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Six warning signs that your leadership is dangerously boring!

What if the pressure to deliver has crept up on you and instead of being a terrible leader, you’ve become a boring one!?

The life is slowly draining out of things and people at work are becoming more and more zombie-like. Sooner or later, the life may drain out of your customers and clients too!

Watch the video above to discover the six warning signs you should look out for – and what to do about them.

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Six warning signs that you've become a dangerously boring leader!! And what to do about it. Click To Tweet

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Self-Accountability not Self-Criticism

Four simple questions that easily help to develop more self-accountability and avoid falling into the trap of self-criticism instead

What do you notice about your own self-accountability? Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

The best way to be true to your word is to be more self-accountable, and *less* self-critical. Click To Tweet

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Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!

Your only 3 choices for when something important needs doing

I used to be a compulsive leader – couldn’t stop myself from jumping in – and it took quite a bit of development (and some tough-love from a couple of really good bosses) before I properly learnt how to be a good follower too.

But that quote in the image above sets out the only three choices anyway, doesn’t it?

1. If something important needs doing and you look around and no-one else has stepped-up, that’s your signal to lead.

2. If someone has taken the lead and is doing something that matters to you, get on board and follow their lead. You can discuss exact compass headings once you’re under way.

3. In all other circumstances, make sure you’re not in the way of what needs to happen, regardless of who is leading.


BTW the quote in that image is often attributed to Thomas Paine, but there’s no evidence of that and the language doesn’t seem quite right to me for an English-born, 18th Century philosopher and Founding-father. So I don’t really know who said it first, I just like it.


What about you:

Do you know when to lead?

Do you know how to follow?

Do you know how to tell if you’re actually in the way; part of the problem and not part of the solution?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Lead, follow, or get out of the way - your only 3 choices for when something important needs doing Click To Tweet

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The Intersecting Tracks

To make progress, great coaching runs on two intersecting tracks: Understanding – expanding what’s possible; and Doing – creating practical results

First, there’s a Doing track.

The Doing track is important because great coaching has to be a practical, tangible thing – to result in something useful that you can see or touch or hear. It’s not possible for clients to arrive at that destination without actually Doing something.

Second, there’s an Understanding track.

The Understanding track is important because great coaching should take people beyond what’s currently possible. And that requires new ways of looking at ourselves, more understanding about how best to relate to the world around us, and a deeper sense of what’s possible for us, both as individuals and in concert with others.


Clients often have an expectation that the coaching work will only focus on one or other track – sometimes they’re unaware that there even is a second track.

They might be struggling to get something done or to make a significant change, without realising that the reason they’re struggling is that they first need some new or deeper understanding. At other times, they can be flailing around, looking for the magic bullet to make things easier, when they simply might not have tried enough different ways, or even have tried hard enough.

The trouble is, of course, that it’s not easy to tell if something we’re attempting is difficult because (a) we lack some crucial insight; or (b) we should just be trying more things, or just trying harder. This is where our tracks need to intersect and why the coaching space, somewhere to reflect on those points, is such a powerful one.


So, intersecting tracks:

  • Track 1: discover some new Understanding because that then makes possible a different type of Doing; and/or
  • Track 2: try more or different ways of Doing, because the results from that doing will lead to new Understanding.

Once you become conscious of the intersecting tracks and the need to be both Doing and Understanding in a way that’s pretty close to simultaneous, all kinds of fantastic breakthroughs start to appear.

“Action without knowledge is useless and knowledge without action is futile.” Abu Bakr


What’s been your experience of this – can you understand without doing? Or push what you’re capable of doing without also getting new understanding?

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Great coaching has to run on two intersecting tracks – Understanding and Doing – more or less simultaneously. Here’s why: Click To Tweet

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Moral Support and Working Remotely

The Top 4 Reasons why Leaders aren’t doing enough Remote Stroking and Moral Support

Another occasional casualty of our new remote-working that I’m hearing more about is the need for stroking and moral support.

