Adapt: what got you to where you are might not get you to where you need to be


If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less. – General Shinseki

On August 5, 1949, 15 young smokejumpers parachuted into a gulch along the Missouri River in Montana to fight a wildfire. Unexpected high winds caused the fire to suddenly expand, cutting off the men’s route and forcing them back uphill. During the next few minutes, a “blow-up” of the fire covered 3,000 acres in ten minutes. The men panicked and ran up a 76 percent grade trying to make it to the other side of the crest. Twelve of the men died 56 minutes after they landed.

There are two things the firefighters could have done differently that would have, most likely, saved their lives. But these two things were contrary to all that they had been taught and they just couldn’t make the change.

Because the men were, literally, running for their lives, foreman Wagner Dodge ordered them to drop their backpacks and heavy fire-fighting equipment (pulaskis, shovels, and crosscut saws). To his amazement, many of the men refused his order; to them, their tools were essential to their safety and success. But at this point in the event, their tools were useless and the extra weight simply slowed them down.

Dodge quickly surmised that they would not be able to outrun the fire, so he did something that had never been done before. He invented, on the spot, what would later be called an escape fire. He took out his matches and set fire to the ground-cover where they were. After it burned, he lay down on the charred remains and told his men to do the same. Again, his men refused to follow suit—why would someone start a fire in the face of an inferno? Squad leader William Hellman said, “To hell with that, I’m getting out of here.” The rest of the team raced on past Dodge up the side of the slope, and all died. Dodge survived because when the wall of fire swept over his position there was no fuel for the fire so it went around him.

Sometimes what got you to where you are might not get you to where you need to be.

Here are two examples of how flexibility and a willingness to change saved two companies.

  • Although it is one of the best-known electronics brands in the world today, Samsung began in 1938 as a company selling dried fish in South Korea. Stockholders are happy they made the change.
  • When Nokia started in 1865, it was a wood pulp mill. Later, they made rubber boots. By 1998, Nokia had become the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturer, a position it held until 2012. With the popularity of the iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy, I hope Nokia is looking for their next major change.

Take an inventory of your life and practices. Are you tenaciously clinging to dried fish, rubber boots, or pulaskis? Are your approaches no longer effective?

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Learn from successes and failures

successExperience is not the best teacher; evaluated experience is.—John Maxwell

Learn from your successes.

Do we learn more from studying failures or successes? Obviously, we learn from both, but often we analyze our failures and merely celebrate our successes. But the most valuable lessons may come from studying our successes. Here’s why.

You cannot infer success by studying failure and then inverting it. Of all the different ways to perform a certain task, most of them are wrong. Failure reveals what does not work, but it will not tell what does work. That’s why you cannot learn much by studying failure.

Carefully analyze successes because it is often difficult to determine exactly why something was successful; a cause and effect relationship is hard to establish. For instance, was the workshop you sponsored well-attended because of the topic, the speakers, or because it was held in the Caribbean? When you succeed, create hypotheses about why it may have happened and test them to confirm accurate correlations.

Also, carefully reflect on your early successes because they may mislead you. Po Bronson says, “Failure is hard but success can be far more dangerous. If you’re successful in the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.”

Learn from your failures.

View failures and mistakes as both unavoidable and acceptable. Management consultants Pfeffer and Sutton say, “Setbacks and mistakes should be viewed as an inevitable, even desirable, part of being action oriented. The only true failure is to stop trying new things and to stop learning from the last effort to turn knowledge into action.”

If we are afraid of failure, we will never move beyond our safe zone; we will never leave sight of the shoreline for the vast ocean. Instead of thinking, “failure is not an option,” think “failure is an option, and there’s a good probability that it will happen.”

When you fail, look for causes, not excuses. Analyze what happened, identify causes, learn, and adjust.

Although failure is a natural byproduct of living an aggressive life, never be cavalier about failure and don’t romanticize it. Failure is not acceptable if it is the result of slothfulness, poor planning, or poor execution.

Are you failing enough?

In 1952, Drs. Watson and Crick discovered DNA. Dr. Watson calmly proclaimed, “I have discovered the source of life.” Their findings were published in an 874-word paper. Years later, Dr. Crick acknowledged that some of his postulations were off-beat and speculative. “But,” he told the Associated Press in 1994, “a man who is right every time is not likely to do very much.”

