We can fly from New York to Boston on the hour via commuter flights that barely reach a low cruise altitude before descending to the airport. The choice of air travel for this route is usually one of preference and price. The bus, train, on-demand car service, or personal automobile are all viable. A journey that connects significant metropolitan areas is not that remarkable but necessary.
Far more ambitious is a journey into space. We cannot readily hop aboard the next shuttle or rocket and find ourselves unshackled from Earth’s atmosphere. The opportunity to look back upon our planet from the vantage point of the Moon or orbiting space station allows for different thinking. We access a perspective only available to our human nature when we stand separated from that which usually conceals us. This is why mountain peaks, observation decks on skyscrapers, and canyon overlooks continue to fascinate us. We find ourselves suspended in places where we cannot remain.
The challenge to our enterprise is what journey will transform our way of thinking? The shuttle approach works. It is quick, predictable, and alternate forms can be substituted if our preferred method of travel encounters a delay. The journey to space requires the commitment of a team and numerous resources. When successful it tends to inform our decision-making for a generation. The question is, which landscape do you need to see when you are thinking strategically? Does an elevated view of I-95 suffice or does a little blue marble sitting above the horizon of a lunar landscape reorder our ways of thinking? Both journeys are viable, the results are poles apart.
How many lug nuts on a car wheel are you willing to travel without? How many gears on a road bike are you willing to ride without? How many times are your willing to let your shoelaces break before replacing them?
The best answer; it depends on the journey and circumstance. In a perfect world, we would purchase, fix, or replace any of these items immediately. However, we tend to drive, ride and walk a little way before addressing the problem. In extenuating circumstances, we travel great distances and endure long periods of time if our survival outranks the pending maintenance issue.
There are no perfect top ten lists or flow charts. If these things existed we could replace most committees, task forces, board, and leadership teams with algorithms. Instead, we need the human element to wrestle with the questions that matter. Great decision-makers are capable of altering the course of a cause more than the accumulation of resources.
Never forget to think about the human element. Otherwise, we are collecting badges and experience points as we try to advance from level to level without an understanding of how it impacts the overall mission.
If our best ideas are like pine cones and acorns then they need to fall outside the canopy of the great trees from which they fall. It is scary and uncertain to land on an exposed piece of land but necessary to germinate. Our best ideas that fall at the roots of the parent tree never have a chance to fully evolve. Unless someone transports them to open sunlight, adds moisture, and places them in fertile earth.
This is why we share ideas with others. We cannot foster all our great ideas. Too many fall under our own aboral umbrella. We have to seed them with just enough structure that someone else can take them forth. Sometimes our best success comes from moments of serendipity. The seatmate on a flight, the stranger at a conference, the visitor who sits in on a meeting. Our weakest ties become the greatest hope that our best ideas might find a home and scale to full form.
Simon Sinek reminds us that ideas only take their true form when we share them out loud. We have to give them life and put them into the narrative. Like the pine cone and acorns, their fate depends on the ecosystem in which they land.
What is the right dosage of our organization’s mission to achieve optimal impact? How do we quantify meaningful connections to gain the full benefits of our programs? Who are our super users, just right visitors, and not enough group?
My family has been visiting college campuses this year. I have been fascinated by how each university prioritizes their introductory itinerary for prospective students. All sessions start with an orientation that involves a digital presentation. Afterward, student-led campus tours are the norm. However, a number of colleges do not include a visit to a single academic building on their prescribed route. Recreation centers, student unions, residential halls, dining options, historic buildings, athletic stadiums, and central outdoor spaces all make the must-see list. Only two universities had us sit down at desks in a classroom to discuss academic life, student-teacher ratios, and curriculum tracks. Each university makes an assumption about what is going to resonate with prospective students. They calculate the right dosage of show-and-tell to capture the essence of their institution.
This past weekend, I took my son to a snowy football game at my alma mater. Attending a football game might add the right dosage of the college experience to help him decide for or against the college (even when the student body was on Thanksgiving Break). My students’ decision will be based on where they can see themselves thrive. The university that provides the right dosage that resonates with their individual preferences.
You never know what we might discover when we seek out new experiences and interactions. Staying curious is one of our greatest traits.
Not every boarding pass gets us on a plane. We take for granted that a rectangular piece of paper with an airline logo printed in the corner allows us to board. What assumptions once re-examined might be transformative? How often do we pause in the middle of everyday activities to consider all that operate smoothly for us to advance without complication? One warning light can delay a flight for hours, even when the non-cooperating part appears to be less than vital. What is essential for your journey? Who have we taken for granted?
Thirty degrees at 7 PM and snow appears on the roadside as I near Bogus Basin Ski Area. I have been riding uphill for 14 miles and not spied another cyclist, which is remarkable because there is always another velo enthusiast on this route. A vest, rain jacket, long fingered gloves, and cycling cap rest in my jersey pocket, ready to add micro-layers of protection during the thirty-minute descent. There is no official turn-around point on this ride. Temperature and road conditions are the guiding parameters. Finally, I encounter sheets of water running across the road and decide I do not need to be wet and cold, and the ascent stops and the return to the valley floor begins.
I have traveled this route over one hundred times by bike. Tonight’s effort stood out because I was alone and the temperature. It joined hallmark memories, like the thunderstorm that pounced so quickly that I turned around one-minute from the summit, afraid for my safety and without disappointment that I had not reached the top. Or, the time I loaned my jacket to a freezing cyclist from Arizona who rode up the mountain unprepared for Idaho’s fall weather. Then there was the cow that stood in the road on a blind corner. On the descent, I missed striking this oblivious bovine because I decided to try a different high-speed line around the corner.
The moments on edge are the ones that stand out. The ascents and descents that fall somewhere in the range of normal are forgotten, even when recorded in a training log. Our own edge provides a conduit into an inner conversation about what we value and believe.
Today, what opportunities do we have to visit our edge?