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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Archive: Automatic pilot can be a good thing — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

Archive: Automatic pilot can be a good thing — from the Career Opportunities Podcast

December 20th, 2013

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Watching my son’s Little League team, I was reminded once again about the deep difference between knowing what to do and doing it when the time comes. I watch them go through drills at practice, perfectly implementing such concepts as the double play and acting as backup to other players. Then, in their games we see them faced with the reality of high fly balls and hot grounders and all their best practices fall apart. The outfielders overthrow the base, catches are missed and runners circle the bases until the ball finally gets returned to the pitcher. I am sure that this can resemble your business on a bad day, too. No matter how much we practice, crises can cause us to forget all that practice and to panic instead.

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Books by Douglas E. Welch
  

Usually, when we discuss someone being on “auto-pilot” we look at it as a bad thing. We use the term to describe someone who is blindly going through the motions, even if it means driving off of a cliff. In some ways, though, especially when it comes to the fundamentals of your business, there are certain behaviors you want on auto-pilot. You refine and reinforce these behaviors, just like batting and fielding until they become second nature. You want to be able to implement these behaviors without conscious thought, as automatic as breathing. This is where good baseball players become great and the same can be said for your co-workers.

So, how to make your best practices automatic? You do it much in the same way you get better at anything – you practice – over and over. If you want to get better at pitching, you pitch – a lot. If you want to get better at your business pitch – you pitch it out loud – a lot. You cement these ideas and turn them into actions by doing them over and over. Reading about pitching can give you some great ideas, but pitching itself will quickly show which of those ideas works best for you. Then you take those ideas and repeat them again and again.

How do you know when you have succeeded in making a behavior automatic? You will notice the behavior only in retrospect. There will be a time when you suddenly stop and notice that you did exactly what needed to be done without thinking about it at all, You scoop up the ball and make the perfect throw to first base automatically. Only afterwards will you say to yourself, ”Hey, that was a pretty good play.”

You probably have times in your work day when you experience this same feeling. You provide just the answer your customer needed or put together a quote that perfectly meets their budget or needs. Take a few moments to review this when it happens. Think about what previous “practice” allowed you to react quickly and automatically? How can you apply this same practice to other aspects of your work? You can learn from yourself and your own actions as much as you can learn from a great teacher. It only requires that you notice your behaviors and exploit them.

Furthermore, notice when those around you are on auto-pilot. Are they answering from a place of practice and deep understanding of their jobs or are they simply telling you something to get you out of their cubicle? Closely observe both of these behaviors and compare them to your own. It should be clear by now, which behaviors you want to follow. Ask them how they developed their deep knowledge. How did they practice? How did they develop the ability to give the right answer automatically? What can you add to your own repertoire?

I know that you can find your own special “sweet spot” where your auto-pilot serves you, and everyone around you well. If you notice yourself sliding into the auto-pilot that leads to rote answers to important questions, you need to turn it off and find your way back onto the right path. Your goal is always to react, when necessary, but still understand the need for practice and careful consideration when you are confronted with a new situation. Auto-pilot can only take you so far, but it can be a building block to bettering your career.

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