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Recently, we discussed the notion of innate capacity and what it means for choosing your career path. Capacity refers to your underlying “hardwiring” — those characteristics which make you unique and are part of your biological and environmental heritage. Capacity is very stable over time and difficult to change. It includes your physicality, intelligence and personality. As one example in our earlier posting, we suggested that your personality plays a large role in deciding the kind of career you would enjoy compared to the kind of career that will drain your energy and enthusiasm.

Competencies on the other hand, refer to those skills, attitudes, and areas of knowledge that you can acquire with experience and training. Competencies, though they require effort to acquire, are available to anyone. Our competencies are usually what we emphasize on our resumes.

Both are important influences on the kind of work that we are best equipped to do. The “sweet spot” for work is where your capacity and your competencies are in alignment. When they are at odds, our work grinds us down, even depleting the sensitive neurological chemicals that facilitate our cognitive and emotional functioning.

Technical, Social, and Emotional Skills


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Work competency includes both technical skills and the people skills needed to do your work well. Technical, social, and emotional competencies required for a job are developed over a period of time.

The baseball player needs to spend countless hours in batting practice against a curveball in order to hit it during competition, even if he has great innate physicality.

The same applies to your work skills. Perhaps your innate capacity leads you to the design world. You’re still best served to go to design school to learn the tricks of the trade, no matter how much innate talent you might possess. And importantly, in order to progress in our careers we need to continue to develop our technical competencies through experience and training. Each year, you should be setting goals for yourself that include growing your technical competencies. A good supervisor will be your ally in determining areas for growth and helping you get the resources you need for further development.

All of this is common sense. We all know we need the technical skills necessary for our job. Less obvious, but equally important are, the social and emotional skills needed for you to succeed at work. In order to be a good colleague and valued team player, you should be developing your emotional and social competencies. This is especially true if you want to move into a leadership or management position.

For example, in one firm we supported, a senior manager consistently failed to listen and empathize with his team, made a big deal out of every little mistake, shamed his team publically, and gave staff the “evil eye” if they left for lunch or didn’t work 10 hour days. All of these are examples of very poor social and emotional competencies. He didn’t last as a manager, despite his good technical skills.

How often do you self-assess your emotional and social competencies? Do you set goals for yourself in these areas and intentionally work on your skills?

Emotional Intelligence

Competency, then, involves a great deal of emotional and social intelligence, a term coined by Daniel Goleman.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify the sources of emotion and to understand why they occur, and manage them properly. Social intelligence is the ability to understand and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.

Emotional and social intelligence matter when we talk about competency because most jobs, no matter how big or small the team, require teamwork and relationship. Without the ability to navigate the emotions of others as well as to understand better your emotions, your work suffers. The higher your emotional and social intelligence the higher your social effectiveness in managing teams and projects. Extensive research has demonstrated that leaders with high social and emotional intelligence have higher performing teams and organizations.

EI Development

RelaxingHow do you develop social and emotional competencies? A partial list includes empathy, listening, giving and receiving feedback, resolving conflict, inspiring others, self and organizational awareness, anger and stress management.

For starters, your need to commit to deliberate change. Figure out what you need to work on and set some concrete goals. It’s always a good idea to understand what you are working toward. It’s also helpful to engage in an assessment tool like the 360 degree feedback tool from Hay Group, to understand where you currently sit when it comes to emotional and social intelligence abilities. In the absence of such an assessment tool, a no-holds-barred assessment from those closest to you can unlock a general idea about areas in need of improvement. Again, a good supervisor can be a great help.

After you’ve endeavored to remain committed and diagnosed some areas of improvement, get specific and practical about changing that habit. Are you looking to communicate better? Set some guidelines and remain committed to practicing those guidelines. Give yourself a 2-hour window to respond to emails during work hours to ensure nothing falls off the radar. When someone enters your office, close the laptop and put the phone out of reach. Move to a separate area of the office to get out of your “comfort” level and focus completely on the conversation at hand.

These small things can create the new habits needed to build the competencies you want to develop. And as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. You’ll see those areas develop over time.

A Major League Baseball player wasn’t able to hit the curve ball the first time he saw the pitch. He might not have been very good at it after 100 pitches, but over the course of a decade of practice, the player is now a master.

The same applies to your technical skills. The designer needs to learn Adobe Creative Suite during her education. Over the course of time, she will learn the short cuts and efficiencies built into the product, eventually become incredibly productive at her craft.

Likewise, the emotional and social skills needed to complete the full idea of competency take practice and repetition, but achieving them will unlock the highest levels of competency. If your innate capacity provides guidance to the kind of work that energizes your soul and helps you thrive, competency helps you become more effective in your job, not only technically, but also socially and emotionally.