Different people call this different terms: “recognition”, “connection”, “praise” and “stroking”.
Each of these actually means slightly different things, but that’s not the important point – which is for leaders to not miss out on doing the human touch while their teams are remote from them.

Why is that so? Why aren’t leaders doing enough remote stroking and moral support for their people?

I’ve been collecting some of the reasons that clients mention and, in my limited samples, here’s the reasons I think come up the most:

1. Transactional Stuff Gets in the Way

Co-ordinating and leading the work of others when you’re rarely in the same room as them takes a different mindset. It’s not difficult to lead remotely, but in the need to get all the nitty gritty of the work stuff done, it is perhaps easier when working remotely for the human side to get forgotten.

Ask how people are feeling. Be open and honest about how you’re feeling – this gives permission for others to do the same. “How are you doing, in yourself?”, “I notice I’m feeling a little more stressed these days; how about you?” Just really simple things like that will do it. There’s a fundamental need (for most of us) to be fully seen as human beings, for others to “get” our condition. Leaders need to let people know that they’re ready, willing and able to ‘see’ their people fully in this way.

2. They don’t need it themselves

There’s some research to suggest that only about 40% of people absolutely ‘need’ to get recognition from others at work. If you’re in that 40% and you’ve got a boss who doesn’t need any external recognition themselves, and who also doesn’t understand that other people DO need it, then you can really feel the lack.

Leaders – tell people how they’re doing. Again, it isn’t difficult. Just find a quality that someone has displayed and play it back to them: “The way you handled that project really showed what a tenacious person you are; thank you for all your effort.”

3. They Mistakenly Believe that you can’t Stroke and Criticise at the same time

A few years a go there was a trend for leaders to be taught to give feedback in sandwich-form – one positive thing, one negative thing and then finish on another positive thing. I hated that approach then and I still hate it now and I think it just showed how HR people are often not natural leaders themselves. If you’ve got something to say to me, say it straight, whether it’s good or bad. I reckon that the unnaturalness of the sandwich approach put leaders off from giving straight feedback and had the unfortunate side-effect of teaching them to believe that you can’t tell people positive and negative stuff together – which is rubbish.

Say it straight please leaders, and make sure that you’ve generally got something genuinely good to say about others. Again, it’s not difficult: “It’s great how you always find a new angle on things or a new project to get started with. And, I need you to finish this priority work too.”

And if you as a leader can’t generally find something genuinely good about each of the people in your team, you’ve surely got to go and have a stiff talk in the mirror with the person responsible for that team!

4. They Resent Doing It

Previously, I think this reason would have been lower down the list. Perhaps it’s because we’re all running on slightly empty tanks these days. I write this at the start of autumn, as the days are shortening and the weather worsening and a second covid19 wave looks increasingly likely. Instead of getting ‘back to normal’, or even finding some normalisation in how we’ve set things up over the last six months, it looks like we’re going to need to adapt and adapt again.

It’s rare for leaders to say things to me like, “Why do I have to reach out and stroke them; it’s not all plain-sailing for me you know!”, but it’s not unknown. This is understandable.

If there’s any leaders reading this who notice they might not be reaching out and supplying the human touch to their remote teams, please make sure that you’re also taking care of yourself enough. Do what it takes for you to feel healthy, balanced and whole yourself. Don’t resent other people for their needs – take care of your own.


Let me know if you’ve noticed any of this too please – or what you’re discovering about the remote human touch these days.

Please leave a comment below if they’re still open at the time of reading, or tweet me @nickrobcoach

Why don't leaders reach out more, now we're working remotely? Click To Tweet

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Self-Awareness (2b): Impact and Results

In your interactions with other people, do you always get the result you’d intended?

For a full copy, click the diagram above and then right-click to download or ‘Save as…’

If the first part of Self-Awareness is getting really clear about your Intention (see this article here), then the second, perhaps even more important part is to practice noticing your Impact in the form of the Result that you got.

What happens when you interact with someone else; and was it what you meant to have happen?

