stretch

You’re More Resourceful Than You Think

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You’re more resourceful than you think.

In my younger days, I was sent to work in Leeds in the UK by the global accounting firm I worked for. Coming from sunny Perth in Australia, it was quite the cultural and climate contrast! Never one to turn down an opportunity to explore a new environment, I set about learning as much as I could about this strange new land in the North of England.

To make it interesting, a mate and I hatched a plan. Every Friday after work, we’d take a backpack to the Leeds train station and jump on a random train, not knowing where it was heading to. Our goal was to have fate decide where we’d end up, and our challenge was to spend the weekend not paying for accommodation wherever we landed.

Over the weeks, fate took us to Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, York, Sheffield and a bunch of other less-heard-of places. Upon arriving, we’d head to a likely looking pub, and rely on our charm and Aussie accents to get to know a few of the locals, and hope that one thing would lead to another. Without fail, it did. We had some amazing experiences and made a whole heap of new friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with to this day.

Whenever I’ve told this story, I’ve noticed that many people respond by saying ‘I could never do that’. As the author, Richard Bach says “argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

You’re more resourceful than you think.

I reckon there are two types of resourcefulness. Planned resourcefulness, and discovered resourcefulness.

Planned resourcefulness is where you write the script beforehand. You create the itinerary, you know what’s going to happen and when. It’s the safer option, but there’s less potential for growth, and it ends up being kind of boring after a while.

Discovered resourcefulness is where you put yourself in unfamiliar situations and discover what you are capable of. It’s the scarier option, it requires initiative, and it shows you what you’re capable of, which is usually a lot more than you think.

In this day and age, scripts are useful but they’re not enough. We need less of the scripted-at-the-desk approach and more of the sculpted-on-the-fly approach. We need less tourists and more explorers. We’re increasingly faced with situations where the old way doesn’t work like it used to. When things get complex and keep evolving in front of our eyes, we need the ability to adapt in real time.

More than 2000 years ago, the Stoic writer Epictetus wrote “How laughable it is to say ‘tell me what to do’! What advice could I possibly give? No, a far better request is ‘train my mind to adapt to any circumstance’…in this way, if circumstances take you off script…you won’t be desperate for a new prompting.” In other words, a trained mind is better than any script.

To train your mind to be better prepared to go off script, here are a few tips:

  1. Decide on the thing you most want to happen.
  2. Strip it back to first principles.
  3. Take the first step.

Decide on the thing you most want to happen.

On our jaunts around the North of England, we decided that the thing we most wanted to happen was that we could come back and stay ‘well, that was an adventure!’ That guided our actions and put things in perspective for us. So, when you’re preparing to give that next big presentation, first ask “what do I most want to have happen as a result of this presentation?” For example, it might be that you want the audience to leave saying ‘that was really interesting and it got me thinking’.

Strip it back to first principles.

First principles are those concepts that you can easily remember and draw on time and time again. Whenever I teach a new skill, I aim to help people deeply understand the first principles rather than the tool or script that might go with it. For example, when I teach coaching to managers, I’ll help them understand the principle of ‘meet their people where they’re at’ if they want to have any chance of a successful conversation. When you rely on first principles rather than detailed scripts, there’s less to remember and more room to move.

Take the first step.

No change happens without action. The poet David Whyte suggests we focus on just taking the first step, not the second or the third. As a result, movement happens, and we’re on our way.

You’re more resourceful than you think. What can you do today to prove that to yourself?

 

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Be An Explorer, Not A Tourist

I was in Bali in June last year, chasing some much-needed sun in the midst of the dark New Zealand winter. I took a surfboard with me, of course. Like about one million other people who had the same idea that I did.

I’d never surfed in Bali before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When I arrived at the beach on that first day, the swell was up, and it looked pretty awesome. Except for one thing: there were around 100 other surfers in the water, spread across the break like ants that had discovered a honey-smothered piece of toast on the ground.

I sat on the beach, feeling heavy in my chest, wondering how I was going to have a good time out there. I’d almost resigned myself to paddling out and being surfer #101, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another sweet looking break about 400 metres down the beach. Except that this one had only two people on it. Curiosity piqued, I picked up my board, wandered as slyly as I could down the beach, and paddled out.