Over one hundred twenty years ago, Frederick Taylor developed some theories about work. Labeled scientific management, these ideas emerged as solutions to improve worker efficiency. In his approach to managing labor he equated humans with the machines used for production. Given the knowledge available at the time, he didn’t realize how little humans have in common with the machines they use.

Even though scientific management is not as popular as it was in the earlier days of the industrial revolution, the consistent push for efficiency and production from employees remains a dominant aspect of our work cultures. Work cultures still mostly fail to understand that the organic human brain works very differently from a machine, even a machine as complex as a computer.

How We Work

Using Your Brain | Marigold Associates

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A machine essentially has two settings — on and off. So too for employees, most people reason. You are either working or you are not. Most managers want to ensure their employees are clicked “on” during the workday and producing something tangible for every billable minute.

There’s an inherent problem with this consistent drive to work from the frame of the on-off switch. Simply, the human brain is not wired that way and operating as if it was depletes energy and creativity. The brain is organic and like most of the biological world it operates in cycles of work and rest. The ideal way for a brain to work is in a series of 90 minute focused cycles. Short breaks or switching across a variety of tasks keeps the brain operating at peak efficiency.

There is a better way to create a good working environment that takes into account a better understanding of the brain.

The way your brain works provides life-altering answers for how you should work. Just a few examples include the way you learn, the way sleep and stress influence you and the difficulty you have in remembering more than five or six items from a meeting.

In fact, learning to better use your brain will help you improve your performance and creativity.

Brains in Motion

Consider this, studies show the brain performs best in motion. You might have noticed that some of your best ideas have emerged when you were exercising. For most of human history, people spent their days in motion. Movement is the default setting for our brains.

Yet most of us now do sedentary work 8 hours a day at a desk or in front of a computer screen. As a result not only our health, but also our creativity has suffered.

Brains Asleep

Using Your Brain | Marigold Associates

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Most of us believe that productivity and success coincide with the amount of hours you work. Have you noticed how much people take pride in the few hours they sleep and long hours that they work? There’s a consistent push for more time spent working. But this aspect of our culture contributes negatively to our well-being and our productivity. In fact, sleep is a critical part of creativity and strategic innovation. Research has demonstrated that workers who get fewer than 7-8 hours of sleep a night make more mistakes, have fewer creative ideas and worse, have very poor judgment about the quality of the work they are producing.

In fact, the way that the brain works during sleep helps unlock difficult problems of work. It is far more effective than burning the midnight oil in frustration.

The Shower Principle

Have you ever had a great idea while showering or jogging? While it might seem counterintuitive, “mindless” activity actually opens up the neural networks of the brain in entirely different ways than during focused activity. While it’s difficult to believe it, a period of rest, walking, drawing, meditation, or hitting golf balls might be what your team needs to unlock the big idea for the project. Especially during crisis points such as an impending deadline, it is tempting to fall into the trap of working longer hours under intense pressure. It is clear from everything we know from our study of worker productivity and creativity, that this is likely to produce the lowest quality product. This over emphasis on efficiency and time management has eradicated mindless time under the false assumption that it is not productive, once again illustrating our misunderstanding of the human person. The mind is not a machine.


Many work environments extol the virtues of multi-tasking. Have you checked the job listings lately? Multitasking is almost always mentioned. From an efficiency perspective, wouldn’t you want an employee who can competently perform four tasks at once?

Well, multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains are unable to process more than one thing at a time. Meaning, the “best” multi-taskers are the people who are most capable of switching quickly from one item to another in quick succession.

Multi-tasking takes a physiological toil, however. Every time the brain needs to switch from one item to another, it burns energy as it fills in the gaps that were missed during the period of inattention. The more often you switch from item to item, the more energy is burned in switching and a decrease in performance occurs. Some studies have suggested that as much as 25% of our energy in a day is used up simply in the switching.

Ultimately, all of these aspects just scratch the surface of how we use our brain. We challenge you to begin to think about how you are using your most important work tool: your brain.

We look forward to addressing some of these ideas in more detail in the coming months.

Whether they know the science behind it, or they just believe it to be best practice, athletes with any competitive experience lean on the concept of mental preparation or visualization. The techniques typically involve imagining the complex tasks they must perform well to succeed in their sport. The quarterback recites the play calls and commands the huddle, in his mind. An episode from last year’s Hard Knocks depicts this visualization when backup quarterback T.J. Yates sits in an empty room pretending to run the Atlanta Falcon offense, successfully picking up the defense, audibling to the right play call, and torching the imaginary foe.


