In High school English, our teacher had us read dozens of Indian Animal Parables. You have probably heard the one about the blind men and the elephant. That’s a classic. There is another one I’ve always remembered that was more meaningful to me. It goes:
A man was walking in the wilderness and realized he was being stalked by a tiger. He was near a cliff with a vine hanging down to the ground, so he starting climbing down the vine, knowing the tiger could not follow. He was about halfway down with the tiger staring at him hungrily when a lion at the bottom of the cliff noticed him. The man was trapped dangling on the vine, a lion below and a tiger above. Two mice, one black and one white, started to crew through the vine above him. There was nothing else for him to hang onto. It was then that he noticed a strawberry plant growing on the cliff with one ripe strawberry on it. The man picked it and ate it and it was sweet.
Yes. That is the end of the parable. We leave the man hanging from a cliff over a lion with strawberry juice dripping down his chin. I always assumed he died shortly after the story ends but that isn’t the point of the parable. The man, even in the midst of a calamity not of his own making took the time to stop and enjoy that which was sweet. The strawberry was probably even sweeter to him knowing the doom that awaited him. While we may not find ourselves dangling from a vine with two predatory cats looking to make a meal out of us, at least not twice, we all find ourselves obligated to times and places we don’t want to be and doing things we don’t want to do. We should pull as much joy, learning and growth from those situations as we can.
I told this parable to my class the other day. My course (marketing foundations) is a required course and the majority of students aren’t marketing majors. If it were up to them, they wouldn’t take ANY marketing classes. Unfortunately for them, it is required. While I try to make it as interesting and valuable for them, I encourage them to taste the strawberry while they are there.
Does this sound familiar? You are working on a project, music is playing. You make it a few minutes but social media chimes that a “friend” has posted something. You check it out. More than a few minutes later you get back to work. Before you accomplish too much, someone texts or IMs you. Your day continues with this constant interruption and it is finally to come home. On the drive home, you listen to an audible book, which is interrupted several times as you are texting to firm up your dinner plans….using appropriate hands free technology, of course. Eventually you get to exercise, popping in another audible book or watching TV the whole time.
I’m not criticizing. I understand completely. I counted my interruptions the other day. Just in my regular job, I averaged 150 incoming email a day. I also had 80 outgoing emails, thirty IM conversations, 15 texts and ten phone calls. This didn’t count the meetings I was in, the hallway conversations or anything related to my personal life. I was distracted.
Distractions can be a addictive. Every little ding, beep or post releases a little dopamine. Sitting quietly alone with your thought can becomes an odd feeling, like accidentally meeting a childhood friend you’ve lost contact with.
Turn off some of your notices. Cancel some of your email subscriptions. Let some texts sit unanswered. Turn off all electronics for a few minutes a day and just be alone with your thoughts. There are great things happening in your head. Be quiet and present once in a while to hear what your mind has to say.
What is your destination? Do you know? Are you letting the the route dominate your mind and forgetting what’s really important. And I’m talking metaphorically.
I’m a planner normally. Well by comparison to my wife, I fly by the seat of my pants but by most standards I’m a bit obsessive with plans. When my wife and I vacation, we know where we are going to stay and have the hotels booked in advanced. We know the things we want to see and I’ll have their websites, locations and hours tucked away in my files. We have a pretty good idea of where we will eat by meal. Once we start the vacation, many of our plans go out the window as we adapt to the flow of the vacation. Winston Churchill once said that, “Plans are of little importance but planning is essential.” Whenever you need a good quote either Churchill or Mark Twain typically come through.
Why am I telling you about our vacation planning? Sometimes having a plan can be detrimental to achieving you goal. Sometimes you keeping working the plan even though the situation has changed. In our vacation planning, our goal isn’t to get to the top of the Washington Monument. It is to enjoy ourselves, to bond with the kids and to taking a break from our normal stressors. Making it to the top of the Washington Monument is an exciting thing but with the kids would rather just play in the pool, that may be a better path to our destination.
I’m reading, “Take off your shoes” by Ben Feder. He is telling a story of taking a sabbatical from a high power executive career. The main purpose is to reestablish family relationships and connections. On their way to their destination, Bali, they took a two week safari in Africa. Ben talks about getting anxious that the safari is delaying his family from their destination. He was getting fixated on his path, not his true goal. Bounding with his family could be done in Africa as easily as Bali.