It was perfect. The three of us spent a couple of hours riding countless waves that we had all to ourselves, while just down the beach the hoards were all bunched together on top of each other, fighting for a spot in the lineup. We couldn’t believe it. We kept joking to each other “shhh, don’t talk too loud, they might see us!”

Afterward, I got to thinking that it’s all too easy to go with the herd. Especially when you find yourself in a new situation. You can think: “well, that’s what seems to be the go around here. These people must know what they’re doing, so I’ll do that too.”

It’s the Tourist mindset versus the Explorer mindset. The Tourist follows the crowd. The Explorer watches what the crowd is doing and then makes up their own mind about whether they want to follow the crowd or not. The Tourist’s agenda is to tick the box. The Explorer’s agenda is to discover. The Tourist’s main concern is to stay safe (“don’t get lost, Myrtle!”) while the Explorer’s main concern is to create an interesting experience.

We have both mindsets available to us all the time, of course. The tourist mindset is useful to help us scope things out. But if we want to forge new and better ways, it’s not enough.

I reckon our world has too many Tourists and not enough Explorers. It’s too easy to accept ‘what is’, even though ‘what is’ is clearly not working as well as it could be. Explorers find new ways, show them to others, and help other Tourists tap into their inner Explorer.

Where in your life are you being too much of a Tourist, when you could be more of an Explorer? What would happen if you chose to dial up your Explorer?

Here are three ways to tap your inner Explorer:

  1. Do one thing each day that scares you (thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt)
  2. Ask yourself “what’s the normal routine around here?” and do the opposite (e.g. if you usually have meetings where everyone sits down, make it a standing meeting. Call it an experiment).
  3. Hang out with other Explorers. They’re infectious.

Back to my surf session. Maybe there were rules that I didn’t know about. Maybe the first spot I went to was known as ‘the place’ to surf in the area, and that’s where the cool people go. Maybe the spot I ended up surfing at was full of taboos and stories about the bad things that will happen if you surf there. Who knows? What I know is that I had a great, memorable surf and I felt the better for it.

Sometimes you need to separate yourself from the herd.

 

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Photo: Digby Scott

 

 

 

 

 

How To Deal With A Humpback Whale

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Dodgems, taken to a new level…

 

I’ve recently returned from my annual windsurfing trip to Gnaraloo, in the North West of Western Australia. Eventful as always, this year provided something extra special…

I was sailing out to sea at high speed, about 500m from shore, and was looking for the next swell to ride back to the reef. It was a particularly windy day with a pretty big swell running, and my senses were heightened. I had already had some pretty amazing waves in the session so far, and was feeling “in the zone”.

And a good thing too. As I was flying along, right before my eyes, a huge humpback whale emerged from the depths. It was no more than 15 metres directly in front of me, and, travelling at speed, I had no time to think. My instincts kicked in and before I knew it, I had come to a complete stop, had turned my board around, and was sailing away in the other direction. Needless to say, my senses were racked up another few notches! The rest of the sailing session was one of the best I have ever experienced, and I was on a natural high for hours afterwards.

The interesting thing is that, at whale time, I didn’t stop and ponder my options. I just acted in a flash. No time for panic, or “what if?” – I just did what needed to be done.

This experience got me wondering – does too much thinking get in the way of us really living? How often do we act from instinct alone? And how often do we bypass our gut feeling and defer to the slower process of reason? And what are we missing out on by doing so?

Food for thought…

 

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How To Keep Your Learning Alive

You know and I know that training courses aren’t where we do most of our learning. But how deliberate are we about ‘doing our learning’ the rest of the time?

Yesterday I wrapped up a leadership development programme that I’d been running over the past six months. Inevitably, participants want to know “how do we keep our learning alive now that the formal programme has finished?”

