Five More Life-Changing, Counterintuitive Principles

It’s not easy to be counterintuitive and go against the old paradigms. Yet history teaches us that most breakthrough successes have come from running counter to the prevailing paradigms.

A few weeks ago I introduced you to five life-changing counterintuitive principles, which you can read about here.  These five counterintuitive principles are:

  • If it Ain’t Broke, Break it Purposefully
  • Let Go to Gain Control
  • Don’t Hire in Your Own Image
  • Go Slow to Go Fast
  • Fear of Offending Offends More Than Offending Itself

Have you begun using these principles to effect significant change in your life?  Several of you have written me telling me stories of how applying principles to your career like Go Slow to Go Faster or Let Go to Gain Control have resulted in promotions, revived relationships, and a better work/life balance being achieved.  Please comment or email me to share your story (!

Here are five more counterintuitive principles that will positively change your life!


The Golden Rule is Not Golden

We all know the Golden Rule from our childhood days: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  The Golden Rule works perfectly as long as what is good for me is also good for you.  I’d like to be treated with courtesy and respect; likely you also value courtesy and respect from others.   

So what happens when what is good for me is NOT good for you?  Consider this example of being thanked and appreciated for completing an important assignment.  Your supervisor, thinking about what he or she would most appreciate when being recognized for his or her contributions, decides that the best way to recognize you for doing a great job on the assignment would be to publically acknowledge the great job you did at the next quarterly all-hands meeting.  So he invites you up on stage, tells the entire organization about your achievement and how it positively impacted the organization and customers, and then concludes by leading a rousing round of applause from the audience. 

If you’re someone who shuns the limelight, you might be embarrassed by this approach…you might even think about calling in sick that day.  On the other hand, if you prefer recognition to be done in a public way, you likely loved your supervisor’s approach.  However, if you preferred public recognition you might feel let down if your supervisor approached you privately and thanked you for doing a fine job.  What works best is for your supervisor to learn your preferences and match them with his or her actions. 

Bottom line: Take the time to get to really know the people you work with, and instead of treating them the way you’d prefer to be treated, treat each person the way he or she would prefer to be treated.  Let’s call this the Platinum Rule!

Failing Fast is Better Than Failing Slowly

No one likes to fail, and few ever set out with the express purpose of failing.  Often we set out in endeavors trying to prevent failure, closely examining our plans to find where failures are most likely to occur, and the best actions to take should a failure occur. 

Yet failure is an inevitable part of life. We are captivated by stories of how often famous people failed before they had their breakthrough…Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, just to name a few famous “failures.”  Persistence in the face of adversity is a wonderful thing.  Yet even Albert Einstein observed that “doing the same things over and over again while expecting different outcomes was indeed, insanity.”


Underlying the Failing Fast principle is the recognition that some degree of failure should be anticipated, even embraced. You cannot simply bubble-wrap life. 

Applying the lessons of today’s failure is essential to unlocking tomorrow’s successes. Failing Fast requires one to be vigilant of the warning signs when failing is occurring, and stopping the failure quickly to minimize its damage.  It also requires that a post-mortem be done to determine the reasons for failure, and what to do differently next time.  

Bottom line: Accept that some degree of failure will happen.  And when it does, fail fast so you can figure out why, fix it, and limit the damage of failing slowly.

The Busier You Are, the More You Must Be Intentional About Quiet Time

America has a busyness epidemic, according to Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung.  Consider these seven statistics cited in DeYoung’s book:

1. Commuters have more daily stress than fighter pilots and riot police.

2. In America, we work longer workdays than the rest of the world (by 8.8 hours each week).

3. An average US workweek often exceeds 60 hours.

4. We take too little vacation time: in the US, 2 weeks; in Norway, 17 weeks; in Germany, 9 weeks.

5. We attempt to multitask (which is a fallacy).  Instead we switchtask at high speeds so the constant spinning up and spinning down between tasks stresses our brains.

6. We stress out our kids (and they know it). By a 3:1 margin our children prefer less stress for parents over more time with parents.

7. We get 2.5 hours less sleep per night than we did 100 years ago – more than 1/3 of working adults get less than 6 hours sleep/night.

A story that appeared in Harvard Business Review awhile back, The Busier You Are the More You Need Quiet Time, discusses the health and wellness problems continual busyness causes.  Rather than taking the time out to recharge, many busy people attempt to get more minutes out of each hour by doubling down on being busy.

What’s the answer? Intentionally planning quiet time to allow yourself to recover and refocus, while your body and your mind heal themselves.  Some proactive ways that intentional quiet time might be taken include:

  • Declaring a media fast – not turning on TV, listening to radio, viewing videos, or checking social media, texts, and email. Since we tend to react to the media we see, cutting ourselves off from it frees us up to contemplate the positive, unstressful aspects of life.
  • Taking a 5-minute mental break – intentionally pausing at times during the day and setting aside distractions and issues. Some people swear by a 5-minute power nap.  Others prefer a 5-minute meditations session.  Others simple go outside into nature and just listen to the restful sounds.
  • Scheduling quiet times – whether a leisurely hour-long stroll through a park or putting on some headphones and listening to restful, soothing music, the key is to schedule yourself for a bloc of time where you will be free from the busyness around you.
  • Going on a silence retreat – proponents of silence retreats plan one to three days away from any man-made noise, going to out-of-the-way places where they will not be stressed by busyness.

