Scare Yourself

This is a repeat of a pre Halloween post from last year.  I’m up to the challenge again. Hope that you are, too.

The Halloween push is on. Pop up stores dot shopping centers, candy displays crowd aisles, and domestic goddesses like Martha Stewart show us how to transform our homes into Halloween themed party centers. If you are around anyone in the ten years old and younger crowd, the decision about “what to be” for Halloween is among the most important of the year.

Permission to Transform
Halloween gives us permission to transform ourselves.  For one day at least, we set aside the neural connections that form our self-impression.  As David Brooks (2011) describes in his book The Social Animal, one reason why it’s easier for children to get into the spirit of transformation on Halloween is that they are particularly skilled at blending, or the task of taking two mental connections that do not belong together and create something entirely new. It’s the basis of imagination. It’s why a child takes clothes to a dog to create an canine fashionista, or invents their own words to a story. They haven’t formed the strong, rapid cognitive patterns that tell them dogs don’t wear clothes and the story can only have the words in the book. Maybe why children so love the imaginative liberty of Halloween is that for one day, the rest of us get in the act.

The Day After Halloween
For most of us, our adrenaline rush of reinvention ends early next Tuesday just after midnight. The mad scientists’ lab returns to a family room, the witch’s hat goes back in the basement, the dog is delighted to get out of the dress and candy goes on sale. We’ll return to “real” life and our “real” selves.

An Alternative
No, I won’t suggest you go to work masquerading as Lady Gaga next Tuesday. But, I will suggest that there is something about the spirit of transformation offered at Halloween that we can extend into our work lives. The neural connections that Brooks and others have described may help us swiftly navigate days but stymie our imaginations. We don’t lose our ability to blend ideas; it’s just becomes easier to come to the same conclusions.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Our pattern of looking at the same things in the same ways hit me in a certification workshop with the Team Management System with TMS Americas this week. First, they challenged us to reexamine what work we do, especially as part of a team. Simple, right? Yet, I was struck by how often we (myself, included) make assumptions about what and how we’ll work together.  We do it the way we did it the last time, without making new connections about different possibilities or approaches.

A second challenge regarded our preferences.  For example, we label ourselves as “not creative” because somewhere along the way we formed that pattern. So, we don’t try to be creative. Often, we label someone else on the team as “creative” and give him or her this responsibility. The same is true of all the “not’s”: not organized, not good communicators, etc., etc., etc. How many times do we wear the mental costume of who we are and what we do and never stop to consider transformation? Even on Halloween?

Moments of greatness are possible when we imagine ourselves, and our work, differently.

  • It may be rusty, but the imagination you loved as a child is still there. Challenge assumptions about your preferences.  Try something you have not done in your job, or try something in a new way.
  • Reflect on your next task, either by yourself or with a team. Ask Is there a better way? There probably is.
  • In areas where you or your teams have a deficit, can you get a little better? As a colleague of mine used to ask: Can you get to The Realm of Okay? You can probably be better than you think you are.

Finally, next Tuesday, scare yourself a little. Make it a day when you don’t just try to look different, but try to be different. Look at just one task in a different way, and try just one new skill.  To show that I’m up for the challenge, I’m going to scare myself next Tuesday by taking my own advice. Check back to see how I do.

To find out more about thinking patterns and self-definition, check out The Social Animal by David Brooks.

To find out more about Team Management Systems, check out the TMS Americas website at

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