There’s a rule we use in my kind of coaching which says that:

The meaning of your communication is the response that you get

It’s tough rule to follow because it’s telling us that, no-matter what we said or did with someone, no matter what our intention was at the outset; what we actually communicated was exactly what the other person says it was – even if their interpretation or response was radically different from what we meant!


It is the meaning that they ascribe to your communication that counts, not yours.


Of course, this rule is only important if you want to have really effective interactions and communications with other people. If not, if you’re happy to say, “Well, I don’t care what they actually did in response, I told them what I wanted to tell them anyway,” then this rule doesn’t need to apply to you.


There are lots of communication skills that you can use to maximise your chances of making sure that the message and meaning you meant to communicate is what somebody else actually hears.

What I want to focus on for this article is the skill of Self-Awareness, building on that first part around being clear about your Intention. Once you’ve done that, you can turn your observer’s lens towards the Results that you get:

  • When you say something to people, are they hearing what you meant them to hear – and how do you know?
  • When you do something for somebody else, do they understand why you did it, and again, how would you know?

Awareness really is the key here. Most of the other skills are about saying or doing things in a slightly different way, often to better match the other person’s style, and with a bit of experimentation almost everybody can broaden their range and learn to match it to other people.

But you won’t even know to do that if you’re not monitoring the Impact you’re having.

So that’s the Self-Awareness skill that I’d like you to practice next. It’s the red box in the diagram above. Did your interaction with another person get the Result that you Intended – and how do you know?


As usual, please leave me a comment if they’re still open below, or tweet me @NickRobCoach to let me know how your Self-Awareness is doing and how you monitor the results you get from your interactions with others.


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The Fast and Furious Guide to Great Rapport

How rapport and great relationships at work start just like brilliant stunt-driving

Imagine that you’re starring in an episode of the popular movie franchise ‘Fast and Furious’. You’re in a scene involving two speeding cars, possibly chasing a third vehicle, or a train or something. For some reason your task is to get somebody to step or transfer from one of those moving cars, into the other. And they’re both moving at high speed.

If you can do this, if you can successfully facilitate that step between these two speeding cars without crashing, then the day is won, or the bad guys are defeated, or something similar; anyway, in the movie it’s a good thing if you can do it.

This act, of transferring successfully between those two moving vehicles, has a lot in common with the way that great rapport starts. Roll with me on this.

Rapport: ‘a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are in sync with each other, understand each other’s feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly.’


If you can get great rapport between yourself and another person at work, everything you need and want to achieve together just becomes so much easier.


But what if that rapport is not coming naturally, or if you’re unsure how to go about it, where should you start?

This is where our Fast and Furious car transfer comes into its own.

Imagine for a moment that you and your colleague are the two moving cars and that the act of stepping successfully from one car to the other is your relationship. Will it transfer successfully? Or will it plunge to its doom between the two and be left in the wreckage on the highway?

If you really did have to facilitate that rolling transfer, how would you go about it?


Before you did anything else, you’d make sure that you came alongside each other, and were then travelling at the same speed and in the same direction. In a real-life rapport-building situation this is the equivalent of:

  1. Reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State; and
  2. Matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

Let’s drive along that road in a little more detail…

First, reading and understanding the other person’s Emotional State.

People want to be understood. This is why we say things like: “He just gets me,” when we’re talking about our best relationships. And the best way to understand other people is to observe and listen to them.

In the early stages of a rapport-building situation, this is easier to do than you might think. Research shows that humans are evolved to recognise at least six separate basic emotions just from seeing facial characteristics alone – and possibly as many as 21. And more recent research shows that hearing the emotional content in what people say might actually be even more accurately evolved in humans. I’ve put some links about this stuff at the end of the article, in case you’d like to read around a bit more.

The key to doing the early stages of rapport-building well is just to give your naturally-evolved abilities a brief moment to operate. Think of yourself as the second car in our Fast and Furious episode. Your colleague is driving along as the first car. If you wanted to pull alongside them at speed, it’d take you a moment or two to judge how fast they were going and in what direction they were headed.

If you want to have better rapport with people, make sure you take that moment to look and listen and assess their Emotional State before you do anything else.