So, we brainstormed a bunch of ideas. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Get a mentor: Find a mentor from outside of your day-to-day environment to provide you with perspective and guidance.
  2. Be a mentor: find someone who’s interested in learning about how you do what you do. You learn a lot by mentoring – it challenges you to unpack what you instinctively know, and think about it with fresh eyes.
  3. Get exposure to different people: Seek out people that think differently to you. They might be in-the-flesh, or maybe you’ll find them in magazines, podcasts, on TV. Don’t judge right or wrong, good or bad. Be curious as to how they see the world they way they do.
  4. Share what you’re learning: When you learn something new, the best way to embed it is to teach it. Find an audience, share your insights, ask for their perspectives too.
  5. Write: get a journal, write daily. This isn’t to share, it’s to help you get stuff out of your head and make better sense of it. Seeing your thinking helps you shift your thinking.
  6. Get a coach: different to a mentor, a coach provides you with thinking space to make sense of your world, understand yourself better, think through your choices and plan your next steps.
  7. Have a ‘Beginner’s Mind’ project: Find something where you’re a complete beginner, where you have no sense of how to do it. Here’s a great post on how to do that.
  8. Try doing things differently: Example: sick of the way your meetings are working? Find ways to mix it up. Rotate the chair. Stand up. Stay curious about what works, keep evolving.

Here’s the model I use to teach this stuff:

Ingredients of Learning

Action: when you do stuff, you create opportunities to ‘bump up against the world’. I find the best actions are the scary ones, the ones on the edge of your comfort zone. They invite and challenge you to do things differently. Trying new things, having a Beginner’s Mind project, sharing what you’re learning are all examples of ‘action’.

Connection: similarly, connection with other people provides great opportunity for growth. Mentors and coaches are very useful resources. And, my colleague Nick Petrie and I think the real ‘accelerant’ in this circle is to get some Colliding Perspectives – the people who challenge your view of the world and offer a different one to consider.

Insight: this is the practice of engaging with what’s in your head and making sense of it. It’s about stepping back from game, and noticing the mindset you’ve been playing with. Seeing your thinking that’s guiding your behaviour. Perhaps exploring the assumptions you’re holding, and how useful they are. Trying on some new assumptions for size. Working with a coach and using a journal are both powerful ways to step out of the game to some deeper insights.

Deliberately combine these in ways that work for you, and you will keep your learning alive.

 

P.S. My theme for the year is “Be curious, be connected, be courageous.” Can you see how those three things fit the model?

P.P.S. If you’re curious about more of the thinking and research behind this model, check out the CCL whitepaper ‘Vertical Development Part 2’ by Nick Petrie (with input from yours truly). I think this paper provides some very practical approaches to accelerating development both for individuals, and organisations.

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Spiral Leaves picture by Sulabyrinth as seen on pragmaticmom.com

 

 

Avoid The Flat Line

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What’s better: when good stuff happens to you, or bad? Mull on that for a bit as you read on.

I’ve just spent three days on an emotional rollercoaster. I was attending a workshop with Thought Leaders Business School to help me sharpen my thinking for how I run my business. Hugely beneficial. But not always fun. I reckon I experienced the full range of human emotions, from elation to anger, and everything in between.

Here’s a cross-section:

  • The morning of the first day (full of swagger): “yeah, I’m energised and engaged. This is good”.
  • Lunchtime on the second day: “this is doing my head in. I hate this. This is bad”.
  • The end of the last day: “I’m focused and calm. This is good.”

What’s interesting about this is not so much the range of emotions, but the judgement I was putting on them.

For instance, at lunchtime on the second day, I was like a fly in a jar, bouncing around trying to get rid of the frustration and anger I was feeling. I wanted to run away to somewhere that gave me back that ‘good’ feeling I had on the morning of the first day.

I’m glad I didn’t. Instead, I checked in with a mentor, who helped me to stand back and see that what I was experiencing was pretty much normal. I began to realise that my angst was a signal that I was at my learning edge. I was being challenged to examine some of my beliefs about what I was about. And a part of me didn’t want to do that. My mentor encouraged me to sit with the feeling, be curious, and let go of everything needing to be OK.

And of course, that made all the difference. If I didn’t stick with it, I doubt I’d have grown from the experience, or got to the focused and calm mindset I had on the third day.

