Awkward: The Devil Is in the Details

I found Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro a fascinating book. The book helped me to understand anxiety with social environments. Below is an excerpt:

The Devil Is in the DetailsAwkward.jpg

John Gottman of the University of Washington and his colleagues have conducted observational studies of positive and negative behaviors with married couples and grade-school children for decades. The focus of many relationship scientists has been on negative behaviors such as resentment or withdrawing from conflict, but the trick to understanding interpersonal behavior is about the ratio of negative to positive behaviors. It turns out that positive behaviors can be as small as telling someone he looks handsome, attentively listening to a friend’s small triumph of the day, or surprising a coworker with her favorite cupcakes.

Gottman has found that people keep an informal count of behaviors. He calls this ratio of positive to negative behaviors an emotional bank account. To stay in good standing with others, people need to keep a balance of about four or five positive behaviors to every one negative behavior. Imagine that you do four good things during an interaction with a friend: give an enthusiastic greeting, compliment his outfit, share some french fries, and respond empathically to a concern. Then you inadvertently insult this friend by forgetting that today is his birthday. You would probably come out of this interaction with $0.00 in your emotional bank account with him, which is not bad considering that you could have left the interaction in the red had you not been so nice at the start of the interaction. It’s good to think about leaving interactions without a negative balance because people’s emotional bank accounts charge interest.

Gottman finds that negative balances are not wiped from other people’s minds at the end of the day, but instead carry over to your next interaction. This is bad news if you end the day in the red with someone, but good news if you end the day with money in the bank. When people leave interactions with a negative balance, it has a way of building corrosive resentment in others’ minds, which essentially adds interest to their emotional debt. The good news is that leaving interactions with a positive balance tends to build trust, which is like gaining interest on your deposit.

One strategy is to avoid mistakes, but a focus on trying not to make a mistake has a way of creating persistent anxiety, which is both unpleasant and unhelpful. The best way to leverage the concept of the emotional bank account is to commit to making small deposits of positive behaviors on a consistent basis. Instead of viewing the dozens of social situations and hundreds of cues that one encounters every day as an opportunity for failure, the mindset shifts to capitalizing on routine situations by contributing a little more than expected. Sometimes others view heroic efforts as a disproportionately large contribution, but typically positive efforts both big and small have about the same effect.

When you become the kind of person who first thinks about how to help people rather than how to get something from people, it builds a positive balance in your emotional bank account with others. Over time, that positive balance begins to build trust and eventually faith that you are a good-natured person. The key is to be subtle about your contributions. Most people feel tremendous gratitude when their grandparents slip a ten-dollar bill into their birthday card, but if their grandparents slipped a check for $10,000 into their birthday card, it would actually feel awkward for most people. Subtle deposits could be as small as being more specific when you say thank you or letting others go first when a line forms at a buffet. As a supplement to face-to-face deposits, it’s easier than ever to make “mobile deposits” through a kind text the day of someone’s big test or follow-up message after dinner to say “That was fun, thanks for getting together.”Ackward Table 5-1.png

The reality is that awkward people are more likely. to make small withdrawals from their emotional bank accounts with others because they are prone to mishandling minor social expectations. Awkward people may not notice that their large backpack swung into their friend’s head as they turned to sit down on the bus or they may accidentally disclose the surprise birthday party to the birthday boy. These awkward moments are done without premeditation or malice, but they are still negative and even if people do not say anything, their automated mental accounting system deducts a little bit from the emotional bank account.

These unexpected or accidental withdrawals make it imperative that awkward individuals make a concerted effort to maintain a positive balance through consistently making small deposits that move their balance farther to the positive side in others’ minds, It’s like contributing a little bit every month for social insurance.

Awkward individuals should not let their clumsiness with minor social expectations define them. As both awkward and non-awkward people get older, most of them will care less about surface qualities and instead evaluate people on their Willingness to be fair, be kind, and be loyal. So long as good people feel as if you are trying your best to consistently contribute, then they are willing to overlook a little awkwardness. Whether It’s a commitment to a familial relationship, friendship, or romantic relationship, when awkward people make sure that they find a way to contribute to the broader good, it is the best strategy for creating sustainable social capital.Ackward Table5-2.png

 

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Inside the Magic Kingdom: Leading the Discussion

Inside the Magic Kingdom by Thomas K. Connellan is a quick read. Below are great questions to start an action plan to lead like Disney:

Leading the DiscussionInside the Magic Kingdom.jpg

Post the question in full view of all the participants.

