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An interesting phenomena I’ve noticed with the human race is when someone takes a “road less traveled”, or makes a significant change, we have the wonderful tendency of doing two things:

  1. ridiculing them and pointing out how crazy, unusual and stupid these actions are because they are different; and/or
  2. once we see the possible benefits of this unusual behavior, point out how it was somehow “easier” for that person to take these risks than us.

I jest and exaggerate a tinch, a smidge if you will, but I want us to consider our definition of risk, our approach to risk, and what we consider “risky”. I want to challenge our definition of “safer”. We often hold back on making a change until there is catastrophic event that forces us to do something. We’re then forced into a reactive mode, which takes away our power. We’re never guaranteed success, but reevaluating how we define success and failure can be so empowering.

“Most success springs from an obstacle or failure. I became a cartoonist largely because I failed in my goal of becoming a successful executive.”
– Scott Adams, Creator of “Dilbert”

Thanks for being here, let’s consider a few things on risk.
Truly…Cynthia

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows no victory nor defeat.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

“Courage isn’t the absence of fear,
it is wetting your pants and doing it anyway.”

 

Risk (defined by Webster’s dictionary 1. the possibility of suffering harm or loss; danger 2. a factor, element or course involving uncertain danger; hazard.

We often operate under the assumption that an action is risky when we’re taking some action. Most often, we consider “safe” actions, playing it safe, taking the safe route, the true and tried route, as those that involves not making a change, doing what’s always been done, doing what everyone else is doing, when you know the outcome. We make these assumptions and use these assumptions to guide our actions and decisions. I think these assumptions are costly.

We’ve gotten almost arrogant in our risk analysis by making the assumption that what you’re currently doing = the safest, smartest thing to be doing. We keep this as a working assumption often until we’re met with some catastrophic event to throw us headfirst into the realization that something needs to change. Same = right and safe until proven horribly not. So much is lost in approaching things that way (jobs, relationships, customers, lives, health). When forced to change, we’re thrown into a reactive mode where a fraction of our true strength and ability is used, and our focus is on survival rather than thriving.

What I challenge you to consider, is that we’d be wonderfully well served to concentrate and hone our talents at evaluating the consequences of NOT taking an action, making a change or going outside the norm. Just because no action has been taken and no decision has been made doesn’t = no risk!

“If you choose not to decide,
you still have made a choice.”

– Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart of Rush

I remember when a friend, ok…relative, ok…you beat it out of me, my brother, Paul, had worked hard and landed a great, “safe” corporate job at Bell Labs, but wanted to make a change. Actually he wanted to go to Squaw Valley for a few months to bartend and ski and then get a job out West. Many “helpful types” immediately went to work helping him “evaluate the huge risk” of his actions, which, as we do, was defined by pointing out all the things that were wrong with this move and what could happen (you’ll never get another job as great as this, you won’t be able to pay your bills, no one will hire someone that took time off, etc.). What wasn’t considered in the “risk analysis” was the price of not making the move of staying the same (not learning new skills, quality of life, breadth of experience with different companies, etc.).

Again it’s assumed if we’re somewhere and it’s not horribly broken, it’s working. Paul has since worked for Microsoft (this little company that has potential), Adobe, firms in Manhattan, climbed mountains in the West, ran the New York Marathon (the list goes on, I’m biased, I brag). Things he very well wouldn’t have done without making the difficult decision.

“Always listen to experts.
They’ll tell you what can’t be done and why.
Then do it.”

– Robert Heinlein, Writer

The point is…yes, any risk needs to be evaluated, planned for, and thought out. But we also need to redefine what we consider risky and also factor in the consequences of doing nothing, getting locked in sameness. We often concentrate on what could happen, why things may not work and what the possible consequences are of taking a certain action. We’re masters at it. How often do we single out those who haven’t made a move those who stay the same, those who follow the norm with the same scrutiny?