Back to the initial question. A trick, of course. Loaded with judgemental words. Better, good, bad. It’s not about what’s better. It’s how you use the experience.

Our western culture has a meme, and it goes like this: move towards ‘good’, move away from ‘bad’. I say “No”. Life will throw you ups and downs. That’s what makes it interesting. Flat line = death.

Those highs and lows are where the opportunities lie to show what you’re about. How you use those experiences, how you grow from them, is what makes you, you.

Savour the peaks, embrace the troughs. And avoid the flat line at all costs.

 

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Do You Need Confidence, Or Courage?

 

Lately I’ve noticed a little trap that people can fall into. One they set themselves up for. Like so many barriers to our own success, it comes down to a choice of words.

That choice is between ‘confidence’ and ‘courage’.

Example: A client says she needs to build up the confidence to put a contentious issue on the table with her executive team. I ask her does she need confidence, or courage?

What’s the difference, you might ask? Surely we’re talking semantics? Let me suggest otherwise. (more…)

Are You A Heat-Seeking Leader?

I’ve just spent the past week meeting with a range of leaders to debrief their 360-degree feedback. They work for the same organisation, which is going through a sustained period of huge turbulence and change (sound familiar?) As the week unfolded, I noticed an interesting theme emerging: the leaders who were rated the most effective in this environment, by far, had similar patterns in their own backgrounds. More specifically:

  1. They’d experienced a significant degree of change and stretch in their own careers
  2. They’d made sense of their story and drawn strength and wisdom from it to apply in the situation they found themselves in now

Let’s break these points down a little more:

First, their career paths weren’t linear. Their backgrounds included multiple roles in different industries, often in different countries. While their career paths told a story of ongoing evolution, as most resumes do, there was something deeper at play. Their changes weren’t forced upon them – they created them themselves. There was something in their stories about the courage to break away from the norm and pursue some sort of calling, even though they knew it’d be difficult and scary. I’ve noticed that that’s been a pattern of mine in my own career. Taking the ‘road not taken’, as Robert Frost would say.

Road Less Travelled

 

Second, they were able to articulate what they’d learned from their experiences – they could tell their personal stories of change. Stories about learning to be confident and resilient in the face of the unknown, about learning to be compassionate with themselves and others, about discovering their where their real talents and passions lay. In short, stories of self-awareness and discovery. And, I suspect, because they’d integrated their experiences into their identity, they were able to more confidently lead themselves and others effectively in the testing time they found themselves in now.

I observed a certain ‘unflappableness’ about them – not detachment; on the contrary, they were purposeful and passionate about making a difference – but more that they were like the person who steers the whitewater raft – there’s craziness all around them, but they’ve been similar situations before, and have a deep confidence in their ability to navigate the volatility. My guess is that you’ll agree that our organisations could do with more of this ability in this in our VUCA world.

These people are what I’d call ‘heat-seeking’ leaders – they’ve learned that discomfort and challenge is good for their own growth, and they seek it out rather than avoid it. And it’s something that you can do too, starting today.

If you think you could do with a bit more confidence about how you lead yourself, and others, through the turbulence you’re experiencing, try these ideas out:

  1. Remind yourself that you’ve experienced change all your life. Tap into your pivotal experiences – what have they taught you that you can draw on now? I’ve written specifically about learning to tell your story here – use the tools to help you.
  2. Get back in touch with your own purpose or calling. What it is that drives you forward each day, how do you want to make a difference? Listen out for the clues. Write them down. Use these tools to help you.
  3. Cultivate the habit of taking the first step, the one you don’t want to take, into the challenge you face today. Don’t plan it all out. Just step forward. David Whyte’s wonderful poem ‘Start Close In’ gives wise words here.

I’m left with questions about how our organisations could attract and develop more deliberately heat-seeking people, and cultivate a culture that includes that heat-seeking aspect. What would it be like it that was the norm? What would it take? Questions for another post, I think.

For now, let’s keep it focused on what you might do differently for yourself, as all change starts here. And let’s let Robert Frost give us the final words:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—  

I took the one less traveled by,   

And that has made all the difference.   

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