Great to meet you all on Friday in Hamilton - I hope you enjoy these summaries and extra resources!
Here's a Summary
Here's the key points from my presentation without the waffle. To download click on the button below.
Here are some additional notes
The notes below expand or repeat some of the main points that I made.
- Step 1. Creating a sense of urgency
- Step 2. Getting emotionally engaged
- Step 3. Dealing with my concerns
1. Face the Flinch
In this section I talked about dealing with the sense of overwhelm and dread that you can face when you get set, or try and set yourself a big challenge.
You will recall that I started my story talking about a 'slump' or 'quarter life crisis' that I went through. I was unhappy with where I was at and trying to figure what I should do next in life. The problem was that I had this really unhelpful attitude. Whenever I came up with an idea to change my situation or go a different direction I would focus only on what was hard and risky about the plan and so would veto any move forward. This went on for months.
The first step to getting out of it, was ...
Step 1. Creating a sense of urgency
In Harvard professor John Kotter's classic 'Leading Change' - , he sets out his 8 step framework for implementing change in organisations. The very first of which is 'Create a sense of urgency'. I couldn't agree more.
In my case there was more than just the All Black story I mentioned.
I was in a taxi and a song came on to the radio. It was a cover of a recent hit. I complained to the driver that it was too recent for a remake. He said, “No man, that song first came out twenty years ago.”
I made an appointment to go to the gym and the young woman on the phone said ‘We’ll put you on the treadmill and wire you up and do a fitness test’. I said ‘You mean like the start of ‘The Six Million Dollar Man.’”
She said, “Who?”
I realised that just waiting around for the universe to lift me up out of my situation was taking a lot longer than I thought. I was starting to run out of time and opportunities were starting to be taken from me. Now I could see the cost of my procrastination.
At this point, as you remember, I decided to quit my job, leave my girlfriend, sell my house and go back home and live with my Mum.
And after that spasm of decision making I sat on the sofa, ate a lot of fast food and put on a lot of weight while I watched a lot of day time tv eating fast food. Ok. It was a very humble start - but at least it was a start. I had created a sense of urgency. I really needed to do something.
Unfortunately I was still plagued by the same unhelpful attitude. Every pathway out of my situation seemed too difficult and too painful. Like taking part in the trans-Atlantic race. The idea of rowing across the ocean seemed quite romantic, until I found out how difficult, painful and possibly deadly it was.
But tired of the way I was shooting down every idea I was having I tried instead to give this one a second chance. I tried to shake off my pessimistic approach by being more 'rational' - and so I put together a pros and cons list. All that did was show me how easy it was to come up with a list of pretty convincing reasons for not taking on the race!
My mistake wasn't lack of reason. It was lack of emotion. There’s huge power in getting excited with the possibility of achieving your goal. That's what I had to tap into first.
Step 2: Getting emotionally engaged
Prof. Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC studied people who had very specific brain injuries which meant they couldn’t experience emotions but could otherwise function normally.
You might think that these people would be brain surgeons, contract killers, or fighter pilots or currency traders because they have no emotion to cloud their judgement.
Far from it. In fact, they are terrible decision-makers. Most would spend hours deliberating over irrelevant details, such as where to eat lunch. Then whether to have chicken or beef.
Damasio’s research, among many other studies, shows it is emotion that enables us to make up our minds and take action.
I’m not saying that you should be irrational about making decisions. Far from it - nothing beats a good impartial spreadsheet - but when it comes to taking on a big challenge if you’re EXCITED about the potential results you’re going to be much more resourceful in your problem solving. You are going to be much more balanced in your critique.
For me, you will recall that, getting an image of success was a very powerful way to get myself emotionally engaged. Also meeting people who had done what I was thinking of doing.
Step 3: Dealing with my concerns
The next step was dealing with my main fear about rowing across the ocean - and that was dying at sea. Being tossed from the boat in a storm just like the other dozen people who had perished trying to row across the Atlantic.