Second, matching that Emotional State yourself, in a way that isn’t fake.

It seems to me that this is the point where a lot of people come unstuck in trying to have better rapport. What if the other person’s current emotional state is different from yours? What if, for example, they seem quite grumpy, but you’re feeling good about things and would just quite like to get on with whatever work task needs their input? Or what if you think that the task you both need to be getting on with requires one emotional state – “steadiness” for example – but the other person seems anything but ‘steady’?

In these situations people seem to tell themselves that they can’t suddenly change their emotional state to match the other person’s because that would be like lying or faking it, and (a) I don’t know how to do that and (b) they’ll see through it anyway. Or we throw our hands up and ask why, just for once, the other person can’t be the one who changes their emotional state to match mine!

These are important issues and I’d definitely want to tackle them in order to have better relationships at work. But in a context where your immediate goal is to start having great rapport, it’s futile to address them now. They’re the equivalent of pulling almost alongside the other speeding car and shouting over at them: “I want to head in a different direction.” Or: “Change your speed to match mine.” But they can’t hear you – they’re in a speeding car!

Better, to nudge your speed and direction closer to theirs, and then have the conversation about where you’re headed, and how fast you should be going.

And instead of worrying about looking or being fake when you’re seeking to match someone else’s Emotional State – find your own real close equivalence, and then be that; it’ll be close enough to work.

So, if the other person looks and sounds like they’re ‘grumpy’ and you’re not feeling the grumps yourself, find something close to it that you can relate to, like ‘sombre’, or ‘serious’. Find the part of you that truly is at times ‘serious’. You know what that looks and feels and sounds like and there will be times when you’ve genuinely been that. This’ll be a close enough match; your cars will be wobbling and twitching at high-speed, but you’ll be close enough to connect in a way that really counts. And you won’t end up too fast, or too furious.

Drive well people 🙂

Off-site research and article links:

Evolution of facial expressions

Mapping facial expressions for 21 emotions

Does your voice reveal more emotion than your face

 


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Persist and Prevail

How to tell if you’ll rise to a challenge – and three simple ways to do so

I’m a big fan of that old saying: “Get knocked down seven times, stand-up eight.” For me, that’s what resilience is mostly about; just the sheer bloody-mindedness to choose not to lie there, but to get up again.


But there’s another kind of persistence isn’t there? The kind where you’re rolling along smoothly, and you’ve not been knocked down, but yet another challenge appears in front of you. Something else that you could choose to rise to.


It’s a bit like when you’re out hiking somewhere with a lot of false peaks. You think you’re nearing the top and that the upwards part of the walk will be over when you crest the next brow you can see in front of you. But when you get there, that new perspective shows you that there’s still more peaks to come. And again, there’s likely to be some new climbs that you can’t even see yet.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend some time around some very pragmatic people just recently and I love how these folks respond to those unexpected challenges. Mostly it seems with a little sigh, some rubbing of the hands and rolling-up of the sleeves and a re-application of the shoulder to the wheel.


You can explore how anybody is likely to respond in those kind of situations, by asking them how they dealt with specific previous stressful experiences.

Describe a situation (at work, or elsewhere) that gave you trouble?
(Pick a specific example, don’t generalise). When that situation first materialised:

  1. What did you notice about your emotional response?
  2. How ‘deep’ into your emotions did you go?
  3. And how long did that last?
  4. Then what happened?

What you might want to be looking for is how someone deals with the emotional ‘whack’ that comes from facing yet another challenge. Can they process those emotions fairly quickly, put them into the bigger perspective of what’s really important to them and then move on, again fairly quickly?

Coaches sometimes use the term:
Going into and coming out of their emotions
to describe this trait.

What’s less useful (in terms of dealing with challenges) is having someone who stays in the emotional stage, so that their ability to act is impaired. That’s a useful trait at other times (lots of creative people do this well, so that they can draw on the power of the emotions in their work), but it isn’t necessarily what you want for getting into action when the next challenge appears.