Regardless of the specific quiet time you select, schedule it and do it…even if it means disappearing for a while and shutting down your phone and email.  The time away will allow you to become sharper, re-energized, and more focused when you return to your busy schedule.

Bottom line: Be intentional about your quiet time and vigorously protect these scheduled quiet periods.  You’ll not only reduce your stress levels, but you’ll sharpen your focus when you recharge through quiet.

Appearing Weaker Makes You Stronger

Have you ever noticed that some people use false confidence and bravado to cover their insecurity?  Consider Stan and Rachel, the two people shown in the picture. Stan believes that he has all the answers and lets others know this.  Rachel easily admits that she could be wrong.  Who is the stronger person? 

Only truly confident people admit their weaknesses.  It’s called being transparent.  Everybody has as set of strengths and weaknesses. Stan has a difficult time owning up to his shortcoming (which are readily apparent to people who know Stan and work with him).  Most people think that Stan makes himself seem weak when he brags about his capabilities.

By not admitting to the weaknesses people know he has, Stan loses credibility, he loses trust, and he loses respect.  On the other hand, because Rachel freely acknowledges her weaknesses and mistakes, people trust her, respect her, and give her opinions more credibility than Stan’s. 

Over the course of a workweek Rachel acknowledeges her vulnerability in ways such as:

  • Asking a fellow staff member to “please look over this Idea I have and help me spot what I’m missing.”
  • Immediately apologizing to a customer when she discovers her mistake.
  • Asking her supervisor and peers for candid, honest feedback on what she could do better.
  • Letting other people speak first, then speaking in ways that acknowledge the ideas of others as well as her expressing own thoughts.
  • Quickly asking for help on assignments where it is appropriate to do so.

These are things Stan wouldn’t do because he thinks that doing so makes him appear weak.  Just the opposite is true…Stan is seen as less capable and credible, while Rachel is seen as trustworthy and more capable.

Bottom line: True strength is seen in being courageously vulnerable and transparent around others.  It’s called being real.  And real people consistently earn the trust, respect, and confidence of others.

Let Go in Order to Grow

People unknowingly stymie their personal and professional growth by not letting go of some things that “own them.” Melissa is a high-energy, successful sales professional who scrambles to keep up with all of her accounts.  She has a lot of accounts.  In fact, she has way too many accounts, and all of them demand (and deserve) responsive service. After looking at Melissa’s accounts and ranking them A-B-C in relative value to her and her employer, she realizes that the As (about 10%) of her accounts and Bs (another 30% of her accounts) were the ones with the most potential to grow – but only if she has the time to focus on them.  Melissa – like most salespeople – found it hard to let go of a customer.  She had to be convinced that her C-level accounts were holding her back.  After some coaxing, she finally let go of her Cs to the customer service team.  What happened? Melissa saw her sales volume double over the next two years, and double again in a year and a half.  And each year since she lets go of her Cs on order to grow.


Prasad’s challenge was different.  He’s a supervisor who rose from the ranks after having done his job exceptionally well.  As a supervisor of 13 people, Prasad found he needed to work far too many hours just to keep up.  After analyzing his duties and how he was spending his time, Prasad discovered that about half of the things he did each day were ones that his staff could do. He also realized that they could grow professionally by taking on those duties.  After working through the process of effective delegation, he used some of his freed-up time to take on the new responsibilities his boss had in mind for him.  As a result, both Prasad and his staff grew by him letting go.

Let go in order to grow worked in Siobhan’s personal life just as well.  Siobhan’s a planaholic who carefully schedules out every hour of personal time.  Lately she wondered why she was so bored with her daily routine.  After seeking advice and closely examining her routine, she identified her routine was the real cause of her boredom…there was no room for spontaneity because last minute invitations and in-the-moment choices interfered with what she had carefully planned.  Habits are hard to break, but Siobhan is a determined person.  So during lunchtime Friday she asked what her coworkers were doing for the weekend.  Patty, Carey, and Khent were going to travel up the coast over the weekend and invited Siobhan to make it a foursome…and she uncharacteristically let go of her schedule and said “yes!” She loved every minute of it.  She let go of her schedule and came back refreshed and determined to start doing more things on the spur of the moment.  After six months she’s no longer bored.  And she’s grown by letting go of her need to have everything scheduled.

Bottom line: no matter what you are holding onto to, sometimes that very thing is holding you back from growing.  What things in your life “own you” that you should let go of?   


Note: the preceding is taken from Module 30 of my Leading Through People™ leadership development program, which helps leaders accelerate their development by equipping them with the current and emerging best practices of effective leadership and management.  My clients tell me that my programs pay for themselves in weeks… and continue to deliver value for years.

I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:

I work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. I also help job seekers, higher ed, and employers connect people to better jobs faster. My two books on job search ( help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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