s more confusion around the meaning of the word innovation than the chaos at the airline ticket counter after a cancelled flight. Is there a difference between ...

The Brain Science of Becoming More Creative

When we hear stories about iconic leaders like’s founder Marc Benioff, or widely celebrated virtuosos like Lin-Manuel Miranda for that matter, we immediately think ...

Correct the Overcorrect

When the misguided leaders at Enron, Tyco and Worldcom committed fraud and marred their shareholders with huge losses, the Securities and Exchange Commission rightfully swooped ...

Learning to Color

Fact: Creativity has become the most needed skill in business. It’s gone from a nice-to-have to becoming mission-critical. Fact: Creativity is a learnable skill. All humans have ...