A small proportion of people don’t go into their emotions at all during times of (to them) normal stress levels. Those people stay calm and cool throughout, but may struggle to express their empathy for others. If they are also someone who experiences but doesn’t process those emotions and instead boxes them up in some way, that could come back and bite you later when you’re least expecting it.

If you want to train yourself to be able to choose whether to go into and come out of emotions, so that you can better respond to challenges, three practical things seem really helpful:

1. Controlling your breathing. Long, deep in-breaths, held for a while and then exhaled slowly will activate your parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite to the fight/flight system.

2. Preparation, in particular being consciously familiar with your bigger-picture goals and priorities. The more you know about where you want to go long-term, the less likely one more false-peak is to discourage you from continuing your journey.

3. Modelling. Who do you know who’s a bit like those pragmatic, sleeve-rolling-up, shoulder-to-the-wheel people I’ve been hanging around with lately? How would that person react when yet another challenge appears? What’s important to them, when that happens?

Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. –Joshua J. Marine

 


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Self-Awareness – A Primer

Self-Awareness is the best start for leadership development. But how do you get that? What should you look for; and how?

The ancient Greeks had the phrase “Know thyself” chiselled on the doorway to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Real knowledge, insight and understanding about important events and people in the world around them wasn’t possible they reckoned, without first having the foundation of self-knowledge.

If that’s still true today, how do you actually go about getting self-awareness? What should you look for; and how do you do it?

I think there’s perhaps three or more important areas to consider and I’ve set out some of those below. These are often used as early as the second or third phase in my coaching approach, as they’re so fundamental to the development work we need to do after that.

This is a fairly long post for me, over 1,200 words, because I wanted to give you a rounded sense of where to be looking, what to be listening for and how it feels to be embarking, in a structured way, on this kind of self-knowledge work. What I’ve written here isn’t the only way to go about it, and even at over 1,200 words this is still only a very quick jog around the park. Anyway, I hope you find it helpful in some way.

1. Your Values

These are the things that, at the moment at least, are intrinsically important to you. They can or might change over time or in a different context. Some may be more important than others, and that also can be fluid but, most of the time, they’re fairly consistent. Here’s my own top 5 Values:

  1. Making a difference / Usefulness / Legacy
  2. Excellence / Strive to be the best / Learn-Apply
  3. Congruence / Authenticity / Be true to yourself
  4. Independence / Self-reliance / Go do it
  5. Balance / Harmony / Wholeness

Note that these are in ‘strings’ of words, separated by “/” because often one word by itself isn’t enough to capture everything about a particular value.

A simple way to start to uncover your own values would be to remember a time, at work or at home, when things felt like they were going great, or just right, or were especially poignant in some way. What were the circumstances of that time? What was going on around you, who was present, how did you feel?

The chances are that during that time several of your values were being quite strongly upheld. People can often begin to identify those values by reflecting on that time and getting curious about what made it so great for them.

2. Your Thought Patterns

This is about how your (mostly unconscious) mind filters out what is useful information and what isn’t and how it then represents that information, so that you can make sense of the world around you.

Since this process happens very fast and mostly unconsciously, one of the best ways to uncover your own patterns is by way of a kind of compare and contrast with other people. Look at the way they do things, and see how it compares with your own way.

Here are two examples of the kinds of things to consider:

  1. Are you motivated into action more by (a) the chance to achieve a goal; or (b) the need to solve or avoid a problem?
  2. Do you prefer (a) to have lots of choice and variety, creating different possibilities in the way you go about things, or (b) do you prefer to stick to a tried and tested process?

Another important pattern became obvious to me when I got a new Satnav. My old one used to show me a map of my whole route when it had finished plotting. Only after you’d seen that ‘big picture’ screen, did it let you start navigating. But my new satnav didn’t give you that overview. Once it’d plotted a route, it just went straight to “Turn left”. I really found it difficult to trust the new satnav and would often ask my wife to just check the ‘big picture’ of the route in our tatty old road atlas, which she hated doing. Turns out, I’ve got a strong preference for thinking in big picture terms and, until I’ve done that, it’s really hard for me to get into the detail, even though I’ve trained myself (I’m an ex-accountant!) to work with detail. And my wife is the opposite, she’s fascinated by the detail, so she hated being asked to check the big picture of the route.