Pose one question at a time. After the conversation gets moving, try to take a back seat. Give the group control of the discussion. Avoid repeating the question unless the group gets off track-then refer back to the posted question. If people seem to be holding back, bring them into the discussion with a question: “Peg, what do you think about this?” Record all ideas suggested.

Summarize. Before you proceed to the next question, briefly summarize the main points you have discussed. Refer to the points that you captured in writing.

QUESTIONS

LESSON 1:

The competition is anyone the customer compares you with.

  • Recall a situation where you were very impressed with the level of service you received. How did it raise your expectations of other companies?
  • How does our company’s service compare?
  • Who are our direct competitors?
  • Who else might our customers compare us with?
  • What does that suggest about how we might change the way we do business?

LESSON 2:

Pay fantastic attention to detail.

  • What details get in the way of our being easy to do business with?
  • What details could be improved to keep our customers coming back?
  • What details in our workplace could become “hitching posts”?

LESSON 3:

Everyone walks the talk.

  • Think about the way people do their jobs here. Could we adapt the “aggressively friendly” concept to our company’s environment?
  • How might we expand customer service from a department to a tradition?
  • How could we individually do an even better job of “walking the talk” than we do right now?
  • What does “walking the talk” mean around here?
  • How would a customer’s experience be different if everyone here “walked the talk”?

LESSON 4:

Everything walks the talk.

  • Remember the gold-leaf paint on the carousel. What messages are being sent to our associates/employees about the value of customers?
  • Keeping in mind the importance of things unseen, in what ways could we remind employees that customers are “pure gold”?
  • Imagine that everything in our company walked the talk. What would that look like?
  • What’s one thing that could be changed so that it did a better job of walking the talk?

LESSON 5:

Customers are best heard through many ears.

  • How can we “put on our ears” to track customer satisfaction?
  • How could the process of gathering feedback be more creative and fun?
  • Remember the impact of immediate action. How could we improve our response time?
  • Identify and list aspects of our job(s) that involve customer contact. (Best used for a homogeneous discussion group.)
  • What formal or informal listening posts are we not using that we could be using?
  • How could we become more responsive to customer needs?

LESSON 6:

Reward, recognize, and celebrate.

  • How often does good performance go unrecognized?
  • In general, what’s the positive-to-negative feedback ratio in our company / plant/ department/ etc.?
  • How could we improve that ratio?
  • What is your individual ratio of positive-to-negative feedback?

LESSON 7:

Xvxryonx makxs a diffxrxncx.

  • Thinking about the typewriter with the broken key, how could our company apply this lesson?
  • In what ways have we personally experienced this lesson?
  • How can we communicate this belief to others in the company?

GENERAL QUESTIONS

  • What is the main message of this book?
  • What insights have you gained from reading this book?
  • What’s the one thing you’re going to do differently, starting today?

Ending the Discussion

In one or two sentences, state what you have accomplished as it relates to the initial questions posed. If the ultimate goal of your discussion is application, create an action plan that includes who, what, and when.

Why She Buys: The Lesson of Ryland Homes

Why She Buys: The New Strategy for Reaching the World’s Most Powerful Consumers by Bridget Brennan is a fascinating book which provides a different perspective on selling to women. Below is an excerpt from the book:

The Lesson of Ryland Homes: If the woman doesn’t want it, the man doesn’t get itWhy She Buys.jpg

Myth: Men drive all the big decisions in married households.

Reality: Women are the deal breakers.

You’d be hard-pressed to find an industry more male-dominated than home building. The average home-building company is staffed like a World War II aircraft carrier, at least in its management ranks. But times are slowly changing. While most senior executives are still white and male, these companies are waking to the fact that their real customer are women, and that they’ve been leaving money on the table by creating and selling homes from a male perspective, from underdesigning closets to using sell sheets that focus purely on technical data and architectural blueprints.

The Ryland Group is a $2 billion, publicly traded home-building company-one of the top in its industry-that has changed the way it designs houses, based on a new understanding of who rules America’s roosts. In one of the world’s biggest housing downturns, the company is leveraging its knowledge of the alpha consumer ever way it can.

If you’ve never thought of a home as a product before think again–a new home is the ultimate consumer lifestyle product. For most people, there is no bigger purchase, literally or figuratively. As is the case with all major consumer product categories, women dominate.