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But more than football, athletes of all kinds perform these visual mind games. A downhill skier will walk the course, imagining successful lines and fast times. A tennis player visualizes the perfect serve.

Beneath all of these visualizations is a core truth about positivity. Human beings respond well to positivity. They, in fact, thrive.

The Ratio

In fact, research suggests that human beings flourish much more consistently when they encounter 3 positive emotions for every negative emotion. This principle defines the positivity ratio.

The positivity ratio is, in fact, a calculation of an overall emotional state based on the emotions you are currently feeling. Have you felt silly, amused, or fun-loving? That’s a positive emotion. Have you felt guilty, repentant, or blameworthy? That’s a negative emotion. Over the course of 20 or so questions, you can begin to see where you stand on the positivity ratio.

What these athletes working through visualization are encountering is the benefits of positivity. In addition to the good feeling it provides, positivity can widen the scope of attention, broaden your behavioral repertoire, increase intuition, enhance creativity, speed up recovery from injury or disease, prevent stress-related disorders, provide resilience in adversity, and increase life span. So, in short, it’s a pretty big deal.

But an adequate positivity ratio is extremely rare. In fact, only 20% of Americans accomplish it.

The State of Nature

And intuitively, it makes sense. Everyone experiences good and bad emotions on a daily basis and our moods reflect that variety of positive and negative emotions. Brains have been wired to respond to threats against survival so we all tend to focus on that threat instead of seeing the positive things happening in life. When we experience positive and negative emotions at an equal level, the scale tips toward the negative and life feels unrewarding.


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These negative emotions trigger fight or flight behavior. While it might help us focus and increase our reaction time, it also challenges your health, especially if you work a desk job. Consistent stress can negatively influence your health rapidly. It can increase cholesterol production and decrease its rate of removal. It can position you to encounter a higher chance of blood clotting. It can take a toll on your immune system. It can even influence your memory.

Much of this negativity is a result of our own doing. As a society, we change jobs quickly. We are expected to take on high workloads. There’s a consistent stress on finances as we try to keep up with the Joneses. Generally, we’re too busy and our perfectionist ways lead to negative self-talk.

So how do you get there?

To start, take the test and take it often. You can find it at Secondly, find some balance through skills and hobbies that can relax and refresh you. This suggestion is especially important for people stuck in mid-level and entry-level roles where they don’t feel like they have much autonomy to change the system. Maybe it’s reading a book. Perhaps it’s joining a rec-league basketball team. Maybe it’s serving at an animal shelter.

If you’re in a management position, take steps towards creating a positive environment. Provide support, encouragement, and appreciation. Be an advocate for your team. But don’t avoid conflict, as an appropriate approach to conflict can be affirming as well, provided the end goal is collectively in mind.

So business people should take a page out of the sports playbook and think positively. It might mean visualizing a great day at work. It might mean harnessing the things you can control in your life to provide some balance. It could mean approaching team management a little bit differently. But shifting the ratio toward positivity, at least 3-1, but even higher is better, will be good for you, good for your team, and good for business.

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The question begins early in life. What do you want to be when you grow up? As a child, you play with your favorite toys and all of a sudden family and friends suggest that you become an astronaut, a painter, or an athlete.

The question remains as school starts. You get good grades in math and engineering becomes an option. You have an affinity for English and teaching seems plausible. You learned to play guitar so perhaps you’ll be a musician.

The question continues in college. What do you want to do? Answer that question, then choose your major. Medicine? Astrophysics? Business?

The question persists after college. Where will you work? What kind of job will you get?

The question remains after you’ve officially “grown up.” Do you like your job? Is it time to change career paths?

The Guess-And-Check Career

When it comes to determining a career path, the dominant practice is often a series of guess-and-check exercises around your talent and the kind of life you want to live.


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An affinity for baseball cards might lead to you to play baseball for a while — before you realize that the amount of work it would take to even get a scholarship is beyond what you’re willing to do.

Excellence in mathematics puts engineering on the table — but the more complex math becomes, the more you realize how much you hate it.

You course-correct a few times in college before settling on history as a major — but your only options for a career seem to be teaching or post-graduate work, neither of which are compelling to you, especially since you have student loans to pay off and you want to buy a house in the next 5-10 years.

Your entry-level job pays the bills but you hate it; the work is not what you thought it was. The second job gets you a little closer to what you want to do, but it still feels tedious. Perhaps after 10-15 years, you find that job that fits within your specific talents and gives you the opportunities you want inside and outside the company.

A New Way to Map a Career Path

But what if there was an easier way? What if you focused not on your competencies — the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired over time — but on your capacity — your innate hard-wiring — for any given career?