Another great, high-stakes example of where the true risk would have been if the “standard” approach had been taken, involved Lockheed Martin, highlighted in Fast Company’s May edition years ago, High Stakes, Big Bets. To quote the article, “Tom Burbage and his 500-person team at Lockheed Martin went after the biggest military deal in U.S. history — and scored a $200 billion victory: a contract to build the Joint Strike Fighter. They didn’t play it safe…they played to win!

Lockeed, in the project of a lifetime took huge risks, such as partnering with the “enemy”, designing their plane—not based on the input from the ones with the biggest pocketbook—but the biggest passion, among others. Again, many said they were crazy because of how it couldn’t work out. But look at how it did…$200 BILLION dollars isn’t exactly chump change! How much would it have been scrutinized if they had taken the “traditional” path? And what would the risks really have been there?

“Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make yourself a happier and more productive person.”
– Dr. David M. Burns

Where do we go from here? Am I saying sameness is bad and doing things the way things have been done before is bad? NO siree boboreno!! Awareness in our approach is a huge first step. Be aware of the potential tragedy (yes, tragedy), of staying the same for the sake of it without analyzing the risk of doing so until forced to reevaluate. Anytime we’re in a situation because we’re forced to be we are at our weakest, most vulnerable and least powerful.

– Cynthia Ronan, TAP

“I’ve been happy lately thinking about the good things to come,
and I believe it could be, something good has begun.”

– Cat Stevens, Peace Train

“Need to be in control? Let go of it. Control is an illusion.
The more you seek it, the more it will evade you.”

– James Autry and Stephen Mitchell, Real Power

I recently spoke with someone about coaching. She made a great analogy between coaching and her former role as a midwife. Both are experts in the facilitation of a process. The midwife, as does a coach, listens, pays attention, is there with the client, uses their expertise to help get rid of blocks, determine what is needed to let the natural strength of the client come through and produce wonders! She made a comment about the birthing process that struck me as relevant to the theme for the newsletter and the “renewal” of this season (and yes, it’s relevant to all of you).

She said the birthing process is so amazing and profound because it is when a woman is at her most vulnerable and has to totally surrender and “give in”. It is also when she is at her most powerful and full of strength. It struck me that this former midwife had put into words another law life tries to teach us that applies to many situations we find ourselves in as managers of our employees, our work, our time, our lives. No matter what we’re trying to “produce” the concept is the same. We must “let go,” surrender to truly TAP into our strength and get the most amazing results.

In our logical/business minds these two states are mutually exclusive – totally surrendering, being most vulnerable and being most powerful and full of strength. It seems contrary to what we’re constantly reinforced for. Ever notice the Olympic skaters are often flawless when doing their exhibition skate after the competition? Typically, the more important something is, the more it means = the more control we need, the tighter we need to hang on, the more rigid we are. And it often results in a literal or figurative fall on our butts.

When we tighten up, get more rigid and inflexible, we dilute what we’re truly capable of. Our desire to do well and to have control and focus on a certain, specific result causes the very thing we’re trying to avoid (see last month’s topic on Have Vision, Horsepower Will Follow).

I swam in high school. I wanted to break the school record. I really worked it in practice and felt like I was swimming as I never had, muscles sorer then ever, tried as hard as I could, to no avail. It was so frustrating. “Why try?” I thought, “I’m working so hard and nothing.” Then a shift happened, (the eye of the tiger type thing, oh yeah, I had it) I finally relaxed on breaking the record. I surrendered, I actually physically felt it, and the next race felt like I was in practice, it felt like a warm down. I noticed the feeling of the water, just going with it and had fun. And just for the heck of it looked up at the clock after the race and was blown away to see I had broken the record! I had mentally and physically let go of the “control,” which actually opened me up for better performance.