“Women influence 91 percent of new home purchases,” Eric Elder, the senior executive who has championed most of Ryland’s female-focused efforts, For several years now, single women have been the fastest-growing segment of the home-buying market, buying twice as many homes as single men. I worked with Ryland on a two-year research project to understand what: women want in a new home. As a result, the company implemented a variety of covert, female-friendly efforts across the company. The goal was to make these changes imperceptible to home buyers, so that women would feel drawn to Ryland’s homes but men would not feel excluded.

DESIGNING WOMEN

As discussed in Chapter 3, when a woman goes off to the workforce, she changes her personal traffic patterns, along with those of everyone in her family. As such, working mothers were the biggest catalyst for modifying Ryland’s floor plans. The company redesigned the common areas Of many of its models so that multitasking moms could keep one eye on the kids and eye on the stove. Windows were built over kitchen sink to provide a direct line of sight to the backyard. Open kitchen/family room layouts were designed with nooks for decks, so that kids could do their homework on the computer or watch TV while Mom looked on from nearby. These designs were an acknowledgment of the “time compression” that occurs within families when both parents work. Instead of parents spending an hour or two helping kids with homework and then making dinner, both activities are now likely to happen at the same time.

Time compression and the blurring of boundaries between work and home means that home isn’t quite the sanctuary it once was. With cell phones, BlackBerry devices, laptops, and the Internet, work is “part of the furniture” at home, too. In an effort to replace what’s been lost, Ryland redesigned its master bedrooms as oases for stress relief. New master suites were designed as retreats for the adults in the house-and in particular, women. “A private, relaxing, reenergizing space is especially important to single mothers, who don’t get much time on their own,” says Elder. Many of Ryland’s master bedroom suites now feature a coffee bar, mini fridge, and lounge area.

WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD

Modifications to Ryland’s floor plans were just the beginning. The company also embarked on design changes to its neighborhoods. It learned that women don’t view themselves as buying just a house with four walls; they feel like they’re buying an entire community, a neighborhood, a school district, and a lifestyle. Women believe a new house is going to improve their life, along with the lives of everyone in their family. If it won’t, they might as well stay where they are. Subsequently, Ryland began creating more female-friendly amenities in its neighborhood designs, including cul-de-sacs, better street lighting, pocket parks, electronic garage doors as a standard feature, better lighting around home entryways, and secure gated entries in townhouse communities.

EMBRACING PERSONALIZATION

As part of the female-friendly process, Ryland completely overhauled its design centers, the places where customers pick out their options and upgrades after signing a contract for a new home. These centers had a history of being housed in the bare garages of model homes.

“In our industry, picking out home options and upgrades used to be a back-office function,” says Elder. “We’d have a hodgepodge of display cases given to us by random suppliers, with a few samples of products here and there; bad lighting … the whole experience was an afterthought.” It couldn’t be more different now. “We actually embrace the personalization process, when we used to fight it,” explains Elder. “It’s one of the biggest changes that’s occurred at the company, and it’s wholly driven by women.” A senior female executive at Ryland, Diane Morrison, was the force behind the company’s new design centers. She recognized that for many women, the appointment at the design center is the most exciting part of the home-buying process: it is here that they get to pick out all the things that will make the home distinctly their own.

Ryland also broadened the color palettes on its home exteriors, to help women feel that their new home has a unique, personal identity, and to diminish the dreaded “cookie cutter” effect. Instead of offering three exterior colors in a one-hundred-house community, Ryland now typically offers from nine to fifteen.

LESSONS FROM THE COVERT APPROACH

Ryland is a great example of a masculine industry that’s responded to women with subtle design changes that benefit both sexes.

“Every architect that’s designed homes throughout the history of this company has been a man,” says Elder. “Closets used to be leftover spaces that were essentially a door and a hole. Now they are a design element of the home, with functionality built into them. Our sales lobbies, which used to be fairly bare, now have places to sit down, with inspirational reading materials, like home design magazines, and toys for kids. And we’ve changed our merchandising displays so that they are more emotionally charged and filled with pictures of people.”

When the covert approach is done right, men don’t even notice the design elements that have been added for women. , It turns out that men like the idea of having a hot cup of coffee in their master bedroom, too. “From a consumer stand-point, men would live in the garage if they had to,” says Elder with a grin. “Women want the home, and men want the women to get what they want. The great thing for us is that the changes we’ve made have been driven by women but are appreciated by men, too.”