My fear largely evaporated when I asked the trekker about the cold in Antarctica. His reply - 'You know it's going to be cold. You take mittens' - really threw me for a loop. What he was saying was so simple yet so profound. If you can foresee what's going to make your challenge difficult, or painful or hard, then why not do something about it?!
With this realisation I could go back to my pros and cons list and then quickly deal with all of my 'reasons' for not taking part in the race.
You don't have to do a pros and cons list. You just need to list your fears and and then write down how you might prevent them from taking place, or repair the damage if they did.
I really recommend taking a look at this TED talk from lifestyle guru Tim Ferriss about 'Fear Setting' - which is similar to what I did and possibly more practical. TIP: Skip the long preamble about stoic philosophy and skim directly to 6min. This is a fantastic technique if you find yourself procrastinating about taking on a challenge.
Look, at the end of the day not every idea you have is going to be viable or practical. But by using these methods above you're at least going to create a level playing field to assess them appropriately.
3. Play as a team
When you think about it - a team just needs 4 things to function.
A clear, common purpose
Agreed rules for how you're going to treat each other
- A way of fixing things when 1 to 3 go awry!
Research on the benefits of diversity can be found here:
And in chapter 6 - ‘The Power of Difference’ from ‘Team Genius - the new science of high performing organisations’ by Rich Karlgaard and Michael S Malone.
I also mentioned the research that Google did looking at what makes effective teams. There is a very good summary of the research here and the concept of ‘Psychological Safety’ – in a NY Times article called "What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team" written by Charles Duhigg, the author of ‘Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business’
It's really worthwhile going through a process where you list out the qualities of a great team mate (and/or look at what makes a bad team mate) and turn that into a list of rules for how you should treat each other.
Here's a template that can help you through this process.
The Energy Rule
That's what Jamie and I were doing when we saw that it turned into something quite simple. – The Energy Rule. Feel free to use or adapt.
It turns out that we had put our finger on something.
There’s a relationship researcher in the US called Dr John Gottman. He and his team have perfected the art of predicting if married couples will break up. In fact they can predict whether or not the couple will divorce within the next 5 years with 94% accuracy.
All his team does is watch a 15 minute argument between a couple and keep score of the number of the positive and negative interactions that take place.
A couple with a strong relationship might have a ratio of positive to negative comments/interactions – of about 5:1. A couple that is going to divorce has a ratio of less than 1-1.
‘Negative comments’ and interactions cover a whole range of things – but the worst of these are
- Contempt, so acting superior
- Insults, you’re a jerk, you’re so lazy not putting the rubbish out.
- Defensiveness and withdrawing from the discussion.
Research has shown that this is true in the workplace as well where the same ratio of about 5:1 positive to negative comments is seen in the best performing teams.
That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree. Negative view points are ok, if they are presented in a way that is rational, objective and calm. What doesn't work is being sarcastic, Or trying to justify a personal attack under an attempt to be 'honest' or 'constructive'.
For more on this here's a blog I wrote on 'Is there a magic ratio of positivity to negativity?'
The Three Bastards Rule
I believe that the main reason that we don't address problems in teams, or are unsuccessful when we do, is because we assume that the reason that this person is doing these annoying things is due to something permanent about them. Some permanent flaw, or personality disorder or evil agenda, or let's face it, brain damage. So 'The 3 Bastards Rule' is very useful to remind yourself not to trust your assumptions.
The 5 C's
When you've got your head right and it's time to have that conversation then you can use the 5 C's.
Chill - the person may not react well and/or get defensive. Are you so poised that you can handle the emotional poo that's going to come your way.
Context - if you don't start (and even finish ) with some positive feedback they will think that everything they are doing is bad.
Collaborate - Ask questions like 'How are we going to solve this?'
Contrast - If the person tries to come deflect or even attack then you can bring the conversation back on track by using a sentence in the form 'I'm not saying X, I'm saying Y'
Check - That you finish agreeing with what the situation is and what the next steps are.
If you would like to find out more about this topic then I strongly recommend reading this book.
