Archive for November 1st, 2010
Sadly, this feels all too familiar. I think it is an almost inevitable result of too many years of focus on process standardization, repeatability, optimization, and all those other things that make us so good at being efficient workers.
I have a friend who teaches drawing. She has taught both children and adults. She says that children are natural artists, and accurately (if at times messily) draw what they actually see until about age 8, when they begin drawing what they think they see (and produce stick figures).
When she teaches adults to draw, she helps them recover the ability to perceive edges, spaces, relationships, light and shadow, and to draw those things instead of the cup or chair or face or mountain that they think they see. It takes a few days of practice, but eventually they get it, and they begin to draw like the artists that they always were by nature. (I haven’t yet had the chance to take one of her classes, so I can’t verify that they work for everyone!)
I suspect there is a parallel here with creativity and innovation in general. We are all strongly socialized to NOT be innovative. We have somehow come to accept that being creative is hard and dangerous work, when perhaps all that is needed is a shift in perception.
What if the walls of the box within which we think are not so solid as we perceive them to be? What might we see if we focused on the lights and shadows surrounding us, rather than the planes and surfaces that seem to enclose us?
— Lori (Learning Architect at a Fortune 100 company)
In October of 2010, Paul Sullivan from Harvard Business School addressed the cadets at West Point. In the address, Sullivan delivered to these cadets what he discovered over years of research on studying people under pressure – what makes them successful and what causes them to collapse. Sullivan found that people who excel under pressure share these five characteristics:
- Focus. This allows you to block out everything that distracts from your goal. It is not to be confused with concentration. Focus is a laser beam; concentration is merely a flashlight.
- Discipline. This allows you to stay the course under pressure and is always an internal battle.
- Adaptability. Colonel Thomas Kolditz describes this as “fighting the fight, not fighting the plan”. In other words, don’t let your ego stop you from abandoning the wrong course of action.
- Being Present. This helps you respond to anything that comes your way. It also keeps you from thinking about a past failure or the expected glory if you succeed.
- Fear and Desire. These two emotions are axiomatic to military leaders. In business, the desire for success mixed with the fear of failure will keep you on track under pressure, particularly for entrepreneurs or leaders trying to take their division or company in a different direction.
Now, it’s one thing for a colonel who has commanded an 850-person battalion in combat to talk about navigating extreme situations; it’s a completely different thing for a 20-year-old cadet to grasp the concept of leading under pressure and have a sophisticated awareness of the pitfalls that trap those who fail.
Talking to some of the young men and women after the presentation, I realized that most of them have a better grasp on what being “clutch” means than many seasoned executives I’ve interviewed. This is good for the country, but not great for business.