Friday, May 16, 2008

The value of not caring in the workplace

I was with a company that went through lots of changes through its early history--many of them good changes. High growth, successful IPO, ultimately getting acquired for a huge sum. And of course some bad changes too--good people leaving, lots of interpersonal conflict. Early in 2000, when it looked like another tumultuous year upcoming, a senior manager that I respected a lot asked me my goals for the year. I thought for a while and then said "equanimity."

The shock and confusion registered on his face immediately. He expected me to say "sell lots of products" or "sign up lots of new partners" or whatever, but instead I said "equanimity." In that moment of thought I had decided I was not going to let changes and turmoil get to me, but that I would ride them out as unemotionally as I could.

And it worked. I had a really good year. Lots of changes happened, virtually all out of my control, and I dealt with them.

I was reminded of this story when viewing this video of Bob Sutton from the 50 Lessons people (I've been raiding their material for mistake stories recently). In the video, he talks about the genesis of "The No Asshole Rule," his acclaimed book, but also tosses in a provocative idea at the end. When discussing advice of how someone should deal with assholes, he said: "Very often in life, there's times when learning not to care, to be indifferent is incredibly important, and it's something we don't teach people enough.... If you're in a situation where there's nothing you can do about changing it, you might as well just ignore it and do what is best for you.... One of my goals as an adult is to get better and better at figuring out what doesn't matter to me, and ignoring it."

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