People Before Buildings

Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) is selling their brand new custom built headquarter building. They never moved in despite designing a facility that captured the essence of outdoor lifestyle and embraced nature. Rumored reasons for abandoning the HQ include, raising cash for the balance sheet, changes to workplace requirements, and pivoting to a new business model. Five years ago, REI was a leader in closing stores on Black Friday. Instead it started the #optoutside movement, encouraging people to engage in an outside activity over chasing retail sales. REI chose people over buildings.

It is easy to think that our facilities as the essence of our being. Where we do what we do defines our stories. We have been encouraged to choose our travel lodging based on the ammenties of a hotel or airbnb. Ice machine of every floor, pet friendly, workout facility with new machines, and 24-hour room service might make the difference in selecting our overnight lodging. But if the people who work within the building do not care, it cannot overcome the luxury.

If we lead with our core values then we can see how REI decided to forego their dream HQ. In the first half of 2020, they laid-off employees and closed stores. The optics of moving into the headquarters would amplified the misguided ethos of managing image over leading people. Instead, they were willing to put the moving trucks on hold and revisit their decisions. REI asked “how might we” and the resulting choice was a different path. A journey which may create more loyalty, greater trust, and a better future.

What do you do?

Is there a better question than “what do yo do?” I am not sure if the askers wants to know my response so they can categorize me or if they are waiting to share their story. Do they want to place me into one of two categories: useful or not useful? What if I answer astronaut, Banksy, or $250 million lottery winner? Would those responses disrupt their sorting process? What if we consider better questions, like those recommended on LeadershipFreak blog (also consider the bonus material at the bottom).

Some questions I entertain as follow-up questions: What borders have you recently crossed? What insight/realization changed your perspective? Who inspires you and how can I sample their message/work? What ‘help wanted’ sign would you post if you knew a response would come within the hour? What is your super power?

Perhaps the best response to “what do you do,” is to ask better follow-up questions.

Unconnected

If we are not meaningfully connected to individuals who want to hear from us, then even our most remarkable stories are lost in transmission. Daily, we delete inspired content in order to manage our inbox. Then we turn around and send out unsolicited requests for others to engage with us. We believe that if we have your contact information you might be ready to act on our behalf. What if we created a community of individuals who could signal us That they were willing to hear our stories? Consider our own habits. Which messages do we read the moment they are received? How did those senders create trust and permission to interact with you? What if we did the work that matters to create engagement with those that might want to hear from us?

Blind Corners

When our line of sight is limited, we have choices. Speed up, maintain pace, or proceed with caution. Our sense of place and mindset impact our ultimate decision. Driving on the interstate, we can expect the road is engineered to support the speed limit. So a curve should not result in radical deviation. Mountain biking down a flow trail, we can expect banked corners to accommodate the speed we might be carrying from above. In a high alpine backcountry setting we might anticipate some thoughtfulness in trail design but if the vertical exposure is sufficient, we might decide to decrease our pace.

We encounter blind corners all the time. We can not see into the future far enough to anticipate the terrain. If we previously traveled a path it is easier to approach with a sustainable pace. If the trail is new to us, we might settle for a cautionary approach, allowing us time to adjust our course.

The recent months have presented a series of blind corners. COVID, financial recessions, virtual workplaces, Black Lives Matter, and masks. Some enterprises saw a chance to accelerate into open space. Others pulled to the shoulder of the road with their hazard lights ablaze. Each organizations saw their approach as best. Blind corners tend to amplify our beliefs and values. If we see each opportunity as a challenge to maximize our talents, then we might proceed in sports mode. If we believe we are playing the infinite game, then we might downshift and cover the brakes, confident we will be able to continue to journey.

How do our choices amplify (or derail) our core values? Have we built trust and loyalty because we acted in concert with our beliefs or have we created factions in our team due to misalignment? Are we still on the road or have we spun out into the ditch?

Pacesetters

In our youth, my sister and I raced NASTAR alpine ski races whenever we found a chance. The concept was simple. A pacesetter skied the race course first and then their individual handicap created a standard by which participant’s results were adjusted and awarded medals. Theoretically, the fastest pacesetter and the slowest pacesetter should create the same par due to the handicap system. A competitive skier might beat the time of a pacesetter but be awarded a silver or bronze medal after the handicap adjustment. Somewhere there is shoe box with gold medals scattered among many silver and a few bronze (platinum was not an option in our youth).

