There’s a feature in Instagram that allows you to diffuse the picture focus, thereby drawing your eye to a particular part of the picture. In doing that, objects seem more interesting, sharper, richer in colour, more interesting and even more artistic.  The fun for the photographer is choosing the picture’s focus, which I think is a metaphor for navigating our lives.

Richness in life is something each of us can focus on, sharpening and enjoying:

  • Meaning – Clarify for yourself the people, things, experiences, and perspectives that matter to you. Those things are unique to you and will be grounded in your values. In the game of life, your mission is to run up your meaning score. Fear is often the reason people resist this, but everything in life, including our interpretations, is a choice.  Why not choose to be have totally rich experiences and meaning in your life? It’s free and it’s the gift you can keep giving yourself without limit!  The key to leadership is understanding what’s meaningful for your direct reports or those in your life, which might mean helping them clarify meaning for themselves, or collectively. 
  •  Autonomy – Life is full of choices, and autonomy is ultimately about fully expressing our gifts (skills, experiences, knowledge, attributes) for the maximum benefit of the world. When we let our Saboteur or self-doubt rule our life, we react to life versus engaging in it in a way that brings us greater happiness. When you realize this, it’s actually really liberating if you are also able to ground yourself in your values and (ideally) your life purpose. Otherwise, it might feel a bit overwhelming and you might be tempted to just be busy. As an exercise, pay close attention to someone you believe is driving her life towards a clear focus and purpose, and then contrast that with someone who seems stuck in the “why me” or victimhood (all the blockers are external to her). What does the contrast between those people’s experience of life tell you about your own relationship with autonomy?
  • Impact – Why am I doing this, or why am I being this way, and what’s the impact on myself and others? Broadly speaking, what’s the longer term impact on my own legacy in life?  Taking a step back out of life to assess this is really liberating and often quite eye-opening. For people managers, helping your employee understand this is often a great way to express gratitude and teach leadership skills through reflection. 
  • Connection – Whatever you call it – love, friendship, or relationships, we are social creatures and need to have healthy, meaningful relationships in our life. If you were to focus on the quality and breadth of relationships in your life, what would you notice?  What if I had a magic wand and endowed you with super human clarity such that you were able to notice the wonderful aspects of everyone you met?  Have fun with it – envision the Instagram-like feature clarifying the  wonderful attributes of others, and the relationship you have with that person. What do you notice? How might you express gratitude to that person? What opportunities do you have to deepen and enrich that connection? Doing this regularly is like giving yourself a happiness pill. 
  • Growth – Growth is all about progress, and frankly we often chose to look at the glass as half full, or black-n-white. Often our Saboteur is loud and sneaky, trying to get us to believe that we’re not good enough for the job at hand. However, if we leverage gratitude practices such that we reflect on our journey, and chose to believe we’re exactly where we need to be, it allows us relax and enjoy the experience of life. For me, happily believing that I am a work in progress – along with everyone and everything  in life – allows a very vibrant connection to others and to my own journey. In other words, self awareness produces greater empathy for myself and others, which in turns impacts others to appreciate themselves and others more. 
I recently watched Authors@Google video featuring Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle. She focuses on what makes people happy, motivated, productive, and creative at work. She found that forward progress on something of meaning to you is the biggest source of happiness at work, and that people who are happy at work are much more likely to be creative and productive. 

I found this slide particularly interesting: progress is driven by the following factors. 
There are a lot of great ideas in this video. Now, just to cap off this post, I want to contrast this by a recent article on Microsoft and the retirement of CEO Steve Ballmer by a former employee who focuses on their stack ranking system. It essentially creates a system by which managers are punished for having great employees. 
I think it would be amazing if instead organizations got managers in a room to ask how “we” can bring maximum meaning, autonomy, impact, connections, impact, and progress to every employee or stakeholder.  That requires translating the implicit to the explicit at both an organizational, team, and employee level, but frankly I think that’s the job of a leader. Everything can fall into place when you allow the collective talent of a team to focus on the things that matter to the enterprise, and that resonate with each individual. That’s why I chuckle when I see leaders skip over the “soft” stuff and assume that the special feeling they enjoy with coworkers when they’re small will stay with them as they grow. Or that the special touch they apply with their customers will magically scale with growth. It’s not going to happen unless they focus their attention on clarifying and teaching and engaging others towards that shared vision.  In this way, I think the Instagram focus metaphor nicely captures the opportunity for all leaders. 
I am passionate about helping others achieve this in their lives and have made this a core feature of my practice.