Again, these factors are not immutable, they can change and be changed. It’s important to not ‘adopt’ them as fixed determinants and to not use them to pigeonhole yourself or others, or to excuse bad behaviour.

It’s possible, although I don’t think it’s often that necessary, to go through about 20 or so of those key patterns as part of the coaching process in in easy conversational way with me. I don’t often do that, because I’d rather people take responsibility for their own self-knowledge than have me or some anonymous psychometric test do it for them.

As well as the kind of thought patterns I’ve described here, you could also look at key aspects of personality, such as introversion or extraversion. The important thing is to just look, listen, feel and think your way a little more consciously than normal really. The psychologist Carl Jung said “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

3. Your Fears, Doubts and Limiting Beliefs

What holds you back? What doubts do you have about yourself, your abilities, the kind of person you are, the way others might see you?

What things are you so unconsciously afraid of, that you’ll automatically come out fighting, even when that isn’t the best way to do things?

In what way do you sell yourself short? Or sabotage your own efforts?

What unwritten rules have you made up about how you have to “be” (e.g. a favourite of mine: “I have to be strong”)?

What shame or hurt are you carrying around about past experiences that made you feel inadequate?

I love working with fears, doubts and limiting beliefs because I see them not as ‘bad’ things, but as really useful data about what’s important to people and about how they might really shine, if they want to.

If you’re ready now to start uncovering some of your own possible fears, doubts and limiting beliefs, try completing some of the sentences below. Do it fast and without too much conscious thought:

I’m often too …………………

I need to be more …………………

I can’t seem to …………………

I should stop (or start) …………………

I mustn’t keep …………………

I shouldn’t always …………………

I must be less …………………

Every time I try to do ………….…….,   ……………. happens

I want to …………………, but that’s just the way things are

I don’t deserve to …………………

I ought to …………………

If you find anything at all, start celebrating, because that just might be the bit of self-knowledge that opens all the other doors. And if completing the sentences didn’t uncover anything for you, just try going back to those questions I’ve posed at the start of section 3 above and become curious about how any of those might apply to you.


After working through those three key areas, the next level of self-knowledge is to get really clear about what’s even more important to you than your patterns of thinking and your doubts and fears and about how you might apply your values to your life and your work.


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Solve One Problem at a Time

How to deal with intractable problems and make powerful progress without having to kill an elephant

You’d have been proud of me last week, because just occasionally us coaches do actually take our own advice!

When the Film ‘The Martian’ came out at the end of 2015 I was very happy to start using it as a fictional example of how to deal with potential overwhelm, overcome seemingly intractable problems and make powerful progress towards our goals.

I don’t know about you, but the thing that people always used to say to me, when I was faced with projects, tasks, problems or goals that just seemed waaaay too big to handle, was this:

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

But instead of helping, this just used to make me feel guilty and sick. Who in their right mind would eat an elephant!?

I much preferred the engineer’s approach: break the problem down into components and solve one problem at a time, and so it was great to see this exemplified in that film.

Anyway, last week, having perhaps bitten-off more than I could chew (although at least it wasn’t elephant), I did take my own advice.

You know already I’m a big fan of being focused. I reckon that solving one problem at a time is a great partner to that approach. These days, when there are so many ways in which we can be interrupted or have our attention diverted to something else, it seems that breaking things down into manageable components and then dealing with each one in turn, is a really powerful way of forging ahead.

So that’s the place to start then, if you’re faced with overwhelming projects, tasks that seem intractable, are feeling lost in the frenetic race to balance too many demands, or have big goals to achieve:

  1. Break them down into components
  2. Solve one problem at a time

And if you’re still  finding it hard to solve anything at all – and this often happens because it seems like everything is connected to and dependent on everything else – then you need to go back and think smaller at step one.


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