“In striving for continuous improvement and higher productivity, you can push so hard for “more, bigger, faster” that you diminish your people and impede the results you most desire.”
– James Autry and Stephen Mitchell, Real Power

There’s a difference between surrendering and not trying, to being vulnerable and getting walked on. It’s about honing the skills, continuously learning, being as prepared as you can, working as hard as you can, while at the same time relaxing, being “in the zone,” being open and flexible…whatever you want to call it.

It’s about really listening, really knowing who you are, having a clear vision, knowing what’s important and trusting your gut. Yes, even in business a large part of success is preparedness and faith, knowledge and trusting your gut, the knowing what you control and what you don’t and taking advantage of both (not overcoming one). It’s about balance. It’s realizing that the strength isn’t in having all the answers but being open to them when they present themselves.

“Come to the edge,
no, we will fall,
come to the edge,
no, we will fall,
they came to the edge,
he pushed them,
and they flew.”

– Unknown

Disclaimer (hey if they need on in windshield shades, I need one here): This is a symbolic message, not a literal one telling you to go to the edge of something so someone can push you. I believe you can fly symbolically, but am in no way endorsing your ability to actually fly off the edge of anything!

 

“When you feel in your gut what you are and then dynamically pursue it – don’t back down and don’t give up – then you’re going to mystify a lot of folks.” – Bob Dylan

Years ago after having done lots of research, comparison and deciding on a new car, I also got the benefit of taking part in the promotion they were running for a day of professional driving school run by very handsome race-car drivers from all over the world.

One of the most powerful things for me about that day, aside from the wonderful racecar driver accents, was a point the lead trainer drove home (excuse the pun) throughout the morning. He discussed defensive maneuvers (code for when driving down the road and a semi skids into your lane) and the importance breaking, steering, how to take a corner, and positioning play. He said, repeatedly, “If you hear and learn only one thing today I want it to be this; no matter how you’re steering and breaking I want you to be aware of where you are looking. WHERE YOU LOOK IS WHERE YOU WILL GO.

“If you look over to the left on the side of the road around the semi, that is where your skills, instincts and actions will take you. That is where you NEED to look. If you look straight into the grille of the oncoming truck, that is where you will take yourself. I can promise you this.”

We often underestimate the power of a vision. We give it lots of lip service. The point the Aussie driver made reminded me literally and figuratively what can happen when our visions aren’t clear or when they take a back seat to our daily actions and results that we get tied up in. It’s so easy to cross the line and get caught up in focusing solely on specific results and actions, intended as tools to support your vision, and lose that vision in the process. Results, systems and actions are the means to the end that end being your vision, what is most important. And developing a vision isn’t a one-time thing. It’s not a 4-hour session to decide which would sound best on a card or web site. It’s a dynamic, vital component that should drive your choices, decisions and actions.

Another thing that sidetracks our success is focusing on what we don’t want to happen instead of what we do want to happen. We create what we fear or don’t want by focusing on it. Where you look is where you will go. It’s a powerful phenomenon (be bee de bee dep – sorry Benny Hill was channeling).

“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is
too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”

– Michelangelo

Of course we need to take action to see results and get closer to our vision. What we often underestimate is the power of attraction in achieving those results when our vision is clear. Once we have clarity of vision, solutions, results, systems, people, solutions we hadn’t considered present themselves with less effort and more bang for the buck.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
– Unknown

Remember (and try to hear this in a great Australian accent) where you look is WHERE YOU WILL GO. Where are you looking????? If you have a clear vision and all the horsepower, skills, energy, momentum,…instincts will follow. Look at the grille of the oncoming truck and the same will happen. Where do you want your energy projecting you?

For a few points to keep in mind thoughts on what keeps us from our vision and coaching questions…continue here.

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your thoughts…
• What is your vision?
• What activities support your vision?
• When is it hard to keep the vision in focus?
• What activities do you feel probably don’t support your vision?