In actuality, your hard-wired personality will tell you quite a bit about the right career path for you.

Before we dive in to this concept, it’s important to provide some definitions. Colloquially, we often equate personality with the Myers-Briggs personality test. This test, while helpful to begin a conversation about the ways in which we are different from each other, is not that accurate when it comes to assessing personality. Developed in the 1920s, the Myers-Briggs test has since been lapped by much more accurate measures.

Think about it this way: Would you want to use a 1920s automobile for your personal transportation these days? Aside from driving on a parade route, that automobile is no longer functional! The technology in cars these days is exponentially greater.

So why would you use a personality test from the 1920s, 60’s, or even 80’s?

Within the past decade, tools have been developed that are much like our modern automobiles: functional, accurate, and safe.

Personality Tools

The particular tool we use measures 5 major traits and multiple sub-traits for each. It is based on cutting-edge research and is now considered by many to be the gold standard in personality assessments. These major traits are N (Need for Stability), E (Extraversion), O (Originality), A (Accommodation), and C (Consolidation). These traits form your innate capacity. This capacity is consistent throughout your life. It shapes your behavior and preferences and needs to be carefully considered when deciding on your major in college and making career choices.


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The power of this assessment lies in its ability to accurately define who you are. In the film Fight Club, there’s a line that says, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact…” If you remove some of the existential dread from this line, it’s essentially a reaction against the notion that the world is our oyster. We’ve been led to believe that we can set out and do anything we want to do, but this belief ignores the constraints of innate capacity. We are all unique in our personalities. Some people have a predilection for the details. Others tend toward big picture work. Some people feel energized when they work collaboratively with a team. Others want solitude in their work. These details provide a framework to help people choose the right career path.

It is imperative to take our personalities into account when we consider the career we choose, or else we run the risk of choosing work that drains the life out of us. That’s why personality tools are important.

Learning to Thrive

This assessment teaches you about your innate capacity and your ability to thrive in certain workplace scenarios. When the competencies required by your job align with your capacities, your work is energizing and you find passion in it. Instead of hating your job and feeling stress in the pit of your stomach every time you go to work, you can thrive because you are in the right situation.

Looking to start your career? Curious whether your current career path connects with your capacity? Let us know!

All it takes is some weekend channel surfing to see how society views improvement. Show after show illustrates a person in less than ideal circumstances. The entire purpose of the show is to bring these people to a new understanding about who they are and what they want. In many ways, it’s about addressing the problems in your life and making you better.


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What is the problem? How can one fix it? Just like a torn ligament requires surgery for a complete fix, depression needs methods to repair the human psyche, and a worker should gain the tools and mentoring to increase productivity and efficiency in her places of deficit.

However, this focus in our society on the problem creates a tendency toward negativity. Even though we need doctors, psychiatrists, and MBAs, could there be a better way to approaching improvement?

Positive Psychology

The ideas of positive psychology and flourishing offer a thoughtful perspective. Positive psychology looks at the strengths of an individual, the virtues that let people thrive in vibrant communities. Instead of focusing on the bad things, positive psychology looks to expand these strengths to help people live meaningful lives.

On Virtues

This view comes from a classic model of ethics that looks at virtues. Virtue is all about character. It looks at the items that make up good character and suggests that those are the principles to live by. A good life, then, is one that is lived in concert with the societal-agreed virtues.

What could these virtues be? It could constitute many principles. But many of the strengths on which positive psychology focuses provide good starting points. Some big ones include: love, work, compassion, and creativity. How these traits emerge in life, both at home and in the workplace, become the foundation for a flourishing life.

The Current Duality

As mentioned above, the principles of flourishing exist in stark contrast to the current trends of culture. We live in a world where negativity reigns supreme, in a world where dualism is a dominant view.

Dualism, in simple terms, suggests a separation between the physical world and the theoretical world. While the world of the mind is perfect, the physical world is incredibly imperfect. Because the world is imperfect, we focus on the negative and try our best to improve ourselves as much as possible in those places where we lack.

This view in the business world creates difficulty for the individual. If work is imperfect, then negativity will be everywhere in the workplace.

Why Not Thrive?


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But what if flourishing becomes the central tenet for organizations? What if a focus on virtues replaces a focus on dualism? It would mean looking at each individual and attempting to understand how to place everyone in a position to function optimally. And more importantly, a focus on flourishing benefits the organization and community at large.

Flourishing is a new mindset for the life of an individual. Why does it matter? Because a flourishing person contributes to a flourishing organization. A flourishing organization contributes to a flourishing community. A flourishing community creates a flourishing globe.