When you appeal to women in a covert fashion, the men find themselves on the receiving end of things they never knew they wanted but are happy to get-and maybe even pay more for the next time. The lesson is this: when you make women happy, you make everyone happy. Women are the leading economic indicators of what people want. Key learnings from Ryland include:

  1. Never underestimate the influence of women in a couples” purchase. Women are the veto vote for buying decisions large and small, from deciding what home to buy to where to eat. The individual who conducts the financial transaction (which can often be the husband) is not always the primary decision maker. If you sell to a lot of couples, figure out the “hot buttons” for both your male and female customers. They may be very different.
  2. Study how the divorce rate and the increased spending power of single women may be impacting your industry. The phenomenon can open new opportunities in product design, as it did with Ryland and its master bedroom retreats, and also in the services that support your product offerings.
  3. A well-crafted, subtle approach attracts women and pleases men, too.
  4. It’s socially unacceptable for men to buy products that are overtly feminine. By being subtle in your appeal to women-through a covert approach-you have the ability to attract both sexes without alienating either one. Married women never want to see their husbands alienated or emasculated. (Not if they’re happily married, anyway.)

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance is funny and deeply moving. He also talks about the struggles growing up as part of the in Appalachian working class. I would recommend this book to anyone. Below is an excerpt:Hillbilly elegy.jpg

Hillbilly Elegy

Today downtown Middletown is little more than a relic of American industrial glory. Abandoned shops with broken windows line the heart of downtown, where Central Avenue and Main Street meet. Richie’s pawnshop has long since closed, though a hideous yellow and green sign still marks the site, so far as I know. Richie’s isn’t far from an old pharmacy that, in its heyday, had a soda bar and served root beer floats. Across the street is a building that looks like a theater, with one of those giant triangular signs that reads “ST___L” because the letters in the middle were shattered and never replaced. If you need a payday lender or a cash-for-gold store, downtown Middletown is the place to be.

Not far from the main drag of empty shops and boarded-up windows is the Sorg Mansion. The Sorgs, a powerful and wealthy industrial family dating back to the nineteenth century, operated a large paper mill in Middletown. They donated enough money to put their names on the local opera house and helped build Middletown into a respectable enough city to attract Armco. Their mansion, a gigantic manor home, sits near a formerly proud Middletown country club. Despite its beauty, a Maryland couple recently purchased the mansion for $225,000, or about half of what a decent multi-room apartment sets you back in Washington, DC.

Located quite literally on Main Street, the Sorg Mansion is just up the road from a number of opulent homes that housed Middletown’s wealthy in their heyday. Most have fallen into disrepair. Those that haven’t have been subdivided into small apartments for Middletown’s poorest residents. A street that was once the pride of Middletown today serves as a meeting spot for druggies and dealers. Main Street is now the place you avoid after dark.

This change is a symptom of a new economic reality: rising residential segregation. The number of working-class whites in high-poverty neighborhoods is growing. In 1970, 25 percent of white children lived in a neighborhood with poverty rates above 10 percent. In 2000, that number was 40 percent. It’s almost certainly even higher today. As a 2011 Brookings Institution found, “compared to 2000, residents of extreme-poverty neighborhoods in 2005-09 were more likely to be white, native-born, high school or college graduates, homeowners, and not receiving public assistance.”  In other words, bad neighborhoods no longer plague only urban ghettos; the bad neighborhoods have spread to the suburbs.

This has occurred for complicated reasons. Federal housing policy has actively encouraged homeownership, from Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act to George W. Bush’s ownership society. But in the Middletowns of the world, homeownership comes at a steep social cost: As jobs disappear in a given area, declining home values trap people in certain neighborhoods. Even if you’d like to move, you can’t, because the bottom has fallen out of the market-you now owe more than any buyer is willing to pay. The costs of moving are so high that many people stay put. Of course, the people trapped are usually those with the least money; those who can afford to leave do so.

City leaders have tried in vain to revive Middletown’s downtown. You’ll find their most infamous effort if you follow Central Avenue to its end point on the banks of the Miami River, once a lovely place. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the city’s brain trust decided to turn our beautiful riverfront into Lake Middletown, an infrastructural project that apparently involved shoveling tons of dirt into the river and hoping something interesting would .come of it. It accomplished nothing, though the river now features a man-made dirt island about the size of a city block.

Efforts to reinvent downtown Middletown always struck me as futile. People didn’t leave because our downtown lacked trendy cultural amenities. The trendy cultural amenities left because there weren’t enough consumers in Middletown to support them, And why weren’t there enough well-paying consumers? Because there weren’t enough jobs to employ those consumers. Downtown Middletown’s struggles were a symptom of everything else happening to Middletown’s people, especially the collapsing importance of Armco Kawasaki Steel.

