1. Getting a sense of urgency

Getting a sense of urgency


So there I was overweight, out of work, sitting on my Mum’s sofa eating a lot of fast food and watching a lot of tv in the middle of the day. I didn’t like where I was, I really wanted to change. The problem was, every idea I came up with seemed too hard and too risky. It was much easier to reach for another chip. I was stuck this way for weeks. Even months.

And I might still be there now, except something happened to me one night that really knocked me off my perch. It’s going to happen to you too, because it happens once in every sports fans life.

For me, I was watching the All Blacks run out onto the field, when I had that moment, when I saw, for the first time that I was in fact older than any of the players on the field.

 It’s going to happen to you too – unless bowls is your sport and then you’ve got a bit longer. Now not that I ever wanted to be an All Black really … but I always thought that it was an option. Now for the first time I realised that unless I took some action… those opportunities were going to pass me by.

 I was thinking just like this guy.

From his point of view he thinks that sitting on his bum is the best that he can do. But what we can see that he can’t see is that he hasn’t got a sustainable position for the future, what he needs to do is to stand up and make some tough calls. Even though it might be a bit uncomfortable in the short term!

When it comes to encouraging someone to take action there are two broad approaches.

The first is to create a vision. Paint a picture of the future, of what you want to do and why and how great things will be. You should definitely do that, and later on I’ll be talking about it in detail.

The second approach is to get a sense of urgency – a sense of how bad things will be if you DON’T change. Unfortunately, humans being what we are, a sense of urgency is usually the more powerful motivator.

The study of the running students

Back in the early 1970s, when researchers could get away with ethically dubious psychological studies. there was some fascinating work done on the power of urgency.

Psychologists organised to have a group of students in a lecture hall. And one by one the students were told that they were needed in another part of the campus, and that they had to leave now.

What the students didn’t know was that their route had been designed to take them past a man lying on the ground clearly in distress and in need of help. And what the researchers were really trying to find out, were the factors that would encourage the students to stop and offer help.

What they discovered was the factor that led to the least assistance was urgency. If the students felt that they were under time pressure to get to where they had to go. They wouldn’t stop.

 What I didn’t mention is that the university was actually a seminary.

And those students? They were training priests.

And it didn’t matter that the lecture that they were leaving was on the parable of the good Samaritan – if they thought they were late, if they thought they were letting other people down, they would happily hurdle over the homeless person.

(Darley, J. M., and Batson, C.D., “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior”. JPSP, 1973, 27, 100-108.)

 That’s how powerful a force urgency is! And you create it in yourself by reflecting on how much worse things will be if you take no action. By coming to realise that while doing nothing feels ok now, it will becomes a terrible option over time.

The Dickens Exercise

In a book called ‘The Christmas Carol’ Charles Dickens had a nasty character called Ebenezer Scrooge be visited by a ghost who took him to see his future to see what would happen to him if he didn’t change his ways. Scrooge is so horrified that he starts to take action.

That’s the heart of this exercise. All you need to do is to imagine yourself two years in the future.

Imagine what your life is like if you DON’T take action on your challenge at all.

What difficulties are you STILL living with?

What opportunities will you have missed out on?

How much worse off will you be?

How will you feel about yourself?

And if you can answer those things and don’t feel a twinge, then try thinking about whats your competition is doing? What’s the market doing? How confident are you that if you don’t take any action that everything will be just fine?

So if you’re trying to encourage someone to jump into a swimming pool, you could tell them how good the water feels, and how much fun it will be. That might work. But if you need them to take action now – try shouting that their hair’s on fire.

 Marketers know this and that’s why you often see advertising copy – like ‘Buy now. Only 2 seats left’. The fear of missing out creates a sense of urgency that creates action. And they use it because it works, even when you know what they are doing. And it will work on you or your team too.

This blog is just about getting prepared for change, getting open to change. So far you haven’t actually done anything, and I don’t expect you to. You just need to be a little more energised to consider your doubts and fears that are stopping you from taking on your challenge. In the next blog we’ll talk about getting those worries out in the open, then NOT making a big mistake…


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Kevin Biggar

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