The lesson is to not let you plans and planning to get in the way of your goals. Focus on what is important to you. Situations change and so must your plans.
Too frequently, we get stuck in a small thinking just because that is where our idea started. An entrepreneur may review is P&L and realize he’s spending too much on hotels when he travels, so asks the question, “how can I pay less for my hotel stays?” That is a fair question but is it big enough. Instead the entrepreneur could ask, “how can I reduce my travel expenses?” The difference in the two questions may not seem like much but they can lead to very different answers. In the first case, then entrepreneur may try to negotiate better pricing or travel on cheaper days. In the larger question, the entrepreneur may question is some trips could be replaced with Skype calls or trips could be combined.
On a personal level, someone trying to get into shape may ask, “how can I make my workouts more intense?” A bigger question might be, “how can I adopt an active lifestyle?”
When you discover an obstacle or opportunity, pause for a few minutes and ask yourself, “can I ask a bigger question?”
The process of intentional change is a simple four step process. First, you explore where you are. Second, you decide where you want to go. Third, you determine strategies and habits that lead you to your destination. Fourth, you implement.
It really is that simple. On paper. In real life there are obstacles, habits and fears. There are prices to be paid and sacrifices to be made. In real life, intentional change is not so easy.
There is an additional step, a prequel step, to take before making intentional change that will help make the rest of the steps easier: destruction.
You must first destroy those things that are holding you in place. Our lives are constructed to maintain the status quo; where we are. Our habits, our relationships and our schedules all reinforce maintaining what we currently do. To make intentional change, we need to destroy some of these bonds that hold us.
I’m reading “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb. It is too early in the book for me to be able to recommend it but I do enjoy her initial philosophy, namely relying on research and science. While the book title makes it seem like it is about making any day a “good day,” it does seem to be focused more on business professionals and how to have a good day at work.
One thing that jumped out at me early on is her discussion of the discover-defend axis. Basically, this is a manifestation of a primitive part of our brains. We are either in discover mode or defend mode. Discover mode is when we our brains are looking for opportunities for reward. Defend mode is the classic fight-flight-freeze response. Generally speaking, when we are afraid, our brains stop looking for opportunities. Instead it looks for safety.
How does this relate to having a good day? When workers are afraid and are in the corporate version of fight-flight-freeze, they become less creative and unwilling to take risks…….even risks as small as speaking up in a meeting. I can see this in my own work. When there is one or two senior people in a meeting who are intimidating or have a tendency to forcefully challenge other workers, many people in the meeting go into fight-flight-free mentality. People are less likely to explore creative ideas. Solutions become “safer” but not better. People are less likely to point out holes in the plan for fear of being singled out.
So how to turn this information into a “good day” and to make your company more creative and efficient? Carefully choose when to challenge people and when to be supportive. The goal for some meetings, especially early in a project, benefit from risk taking and creative output. For these meetings, don’t let the tone become intimidating or challenging.
I was rereading Zig Ziglar’s Selling 101 on a beautiful but cold Sunday afternoon. If you are in sales or marketing it should be required reading. If you are in any roll where you must influence others (teaching, healthcare, hospitality, parenting), you really should read it as well.
It in first two pages good ole Zig gives a great story. He tells of how Aristotle theorized that two objects of the same material but different sizes would fall at different speeds. Centuries later at the University of Pisa, Galileo proved this theory wrong by dropping two different sized objects off the Leaning Tower of Pisa and they hit the ground at the same time. Even with this obvious proof, the University of Pisa still taught Aristotle ‘s incorrect theory. Why? Because Galileo convinced the University but didn’t persuade them.
What’s the difference? Convincing someone consists of telling or showing them something. Persuading someone consists of asking them questions and letting them figure it out for themselves.
How could have Galileo persuaded the University years ago? He could have asked the students to come up with ways to test the theory themselves.
Why did I talking about a “sales” book on a blog about coaching and personal/ professional growth? Asking a question!!! Because coaching is largely asking my clients questions and then holding up a mirror so they can see their answers. You don’t necessarily need a coach to do that for you. Ask yourself hard questions about who you are and who you want to be.