 

Irresistible

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter explores behavioral addiction, how it compares to substance addiction and what causes it. There’s a good mix of research and anecdotes in this book. Below is an excerpt from the book that you might find useful:

IrresistibleIrresistible.jpg

Gamification is a powerful tool, and like all powerful tools it brings mixed blessings. On the one hand, it infuses mundane or unpleasant experiences with a measure of joy. It gives medical patients respite from pain, schoolkids relief from boredom, and gamers an excuse to donate to the needy. By merely raising the number of good outcomes in the world, gamification has value. It’s a worthwhile alternative to traditional medical care, education, and charitable giving because, in many respects, those approaches are tone-deaf to the drivers of human motivation. But Ian Bogost was also wise to illuminate the dangers of gamification. Games like FarmVille and Kim Kardashian’s Hollywood are designed to exploit human motivation for financial gain. They pit the wielder of gamification in opposition to the gamer, who becomes ensnared in the game’s irresistible net. But, as I mentioned early in this book, tech is not inherently good or bad. The same is true of gamification. Stripped of its faddish popularity and buzzwordy name, the heart of gamification is just an effective way to design experiences. Games just happen to do an excellent job of relieving pain, replacing boredom with joy, and merging fun with generosity.

 

How To Be A Good Boss

In the book, Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott, she explains how to be a highly successful manager. I highly recommend this book to anyone who manages people. Below is an excerpt from the book that you might find useful:

How To Be A Good BossRadical Candor.jpg

Given my line of work, I get asked by almost everyone I meet how to be a better boss/manager/leader. I get questions from the people who worked for me, the CEOs I coached, the people who attended a class I taught or a talk I gave. I get questions from people who are using the management software system that Russ Laraway and I cofounded a company, Candor, Inc., to build. Others have submitted their management dilemmas to our Web site (radicalcandor.com). But questions also come from the harried parent sitting next to me at the school play who doesn’t know how to tell the babysitter not to feed the kids so much sugar; the contractor who is frustrated when his crew doesn’t show up on time; the nurse who’s just been promoted to supervisor and is telling me how bewildering it is-as she takes my blood pressure, I feel I should be taking hers; the business executive who’s speaking with exaggerated patience into his cell phone as we board a plane, snaps it shut, and asks nobody in particular, “Why did I hire that goddamn moron?”; the friend still haunted by the expression on the face of an employee whom she laid off years ago. Regardless of who asks the questions, they tend to reveal an underlying anxiety: many people feel they aren’t as good at management as they are at the “real” part of the job. Often, they fear they are failing the people who report to them.

While I hate to see this kind of stress, I find these conversations productive because I know I can help. By the end of these talks, people feel much more confident that they can be a great boss.

There’s often a funny preamble to the questions I get, because most people don’t like the words for their role: “boss” evokes injustice, “manager” sounds bureaucratic, “leader” sounds self-aggrandizing. I prefer the word “boss” because the distinctions between leadership and management tend to define leaders as BSers who don’t actually do anything and managers as petty executors. Also, there’s a problematic hierarchical difference implied in the two words, as if leaders no longer have to manage when they achieve a certain level of success, and brand-new managers don’t have to lead. Richard Tedlow’s biography of Andy Grove, Intel’s lengendary CEO, asserts that management and leadership are like forehand and backhand. You have to be good at both to win. I hope by the end of this book you’ll have a more positive association with all three words: boss, manager, leader. Having dispensed with semantics, the next question is often very basic: what do bosses/managers/leaders do? Go to meetings? Send emails? Tell people what to do? Dream up strategies and expect other people to execute them? It’s tempting to suspect them of doing a whole lot of nothing.

Ultimately, though, bosses are responsible for results. They achieve these results not by doing all the work themselves but by guiding the people on their teams. Bosses guide a team to achieve results.

The questions I get asked next are clustered around each of these three areas of responsibility that managers do have: guidance, team-building, and results.

First, guidance.

Guidance is often called “feedback.” People dread feedback-both the praise, which can feel patronizing, and especially the criticism. What if the person gets defensive? Starts to yell? Threatens to sue? Bursts into tears? What if the person refuses to understand the criticism, or can’t figure out what to do to fix the problem? What if there isn’t any simple way to fix the problem? What should a boss say then? But it’s no better when the problem is really simple and obvious. Why doesn’t the person already know it’s a problem? Do I actually have to say it? Am I too nice? Am I too mean? All these questions loom so large that people often forget they need to solicit guidance from others, and encourage it between them.

Second, team-building.

