I recently read a great book called Conscious Business by Fred Kofman. It’s a book about self-management and the concept of integrity that inspired me to look at life—both work and home—differently. While the totality of this book is impossible to capture in a single article, I did want to discuss one particular concept that really resonated with me: the Player vs. Victim thought dichotomy.
Two Opposing Thought Patterns
Let’s talk about the characteristics of these thought patterns for a moment. As the name suggests, the Victim mentality refers to viewing oneself as a victim of circumstances, which results in the thought This isn’t my fault. This is a common thought pattern that allows the mind to avoid blame. This might seem like a useful strategy at first because this thought pattern allows a person to distance themselves from the problem because they are not a part of the problem. However, the result of this separation from the problem and externalization of the blame means experiencing a certain sense of powerlessness to improve one’s situation. And, as we know, a sense of powerlessness doesn’t lead to the best decision making or problem solving.
In comparison to the Victim mentality, the Player mentality refers to viewing oneself as at least partially responsible for the circumstances, which results in the thought There are things I can do to improve the situation. This clear acceptance of one’s role in the problem frees a person to affect the situation and be a part of the solution. The Player mentality leaves room for empowered decision making and problem solving.
Recognizing autonomy over one’s thoughts and how one can choose how to think about something is crucial for cultivating the necessary emotional intelligence to lead effectively. Being the governor of our own thinking means that we are free to choose either the Victim or the Player mentality whenever a challenging or ambiguous situation arises, and this choice will fundamentally alter our approach to that situation. This choice can be summarized as either blaming somebody or doing something. Or, in the context of Vendasta R&D, your choice affects how you fit within a truly blameless R&D culture.
The case for being a Player
Over the past four weeks since reading this material, I have been offered this choice every single day and was surprised at how often I chose the Victim route. For instance, on days when my children were being ornery, I would roll my eyes and think, “Looks like somebody didn’t get enough sleep”. After noticing myself thinking this way, I realized that I was blaming my child’s bad mood on a lack of sleep and making myself a victim of circumstances (i.e. grumpy kids). The real problem here is not my child’s bad mood but the fact that I can’t change the amount of sleep they had last night. If I change my thinking to adopt a Player mentality, my thinking runs more along the lines of, “it looks like somebody needs a bit more patience and attention today.” This instantly switches the way I look at the situation. The first thought invokes feelings of frustration or even anger—“I’m powerless in this situation”—while the second invokes feelings of empathy and compassion—“I’m empowered in this situation.” That’s a pretty big difference.
The Player mindset is the key to Empowerment and Accountability, making it important to be able to identify when one is stuck in a Victim mindset. I’ve found that situations when I feel like I am waiting on someone or something (i.e. external factors) tend to be good indicators that I’m not thinking in a Player mindset. Asking myself the questions, “Am I contributing to this problem in any way?” or “Is there anything I could do to move this forward on my own?” helps me change my mindset and identify paths forward.
The Role of Accountability in the Player Mindset
Before going any further, make sure you watch this video of Slack’s VP of Product Engineering Michael Lopp discussing the concept of Accountability, which closely aligns with my own perspective on the term. He describes being held “accountable” as “being required or expected to justify actions and decisions.” Later in the video, he describes accountability as ultimately “empowering” because it allows individuals, teams, and companies to understand their “why.”
With this definition in mind, I believe that Accountability is one area where Vendasta stands to grow significantly in the coming quarters. Terms like “empowerment,” “ownership,” and “intrapreneur” often get bandied about but each of these terms depends on a greater sense of Accountability. Interestingly enough, being responsible for explaining decisions and why they were made requires adopting a Player mindset simply because Accountability doesn’t exist in a Victim mindset. A Player mindset also means clearly articulating what you are accountable for which means there is no hiding from success or failure, which can be exciting and daunting at the same time; it means that nobody can steal credit but it also means there is no one else to blame for that very same reason. This is where blameless culture comes in to save you from that second edge: there is no failure, only a failure to learn. Remember that being Accountable (i.e. making the right decisions and being able to explain these decisions) does not guarantee success, just like hard work doesn’t make that guarantee either. However, both Accountability and hard work significantly tilt the odds in your favour leading to long-term success.
The Next Evolution of Accountability at Vendasta
I opine that office empowerment is the natural result of more individuals cultivating a Player mindset. Still, the Victim mindset is a siren’s song: it is easy to fall prey to it even when you understand that it is pure self-indulgence. Here’s my challenge to you: when you notice someone taking the Victim role, try to think of them as The Chicken. This will get you focused on the solution and allow you to avoid unnecessary, self-indulgent decisions very quickly. Chickens can be Victims but a Pig is always a Player.