The Care and Feeding of Gremlins


We all have one.  For some it speaks louder than others. It’s that nattering voice in the back of your head  saying you can’t do that.

You shouldn’t do that.

If you do, you’ll just fail.

Might as well stick with what you’re doing.

Maybe you just have to work harder…

Some call it a Gremlin. Other people call it our inner critic or our elephant. Those of you less inclined to abuse metaphors might prefer to describe it as Negative Self-Talk.

My gremlin is a scary, ugly  thing that looks a lot like Venom (Spiderman comics) with his big, sharp teeth and long, snake-like tongue. He is loud, terrible—hysterical almost, when it comes to pointing out my shortcomings.

Well, he was. The best thing I ever did was learn to identify and hear him. Not listen—not ascribe value to what he was saying, just hear his ramblings and treat them as if they come from a half-senile old relative that nobody in the family really listens to because he smells bad, has personal space issues and is, well, mostly crazy.

Hear him, nod slowly while backing away in a non-threatening manner and say, “that’s interesting”.

It sound ridiculous to type it out now, but I could only realize the garbage of what he was saying when I removed my emotional reaction it. And like trying to pick out a conversation in a crowded room, it became easier when I identified him. I found my Debbie Downer.

After that, I started to have some fun with him. I took my kid’s Venom figurine and dressed him in some old Barbie clothes. Now, when he starts his rantings in my head, I  mentally dress him up in funny clothes and tell him to go play in heavy traffic. We have this back and forth that reminds me a lot of the Frog in the Blender.

It took a while, but he’s a lot less powerful now. He still occasionally reveals his scary head, but mostly he just sits in the corner knitting, no longer interfering with my inner Wonder Woman.

So today, look out for your inner Gremlin. Call them by name and introduce yourself. Just because they’re crashing your party doesn’t mean you should pretend they aren’t there. Take stock of what they look like and start to hear the words they say. Ask yourself if you would take them seriously if they were physically in front of you or if you would just roll your eyes (and/or throw your coffee in their face) and go on with your day.

It’s a gremlin. It doesn’t like sunlight, that will kill it. Same here. It’s time we put them in the spotlight and neutralized their power over us.

Gizmo: Bright light! Bright light!

By Veronica Ciolfi

Hey Jimmy Kimmel – I Told My Kids I Threw Away Their Honour Roll


There are a few things that get my blood boiling. This is one of them:

Calgary School Ends Honour Roll Program Because of Hurt Feelings

Let me take a deep breath and try to regain my composure.

It’s possible that the school had the best interests of the kids at heart. Maybe. The principal expects students to learn for learning’s sake. Maybe he should have done the same. The principal based his decision on the work of the “educational guru” Alphie Kohn’s ideas that rewards and punishments are both methods of controlling behaviour and if we really care about the children, we need to work with them, not manipulate them. Kohn’s works include:

“70 studies showing that extrinsic motivators—including A‘s, sometimes praise, and other rewards—are not merely ineffective over the long haul but counterproductive”.

The problem is that academics have been duking this out in academic journals for the last 20 years! The research is not cut and dry and there are plenty of people who argue that it is easy to overcome any problems of demotivation. (It usually involves making sure that real effort is required to achieve the award.)

The problem with listening to these gurus, is that people take their word as gospel and fail to look at the actual research themselves. If you’re going to turn your school into a social experiment, I think you have an obligation to truly understand what you are basing your experiment on. Are you a visionary, blindly following someone who may be wrong, or are you just bitter because maybe you didn’t get on the honour roll when you were a kid?

If Kohn is wrong, then this principal is taking away recognition that means something to some students for nothing. And I’ll tell you something that is 100% demotivating, no reference required: asking someone to work hard, and then when they’ve achieved their goal, taking away what they’ve earned.

Ouch! Don’t believe me?

Just ask the kids whose parents told them they ate all their Halloween candy.

By Veronica Ciolfi

Your Values or Mine?


Yesterday, my friend asked me a question: Can you lead someone with very different values than you? After all, personal values help define who we are and are at the core of what motivates us. How do we reconcile working with someone who wants different things than we do?

First I would argue that mutual respect is a must.  If there isn’t, if one person believes that the other’s person values don’t matter, you can’t have a mutually beneficial relationship. If there’s no mutual respect, then you have to decide who’s values take priority and how do you do that? No one person is fundamentally better than another. At some point there has to be an agreement to disagree or the person who drew the line in the sand ends up walking away.

Secondly, though your values drive your actions, as a leader, you are more interested in what drives your subordinates actions. All values are great, they just mean that people have different priorities than you do. From my perspective, a leader needs to know what motivates their followers and do their best to give them what they need in order to be successful, thus driving the mission forward. If family is the number one priority of one of your workers, then if you want that worker to provide their best to the company, you have to do what you can to help them meet their needs. Working from home, or flexible hours during difficult family times. At the same time, if you know that family is important, you can try to provide that kind of atmosphere at work to motivate them.

If you value independence and your co-worker values teamwork, I can see how there would be friction, but as a leader, you need to still be able to give your follower what they need, if you want them to be successful. To force them to prioritize your values isn’t going to work.

But what happens when people in your team have different and possibly conflicting values? That’s where it gets difficult. In all cases, the cost of being together as a partnership, a team, or a firm has to be lower than the cost of working separately. If it is too difficult to make someone productive, if it harms the team and lowers their productivity, then the firm would be foolish not to get rid of this person or move them elsewhere, which has its own costs. This explains why recruiters place a lot of emphasis on cultural fit when hiring. It’s easier to work as team when you’re all stuck in the same mud together.

So what can you do when you see conflict in your team arising from conflicting values? There are no magic answers here in this small blog, but I think one of the most important things that can be done is to acknowledge the differences openly. Rather than hokey “team building” activities that involve making a bridge out of Popsicle sticks, individual and  group discovery sessions that identify individual and shared values can be a great way of identifying areas of compatibility as well as  potential minefields. From there, you can decide how to mitigate potential problems (if possible or necessary) or whether you can just focus on the strengths of the group to crowd them out.

by Veronica Ciolfi