'Crucial Conversations - Tools for talking when the stakes are high' by Kerry Patterson and Joseph Grenny.
4. Deal with Setbacks
The moral of 'sea anchor' story is that there is a powerful way to reframe adversity. If it's tough for you, it's tough for everybody else. If you can keep on persevering then it just might be an opportunity for you. Here's the story again.
The Story of the Sea Anchor
The start of the start of the trans-Atlantic dawned, hot, sunny and most important of all – calm! As we rowed out of the harbour of La Gomera I was anxious to see what the state of the open ocean was going to be like. Turns out it was flat and calm. Waterskiiable.
As we spent the rest of the afternoon rowing the land off into the distance and then the big hot tropical sun which had been beating down on us all day started to cool, and then the night exploded into a thousand tropical stars. I thought rowing across the ocean was going to be amazing.
Turns out that Day 1 was the best day of the trip and Day 2 was going to be the worst.
From early in the morning of day 2 we started to get tiny puffs of breeze directly into our backs. During the morning the wind grew and grew, and with the wind came the waves. Directly from where we wanted to head.
By lunchtime it was all we could do to stay in the same place, with both of us at the oars. And we could tell that’s all we were doing because the GPS on the bulkhead would just flicker around ‘0.0 knots’.
And because you’re not making any ground it becomes very hard to steer the boat. The rudder only works when you’re moving forward. So if a wave knocked the bow of the boat then you would inevitably end up doing a big circle to bring the boat back around into the wind and waves. The strain was enormous. It felt like the bones in your arms were bending with the effort and you could hear the oars creaking and groaning and I was wondering, as we were pitched from side to side what was going to break first. The boat or us?
What makes it worse is what is praying on your mind is that you don’t have to keep on doing this. You don’t have to keep rowing, you can always put out the sea anchor.
It’s too deep at sea to put out a normal anchor but a sea anchor is like a large parachute of nylon which you lay out the front of the boat, and tie off onto the bow. As the boat backs away the rope goes tight and the chute inflates and holds the bow of the boat into the wind and waves. So now you are kind of safe and can abandon the rowing positions and get into the back cabin, shut the waterproof hatch and ride the storm out.
The only problem is that while you’re doing that you slowly drift backwards.
Now we knew that there were some really tough teams in the race. In particular these two guys from Auckland who had won the race last time it had been held and were back for one reason only – to win the race again. If they weren’t going to stop then we couldn’t stop so Jamie and I made the decision to keep on rowing.
We rowed through the rest of the afternoon and into the darkness, constantly being tossed and pitched from side to side. With the oar handles at one moment high above our heads and then the next slapped down on our knees. It was long, gruesome, exhausting work. But finally the dawn broke and there was a hint that the worst of the weather was over. By lunchtime things had calmed down just enough for me to be able to get out of my seat and go into the back cabin and grab the sat phone.
We were mad keen to find out how we were doing compared with the rest of the fleet. Each boat had a beacon on it that pinged its location back up to the race organisers every twelve hours. So our shore crew could go online and see the locations of the boats.
So I called them up and before I could even say anything they said
“Guys! Guys! keep it up!”
“Because you’ve got a 25 mile lead on the rest of the fleet!”
“They’ve all put their sea anchors out!”
And when we got to the end of the race and we put our sea anchors out did you want to guess how much we won by?
That's right. 25 miles.
It wasn’t until I was under a palm tree at the end of the race thinking about what we learned on Day 2. It was as simple as this.
All of the crews were facing the same seas. All of the crews were facing the same storm. The only difference between us and them was a decision that we made that any of them could have made and that was to keep on rowing.
That’s what made all the difference in the end.
There were days when it was flat and calm, and we made 80 nautical miles towards the end – but we didn’t gain a single yard on our competition. The two days when we gained the most (it happened again near the end) was when the weather turned bad and the other crews put out their sea anchors, and we kept on rowing.
That’s how we won.
IN just 5 seconds you could improve your cosmic karma
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