View profile

Weekly 3: Understanding (under)performance


Idea Journal Weekly 3

May 31 · Issue #141 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Let the hierarchy guide you. Don’t over-promote. Fuel your body. (~4 min read)

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Wikipedia)
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Wikipedia)
#1. The influence of unmet needs
Psychologist Abraham Maslow first proposed the now-popular “hierarchy of needs” in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation.  
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that to reach your full potential (“self-actualization”), you first need to satisfy your basic material and psychological needs: physiological (e.g., food, water), safety (e.g., shelter, physical security), belonging (e.g., love, supportive relationships), and self-esteem.
According to Maslow, you can’t reach self-actualization unless these basic needs are met.
For instance, if you live in a violent environment your need for safety is unmet. Or if you’re dealing with a turbulent personal relationship, your need for belonging and love is impacted. 
Although Maslow’s hierarchy has been criticized as simplistic and culturally biased, it can still be a helpful lens to understand a person’s performance. 
For example, if you see someone underperforming, you might ask yourself: 
  • Are their basic needs being met? 
  • Do they feel safe, physically and psychologically?
  • Do they have supportive and caring people in their lives?
  • What is their level of self-esteem?
Similarly, if someone is fulfilling their potential, they likely have their basic material and psychological needs covered.
Maslow’s hierarchy won’t explain every case of underperformance.
But like any framework or model, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful.
#2. We rise to our "level of incompetence"
Authors Raymond Hull and Laurence Peter write in their book The Peter Principle that in a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence.
The “Peter principle” suggests that people get promoted to a new role based on performance in their previous role. But the skills required of their new role may be completely different, and not a good fit. 
Over time, an employee will be promoted to a role that exceeds their abilities, and they will struggle.
When people are doing well in their roles, we tend to reward them with promotions. But it’s useful to keep the Peter principle in mind, so that you don’t put someone in a role where they’re unlikely to succeed.
For example, higher-level roles tend to involve more strategy than tactics. In general, strategy deals with the big picture and long-term and tactics are about details and the short-term steps to fulfill the strategy. 
If you promote someone who is great tactically into a role whose focus is strategy, they’re likely to underperform.
To counteract the Peter principle, organizations can implement solutions like developing multiple career tracks, and creating roles and responsibilities that match employees’ abilities.
#3. Our bodies have performance requirements
Author and researcher Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that it’s important to remember that your mind is a physical system. 
As Kaufman puts it: “Oftentimes, what we experience as mental fatigue or emotional distress is simply a signal from our body that we’re not getting enough of something we physically need: nutrients, exercise, or rest.”
Our bodies have performance requirements. Just as a car can’t run on an empty gas tank, we can’t operate for long without necessary inputs. 
Nutrition, exercise, and rest are those inputs. 
Kaufman offers some basic guidelines for each one: 
Eat high-quality food: Kaufman writes that the garbage in, garbage out concept is helpful here. The quality of your output, in this case your productive energy, will depend on the quality of your inputs. 
Kaufman’s advice is: “if your great-grandparents wouldn’t immediately recognize it as food, don’t eat it.”
Exercise regularly: Kaufman cites research by molecular biologist John Medina: “even low-intensity physical activity increases energy, improves mental performance, and enhances your ability to focus.” Simple activities like going for a walk or doing a few pushups can help.
Get enough sleep: Scientific research on sleep suggests that, for most people, getting seven to eight hours of sleep leads to better thinking and overall performance. You’ve probably experienced this in your own anecdotal experience. 
The next time you or someone else is underperforming, consider whether the above three inputs are relevant.
Other Weekly 3 issues about performance
Quote of the week
“Studio musicians have this adage: ‘The tape doesn’t lie.’ Immediately after the recording comes the playback; your ability has no hiding place.”
- Author and computer science professor Cal Newport, quoting a musician he interviewed in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue
New York, NY