30.Dec.2015 Covey’s Seven Habits in 2015

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This blog has a strong focus on introducing new ideas. But we shouldn’t throw away the old ones if they still work. It’s important to review classic ideas and ask how they’re standing the test of time, and they don’t come much more classic than Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective people. The book has sold 25 million copies since 1989, and was named in 2011 as one of the top 25 most influential business management books by Time Magazine. Bill Clinton asked for Covey’s advice after reading it while he was president.

At over twenty-five years old, it’s inevitable that such a popular theory will have been talked about by people who’ve not actually read it. And those people may have talked about it to others, until we end up suffering from the ‘photocopy effect’, like when you photocopy a photocopy of a photocopy… do this too many times and the image starts to get blurred. If we’re to get as much as possible out of this classic model, it’s important that we re-focus on what Covey meant, and ask ourselves how it can help us today.

1: Be Proactive

1989: You are responsible for your own actions, and your own choices. The easy way is to blame – blame circumstance, blame bad luck, blame others – when things don’t go your way. Take the initiative; if something doesn’t work, try something else. Own your decisions, and their outcomes. Realise that the single most important factor in your success is the choices you make.

2015: It’s easy to feel that the power of corporations and governments means that we have no power, but those who feel the weight of their own choices and act accordingly consistently get better outcomes, as much today as twenty-seven years ago. In the age of kickstarter and of hot stories traversing the globe in hours, there are more possibilities than people in 1989 could have imagined.

2: Begin with the End in Mind

1989: Visualise where you want to go before you set out. Understand who you are and what you want from life in order to take steps to get it. If you don’t have a clear idea of where you want to go, you won’t get there.

2015: I believe there is a danger here. Focusing overly on goals can make us forget about the here and now. The destination is important, but more and more people are concerned about the journey. This is more a criticism of how this habit can interpreted than of what Covey meant; we can and probably should set an enjoyable journey as a ‘goal’.

But many do not think of it this way. Goals are often about money, status or achievements, and studies in subjective well-being suggest that these are less important to happiness than most people think. Certainly, begin with the end in mind, but realise that the means we use to get there are ends in themselves.

3: Put First Things First

1989: Do the things that help you towards your goals; don’t allow yourself to get distracted by ‘urgent’ things that don’t. Realise that you are in control of what you choose to spend your time on – make it count.

2015: If there is a change here, it’s in how important this habit is. In 1989, ADHD was not in the dictionary, and there were no facebook or email accounts to check every twenty seconds. Everybody wants a slice of our time; it is absolutely crucial to effectiveness that we choose wisely who or what to give it to.

4: Think Win-Win

1989: Believe in ‘abundance’; life is not a zero-sum game. If you strive to find outcomes that are beneficial to all, your relationships will blossom and you will reap the long-term benefits. Avoid winning at someone else’s expense.

2015: As the gap between rich and poor widens, the importance of this becomes clear. Successful businesses that sustain success have been proven time and again to be the ones that do so with their employees and customers, not at the expense of them.

5: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

1989: Diagnose before you prescribe. Your efforts to influence others can have no greater foundation than listening to their point of view first, with empathy.

2015: Again, this becomes more and more important as society changes. We are being sold to, all day every day. If not products, then ideas, versions of events, what to think. And it gets tiring. We genuinely enjoy it when somebody takes the time to find out where we stand before telling us where they stand.

6: Synergize

1989: Realise that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Teams working together effectively and with mutual trust and respect can achieve far more than any individual. Look for the ways that those around you can add value to what you do, and vice-versa.

2015: This is an area where the development of the internet has opened up massive new vistas. We can collaborate with others anywhere in the world, and can find like-minded people and create groups like never before. If you want to achieve something, there is someone out there who can help you – you just have to find them.

7: Sharpen the Saw

1989: You are the saw. The world is the trees. If you keep focusing on the world and do not refresh yourself and renew your body and mind, you will become dull like the saw that has sharpened too many trees.

2015: Wellbeing and Lifelong Learning are words on the lips of many; we understand the value of this habit. However, it’s easy to lose sight of it. Learning and relaxation can be fun, but can also be hard work, and taking the time can be even harder.

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