Make Your Own Tools

I gave a talk at Amsterdam University’s Business School yesterday. Near the beginning I spoke of the importance of writing things down and the necessity of seeking feedback from others on our behaviour and blind spots. It was at this point that one of the participants asked if there are any tools I could give him to help him with his personal development. I was privileged to have my mentor, Karaj, with me who easily became involved in the two-hour interaction with the students and alumni. He talked of people’s obsession with having tools and that the shelves of bookshops are full of books which offer tools. What is actually needed is the experience of the journey and knowing that patience, discipline, awareness, feedback, observation and (written) reflection are the elements you will have to come back to time and time again.

In my conversations with Karaj as we walked to Amsterdam station after the presentation, I talked about how, when I started this blog, my intention was to stay away from creating posts about ‘Ten things you need for…‘. There are exceptions to that rule among the 806 posts currently on this blog but that is not what my writing is about. There is even a category called ‘Lists’, but that has more to do with being able to find the many lists I wrote down during my training and which are specific to my journey. And anyway, as Karaj highlighted, there are enough websites offering those things and they do an excellent job. I look at them myself from time to time because they provide useful reminders, but they do not explain the nature of the journey. It is tough and challenging, and that is what we need to know.

The question of tools remains a valid one, but the focus should be on empowering yourself to discover your own tools. Find out what works for you. When I was 17 I began an engineering apprenticeship and I remember being impressed when told that some of the machinists on the factory floor had been stood at the same machines for 30 years or more and that over the years they had made specialised tools for use in their work. They had crafted whatever made their work easier and their lives simpler.

It’s interesting, too, that we often already have tools which work, but we just don’t recognise them. In January this year, a client expressed her desire to get away from being a slave to deadlines so she could work effectively without having to set deadlines for herself. I wrote back to her: ‘Do yourself a favour and stop trying to get rid of the deadline-slave behaviour. Make use of it instead. It doesn’t really matter what it takes to get you to have a long and efficient day. If it works, use it.

Make your own tools. Use other people’s ideas, experiment with your own. Do whatever it takes to make sure you are able to practice the elements listed at the end of the first paragraph. Those are the ones that count. And as far as the tools are concerned, remember the machinists in the factory: 30 years stood at the same machines (discipline) and over time (patience), they were able to see (observations, feedback, reflection and awareness) what was needed to make their process more effective. They had all the standard tools available but they also made their own.

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