Picasso used up no less than eight notebooks just for preliminary sketches of his revolutionary painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, before he was satisfied.

Thomas Edison, when commenting on his experiments to invent the light bulb, said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

Don’t miss out on what you can learn from successes and failures.

Question: What are thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


smile4.001A man without a smiling face must not open a shop. —Chinese proverb

About every two years I reread Dale Carnegie’s terrific book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Though written 90 years ago (1926), it is so rooted in basic human psychology, it still speaks to our modern age.

He taught seminars based on the book to large audiences in New York City.

Carnegie devoted an entire chapter—titled, A Simple Way to Make a Good First Impression— to the topic of smiling. When he taught this chapter at his seminars, he gave his students a simple assignment: Smile at someone every hour of the day for the next week and then come back to class and talk about the results. The positive results of this simple exercise were profound. His students learned that a smile is one of the most potent people skills and that it can dramatically improve human relationships.

Richard Wiseman, in his book Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things, said, “People smile when they feel happy. However, evidence suggests that the mechanism works in reverse; that is, people feel happy simply because they have smiled.” He refers to a 1988 research project conducted by Fritz Strack in which participants in one group were asked to hold a pencil between their teeth, but to ensure that it did not touch their lips which forced the lower part of their faces into a smile. Another group was asked to support the end of the pencil with just their lips, not their teeth, which forced their faces into a frown. The results revealed that people actually experience the emotion associated with their expressions. Those who had their faces forced into a smile felt happier (page 205).

Carnegie concluded his chapter on the power of a smile with these words:

The Value of a Smile

  • It costs nothing, but creates much.
  • It enriches those who receive, without impoverishing those who give.
  • It happens in a flash and the memory of it sometimes lasts forever.
  • None are so rich they can get along without it, and none so poor but are richer for its benefits.
  • It creates happiness in the home, fosters good will in a business, and is the countersign of friends.
  • It is rest to the weary, daylight to the discouraged, sunshine to the sad, and Nature’s best antidote for trouble.
  • Yet it cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, or stolen, for it is something that is no earthly good to anybody till it is given away.

Let’s accept the same assignment Dale Carnegie challenged his students with: Smile at someone every hour of the day for the next week and then come back to class and talk about the results. Or, in our case, respond to this blog post.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Distinguish between maintenance and strategic actions and do both

tactical work.jpgPlace all activity into one of two categories: maintenance or strategic.

Maintenance activities are necessary, but they don’t take you beyond your status quo. Maintenance work includes mundane actions like taking a bath, doing your laundry, changing the oil in your car, and cooking meals. Some maintenance functions are more critical—going to work, dealing with medical issues—but they are still focused on preserving the existing state. Neglect them and things begin to break down. But if maintenance activities (also known as custodial activities) are all you ever do, you’ll not advance in life; you’ll exist but not thrive.

Strategic initiatives move you into a better space. They depart from the norm, promote growth, and open new doors.

For instance, one of my strategic goals in 2016 is to make 50 new friends. I will have a one-on-one meeting (perhaps over breakfast, lunch, or a cup of coffee) with these new acquaintances and then follow up with another personal visit, or I might get a group of my new friends together to visit about interesting topics.

Another strategic initiative I’m pursuing is to improve my short-term memory. I want to be able to read a telephone number once and remember it, or hear a phrase or quote and memorize it immediately.

These types of activities will help me become a better person, not just maintain my current state.

Most of us spend 70-80% of our time on routine, custodial tasks, and that’s okay, even necessary. But with the remaining time, let’s break new ground, try something different, and extend our boundaries.

Once maintenance issues become systematized you don’t have to think a lot about them. But strategic actions take initiative and thoughtful planning. Do both.

Question: What are your thoughts about this topic? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What? – There is a difference between maintenance and strategic actions. Do both.
So what? – Maintenance activities only perpetuate the status quo; strategic actions are needed for growth.
Now what? – Craft and adopt at least two new strategic initiatives that you will work on in the next 12 months.

Click here for more information on how your organization will benefit from strategic initiatives.