Building a cohesive team means figuring out the right people for the right roles: hiring, firing, promoting. But once you’ve got the right people in the right jobs, how do you keep them motivated? Particularly in Silicon Valley, the questions sound like this: why does everyone always want the next job when they haven’t even mastered the job they have yet? Why do millennials expect their career to come with instructions like a Lego set? Why do people leave the team as soon as they get up to speed? Why do the wheels keep coming off the bus? Why won’t everyone just do their job and let me do mine?

Third, results.

Many managers are perpetually frustrated that it seems harder than it should be to get things done. We just doubled the size of the team, but the results are not twice as good. In fact, they are worse. What happened? Some-times things move too slowly: the people who work for me would debate forever ifI let them. Why can’t they make a decision? But other times things move too fast: we missed our deadline because the team was totally unwilling to do a little planning-they insisted on just firing willy-nilly, no ready, no aim! Why can’t they think before they act? Or they seem to be on automatic pilot: they are doing exactly the same thing this quarter that they did last quarter, and they failed last quarter. Why do they expect the results to be different?

Guidance, team, and results: these are the responsibilities of any boss. This is equally true for anyone who manages people-CEOs, middle managers, and first-time leaders. CEOs may have broader problems to deal with, but they still have to work with other human beings, with all the quirks and skills and weaknesses just as apparent and relevant to their success in the C Suite as when they got their very first management role. It’s natural that managers who wonder whether they are doing right by the people who report to them want to ask me about these three topics. I’ll address each fully over the course of this book.

Ben Franklin’s Third Virtue – Order

In the book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford, he talks about Ben Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. Below is an excerpt from the book about the third virtue:

 

Ben Franklin’s Third Virtue: OrderMessy.jpg

 

Whiling away the long voyage from London to Philadelphia in 1726, a young printer named Benjamin Franklin conceived the notion of a notebook in which he would record systematically his efforts at self-improvement. Franklin aspired to thirteen virtues, including frugality, industry, sincerity, and cleanliness. His plan was to spend a week focusing on a particular virtue, in the hope of making it a habit, before moving to the next virtue, and the next, cycling through the virtues in an unending quest to become a better man. Each day he would reflect on his activities and every failure to live up to his own standards would be commemorated with black mark in his notebook. The custom stuck with him his entire life. Fifty-none years later, while writing his memoirs, Franklin lingered on the merits of his virtue journal longer than on any other topic, reconfirming his commitment to the habit.

Franklin’s aims were ambitious, but his virtue journal was a success: the black spots in the notebook, initially numerous, became scarcer over time. Perhaps this is no surprise, since Franklin had a habit of doing whatever he set out to do. He lived one of the most celebrated lives in history. He charted the Gulf Stream; he invented bifocals, the lightning conductor, and the flexible urinary catheter; he was the first U.S. postmaster general, served as America’s ambassador to France, and was president of Pennsylvania. And, of course, Benjamin Franklin’s signature is on the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Yet the great man had one weakness-or so he thought.

Ben Franklin’s third virtue was: Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. Franklin never mastered this seemingly simple task. “My scheme of ORDER gave me the most trouble,” he wrote in frustration in his memoirs, adding, “my faults in it vexed me so much, and I made so little progress in amendment, and had such frequent relapses, that I was almost ready to give up the attempt.”

He was not exaggerating. One scholar wrote, “Strangers who came to see him were amazed to behold papers of the greatest importance scattered in the most careless way over the table and floor.” Franklin’s diary and his home remained chaotic, resisting sixty years of focused effort from one of the most determined men who ever lived. No matter how many disorderly decades passed, Franklin remained convinced that orderliness was an unalloyed virtue: that if only he could fix this deficiency in his character, and become less messy, he would become a more admirable, successful, and productive person.

Franklin was surely deluding himself. It is hard to believe such a rich life could possibly have been made still richer by closer attention to filing papers and tidying up. His error is no surprise. We are tidy-minded people, instinctively admiring order and in denial about the way mess tends to be the inevitable by-product of good things, and is sometimes a good thing in its own right.

What seems more surprising is not Franklin’s error, but his failure to keep his ill-advised resolution. This is a man who did almost everything he set out to do; why is it that he failed on this one occasion? Perhaps he realized, on some unconscious level, that disorderliness was no bar to success. Many of us have yet to make the same realization, in areas that define much of our daily lives: organizing our documents, tasks, and time; looking for love; socializing; raising our kids. Benjamin Franklin’s mistake is a mistake from which we can all learn, every day of our lives.