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Staying on Track

Optimize Blog - July 8, 2013 - 0 comments

Apparently there exists a bunch of people who are really into tracking the minutiae of their life. This includes things like tracking their diet, moods and sleep patterns. Now while it might seem that this is something witnessed every day on social media, this behaviour is not actually new.
Since the dawn of humanity, people have been fascinated by even the most minute details of their lives, and kept track of what was going on in their bodies and minds. The Roman philosopher Seneca tracked the food he ate and what he dreamt about at night. Benjamin Franklin consistently recorded his performance on 13 measures, such as cleanliness, frugality and overindulgence – his own personal scorecard. Engineer and architect Buckminster Fuller nicknamed himself “guinea pig b” and kept a diary on his daily life and ideas. There were plenty of people keeping diaries and self-accounts in the 1800s and 1900s.
These days of course it is very easy to keep track of just about everything. Our mobile devices have accelerometers, GPS and gyroscopes and seemingly there is an App for just about everything. In fact there are around 7,500 self-tracking Apps for mobile phones.
Now it’s also confession time for us here at Zeitgeist as we have invested in Nike Fuelbands to track our exercise patterns on a daily basis. There are many other similar tracking devices such as Fitbit. We do this to ensure that we don’t get stuck at our desks as it’s really important to remain mobile throughout the day for all sorts of health reasons and the Fuelband tracks our pre-determined targets for each day.
While interest in self-quantification is often led by technology, another factor is a more general one and that is our growing obsession with self-improvement over the past few decades, says Natasha Schull, a cultural anthropologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Weight Watchers has been telling people since the 1970s that if they want to lose weight, they need to track what they eat. Also, in the field of behavioural economics, which studies the connection between thoughts and financial decisions, research has found that if you alter peoples’ social environment, they might be influenced into more rational behaviour. For instance, if school cafeterias display fruit before fried chicken, students are more likely to eat fruit because they grab the first food they see. Ultimately having people track their actions makes a difference, says Schull, encouraging more people to make the effort to track.
For Mark Gerstein, a professor of bioinformatics at Yale University, tracking his weight helped him keep it under control. “If you watch things, you tend to do better, by virtue of being aware of them,” says Gerstein, who has a wifi-enabled bathroom scale that automatically records his weight and feeds it into a database.
As we considered this “Quantified Self” scenario we saw a parallel with leadership development. Regular tracking of how we perform as leaders will help transform our performance. Tracking how we communicate, delegate, make decisions, empower others, manage change, handle data etc. will help shape our development.
Taking time to track leadership leading and lagging indicators is essential. Setting time aside to do this is perhaps the tougher challenge. Try and find time at the end of the day during your commute to reflect back on the interactions that you’ve had during the day. What worked, what didn’t go quite so well and what would you do differently in the same or similar scenario next time?
Only by regular diagnosis of our performance can we hope to improve as leaders. Perhaps there is already an App for that…

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