When a pacesetter is present, the ability to measure results and progress are more immediate. If we want to run a sub-three hour marathon, we can run with a pacesetter who will set a tempo that guides us towards that goal. As such, a pacesetter can provide remarkable value. Sometimes, just the presence of an individual out in front of us on a route might inspire us to endure longer or increase our pace.

Pacesetters do not need to be formal commitments. You may be creating the pace for a group of individuals (or organizations) that you may not realize. Just going out a doing the work, being present and reliable might be sustaining an entire ecosystem of participants. Continue forward, we see you out front and keep showing-up because we know you will be there.

Fire Lookout

Fire lookouts do not universally occupy the tallest peak, the most alpine perch, or the easiest to access. When well placed, they offer a panoramic view, a platform where multiple mountain ranges might be visible, providing a higher value to those assigned to fire lookout duty.

When we commence strategic or scenario planning, perhaps the best location (or mindset) is the proverbial fire lookout. A place that affords us an informed view of the terrain around us. Maybe a bit set back from the iconic landscape that defines our work. Many organizations refer to their off-site gatherings as ‘retreats’ an opportunity to disengage from our sense of place and view the environment from a new perspective. It is a chance to recon routes we wish to travel on our next adventure. We posses a more informed sense of the landscape by being removed from it instead of stopping mid-trail and speculating during our journey.

Side Quests

I was discussing favorite video games with my son, and I asked him to share his top three games of all time and ones he would recommend that I try playing. We discussed games with storylines, and he commented that many of his favorite games contain a well crafted main storyline. If played continuously, it might take eight to ten hours to complete the central quest. However, game developers create numerous side quests, which are often just chores and lack little relevance to the primary storyline. Many times the side adventure quest requires delivering or retrieving an item from an individual located far away. The completion of the side task reveals limited insights or forward progress to the central storyline. In my son’s estimation, the side quests distract and diminish the overall game despite adding more playing time.

How often do our organizations attempt to create side quests for our members and fans? Do these side stories add value, or are they an attempt to keep individuals engaged until we get back to our regular program? Are we concerned that our fan base might move on to other interests if we do not create content? What is the experience lifecycle of the average member within our cause? Are two remarkable years better than a decade of mediocre programming? What is the shortage interaction the delivers the most value that your enterprise can offer?

Misplacing Ski Lifts

The earliest chairlifts were placed in the most concave part of a ski run. It made sense that the lift should take the most accessible and unobstructed line up the mountain. Once at the top, the chairlift rider became a skier and influenced by gravity and other natural forces headed towards these low points. It was thought that skiers would seek out the ridgeline and convex portions of a slope. The lifts and skier were quickly occupying the same valuable space on primitive ski runs. Quickly, it was determined that ski lifts should be constructed on the less desirable skiing terrain. 

If we understand the tendencies of the end-user, we might design a solution for their challenges. If we accommodate the design over the user, then we are likely to create more disruptions.

Venn Diagrams as Points of Connection

What if the we spend time thing about the world in thirds. The third that is uniquely us. The third that is fundamentally others. And the third where we overlap. At this moment, the us and other third are lighting up narratives across the world. Mask wearers vs freedom breathers. BLM vs All Live Matter. Open vs shut communities. Democrats vs Republicans. Science vs personal freedoms. Rights vs responsibilities.

What if we committed to looking at the middle third. The third that connects us and creates combinations. The reasons Simon Sinek’s Start With Why approach is so powerful, is when know a person’s purpose, we can connect with them at the headwaters of their existence. We can share a journey down the mountain stream that becomes a creek and then transforms into a river. If we only encounter the river at A major rapid, we might dismiss their ideas as dangerous, loud, and volatile. However, if we understand where the journey started, we have a greater perspective about why the rapid exists. It does not mean we let the current takes us blindly downstream. We look for points of confluence. We seek connections, not diversion.

What if the middle third is our focus? How might our work be amplified by seeking the middle third, instead of populating the outer thirds? US vs others is dates back to antiquity. US and other is challening and runs into historical barriers but it is the work that matters now.

*** Jud Abumrad came to our commuity for a speaking engagement. My wife remarked that numerous audience members were looking for something they could purchase (a book) that he could sign. He did not have books for sale but rather just his presentation and ideas. Perhaps the legacy of his visit is a transformative idea, one that we cannot read and store on a bookshelf. Rather it is now a way of being that we must decide to embrace or say ‘not yet.’