“I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
– source unknown

Come, take a virtual mind stroll with me if you will (watch your step). A local eating establishment was the catalyst of the “epiphany” for today’s topic (good word – feel free to look it up (www.dictionary.com). I like the ½ soup and salad deal at this eatery. I fancy the ½ turkey bravo, but on swirled rye, and I like the low-fat turkey noodle soup (for taste more then my girlish figure). Stick with me it’s relevant! (Oh yeah, and I also order a cold bottle of root beer!)

Of course, I would never go in craving the above yummy meal combo and say, “Give me lunch!” and expect to get satisfaction…to get just what I want, just the way I want it for obvious reasons.

How often, however, do we figuratively say, “Give me lunch!” (under the guise of “Increase productivity, give me a summary, you need to communicate better, be more customer oriented, put together a report…”) and are amazed, disappointed, frustrated, mad… (not to mention behind schedule, increased defects, lost time, quality and satisfaction…) when we don’t get JUST what we had in mind.

It’s amazing the attention to detail we give our $7 food orders that we forget, underestimate or don’t know how to give in our daily communications when we have productivity, sales, relationships, happiness and health on the line. For some reason the concept that the person behind the counter has no idea just what you want unless you clearly and specifically articulate it, and the ramifications of not, are much easier to grasp than the fact that the same holds true for our employees, coworkers, family members, etc.

Give it some thought. Next time you are communicating with someone stop and ask yourself (hypothetically) first – do you know EXACTLY what you want for lunch? If so, are you asking for it clearly? (Have you gotten that this isn’t really about food?)

What now you ask? Consider the following:
• First, is it clear to YOU what you want? What do you want more (less of, differently)? I mean specifically (more customers? How many more, what kind, why?).
• How will you know exactly when you get “it”, how will others know?
• Do you know or have you put thought into (no, more thought then that) who exactly can help you get it?
• Have you written your thoughts down?
• Have you specifically and directly ASKED for it?
• Have you ASKED the person if it’s clear?
• Have you gotten other’s input or involvement? No one gets more points for doing it on their own just for doing it.

Why don’t we always clearly ask for these things?
• We often feel it’s a sign of strength and independence to complete things totally on our own. I’m guilty as charged, but I truly believe the greatest leaders and most successful people are those who know who their best resources are and tap into them!

In writing this newsletter, this very topic came up with my coach. Something that was surprisingly clear is we often hide behind subtle, less direct requests, for fear of “totally putting it out there” and the vulnerability of being very direct and declaring what is most important to us. The funny thing is in being less direct, we create what we fear.

• We assume people know what we know and think in the same way we do. Not everyone is always as continually brilliant and perceptive as you, it’s a tough job!

• We don’t always know exactly what we want.

• We like when things are difficult and frustrating? NOOO, I firmly believe the strongest motivator in any situation is to be heard and understood,, its so important but we’re not always perfect at it.

• Our advanced form of communication is supposedly what sets us apart as the most advanced form of life (which is still under debate), so it’s NOT easy! It takes commitment and practice.

• We fear asking for it and:
– Not getting it, feeling personally rejected, or
– Getting it, but then what?

Here are some last minute tips:
• We often don’t realize we’re being vague – it really helps to ask others for input and focus on which result is most important.

• When in doubt simplify your request, not because the other person is stupid (although that can’t be totally ruled out!) but because da da daaaaah not everyone thinks the same at the same time.

• Be as specific as you can, as simply as you can. (I already said it wasn’t easy!)

• Know how you’ll know when you’re there? If you aren’t sure exactly when you’ll be satisfied, chances are others are even less clear how to help you.

• Use examples or stories, (like very witty lunch stories).

• Pay attention to all cues, lots are non verbal,, if their eyes are crossed pay attention (they may not understand)

• Ask if they get it. Ask if it’s clear!! HOW SIMPLE and POWERFUL!!! Admit you aren’t always clear (GASP, a little honesty can go a really really wonderfully looooong way).

Remember, this takes focus and practice like any other skill, so go easy on yourself!

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