If it was easy, everyone would do it

It is easy to stare at a screen and say, ‘I could do that.’ Very few of us either attempt the action or have the opportunity to try. We see coverage of hurricane and think we would survive the storm surge. We watch winter olympians and think we could replicate their talents. We see entrepreneurs succeed and think they just beat us to identifying of a good idea that was easy to scale. We see nonprofit organizations and think anyone can give away a service for free.

So here is a chance to try. Navigate a cargo ship through the Suez Canal and see if you have what is takes to become the ship’s captain.


Incomplete Data

We might be right about our assumptions with limited data. However, if the data set expands we may discover a different answer. How might we conclude when we have sufficient information to make our best decisions? What would an outsider conclude using the same data? Our goal is not to be certain but rather to remain curious. A better understanding of our world means we can better do the work that matters.

The Risk of Unquestioned Utility

Measuring cups are essential resources for cooks, mixologists, and scientist. They are cornerstones of a kitchen, bar, and lab. Remarkable functionality and easy to use. Except when they are not.

Measuring cups have a lifespan. The uniform scale erodes from sight, they break, or get lost. Suddenly we are confronted with the reality that we must perform a skill that once was automatic.

The same is true with the individuals on our team. The highly reliable and omnipresent volunteer that filled a key position moves away. The Board Chair who served sensationally for years announces it is time for succession. A sustaining donor develops a new passion and shifts their considerable contributions towards a different enterprise.

We take for granted the utility of the reliable. How might it benefit our efforts if we think aloud, ‘I wonder what would happen if….?’ Perhaps the succession plan is obvious and the next individual is ready to ride. Or, we see challenging terrain ahead that we must navigate before reaching stability again. Celebrate the utility of the marvelously positioned individual but remember their tenure is not without limits. Be ready to adapt and adopt when needed.

Curiosity vs Certainty

Click the link above to listen to one of the more remarkable Hidden Brain podcasts, featuring Adam Grant, discussing his new book, Think Again.

Ask intriguing questions and people want better answers. If we challenge people’s views head-on, individuals tend to assume one of three modes: preacher, politician, or prosecutor. However, if we show curiosity in other people’s search as they reconsidering their point of view, we can go on a collective journey. We are seeking common ground which allows for greater flexibility. “How” questions tend to create a more open-minded and curious response with a shared dialogue. It is about the work, and the questions provide an opportunity to iterate after our first thought/draft.

Are Accountability and Collaboration the Essential Components of Teamwork?

Might we represent teamwork in a four panel graphic? How fundamental are accountability and collaboration to measuring the effectiveness of a team?

What if we first define the team’s core values? A set of behaviors we will not sacrifice except under extreme duress (the building is on fire). What if we commit to hold those values as the highest priority for the team, above any metric or external evaluation? Does record growth on the balance sheet outweighs complete discord among a team? Can we be a team if a single individual does the majority of the work and takes credit for each victory?

Measuring a team’s unity and alignment is challenging, it requires us to take a human-centered approach. In the spirit of Simon Sinek, if we measure the numbers, we are managing. If we care for the people, we are leading.

Do you have a definition of team? What mindset do you use to measure a team’s success and engagement?

Creating Mile Markers

The mile marker we pass on the highway was not destined to reside where it sits today. Following the Romans example (who probably plagiarized from a previous culture), we decided to mark our roads with mile markers. Another round of decisions was made about which point to use as Mile Zero and then measuring and marking began.

The uniformity of mile markers works, but it is not remarkable. I cannot recall the closest mile mark to any location. What I do remember are the markers that define a place. There is a church on the sixteenth switchback of the road to Alpe d’Huez, a famous French cycling climb. There is a small evergreen tree that is missing a limb before the steepest and fastest cross-country ski descent. A full-scale replica of a military plane used on movie sets rests in a large tree on the island of Oahu, marking the start of the most challenging climb I run during a trail race.

We can create markers. Art museums engage world-renowned architects to design buildings that will define a city. Communities commit to greenways and bike lanes that make non-vehicle travel incredibly easy and enjoyable. These investments define a way of life (bike garage outside Amsterdam Centraal train station). Causes run iconic events, and participants know precisely where to find them.

What have you created that will define your location? Is it memorable, or does it blend in with the other mile markers?


Do we need flexibility or are we committed to a specific approach? If versatility is necessary, then best to carry a Swiss Army knife. If we are certain, then a flat head screw driver will work. But if drop the screw into a tight space the tweezers on the knife would be helpful. Or, if we need to read small print the mini-magnifying glass could be handy. At a certain point, even the Swiss Army knife cannot possess all the options. So, how certain are we that we have the right tool for the job? A specially designed instrument can be a powerful resource. A pair of alpine downhill skis will get us to the bottom of a ski hill fast. However, if we need to ascend the mountain afterwards, the skis are a major liability. Unless we have an alpine touring setup with climbing skins and a binding that transitions to climbing mode.

Specialized equipment or multi-tools? A good question to ask before we launch on our next adventure.