Johnny Carson’s gift to guests on The Tonight Show was his ability to be generous with his questions. He rarely told a cheap joke at the guest’s expense or attempted to tell a better story. His questions were strategically curious, drawing out the best from the person sitting in the chair next to him. Jonny was willing to ask for more. He calculated that his guest’s success would benefit the show for the years to follow.
How can we emulate Johnny and be less insistent about inserting our stories into a conversation? Ever stand next to a stranger at a party and have a remarkable interaction, later to realize that they asked insightful questions such that you spent the majority of the time talking about what makes you unique. Set people up for success and both of you will be rewarded.
Ultimatums are for your benefit. Promises are for the benefit of others. If we only focus on creating value, then either an ultimatum or promise works. If we aspire to be of service and create value, then a promise is ideal.
How do you measure progress? By the value created? By doing what is best for those you serve? Do you provide what is easiest or do you combine the unconventional and produce the remarkable? A promise reinforces your core values, which may be more important than any scorecard.
Seth Godin is the master of keeping it simple. I borrow his expression ‘doing the work that matters’ frequently. Seth’s blog post simplifies the difference between choices and decisions and our confusing of the two. We encounter choices in our real-time wayfinding process. What if we streamlined our efforts by making quick choices, so we open bandwidth to focus on the decisions that matter. Make a game of choosing by spinning a wheel, asking the opinion of the next person we encounter, selecting the adventurous route, or going left. Decisions impact the work that matters and requires time and information. Which TSA security lane to stand in at the airport is a choice. Which person to join you for a month-long expedition is a decision. Make time for the decisions that matter, few remember how quickly you navigated TSA, but many benefit from your decision to commit to the mission.
A template for a spinning wheel if you are game to choose differently.
People may remember more about us because of our reflection. We are not always aware of what backdrop upon we are projecting. We stumble on a puddle in the middle of a hiking trail, only to be captivated by the reflection of the moon, a mountain spire, or evergreen boughs creating an overhead canopy. The same happens in community narratives.
Volunteers, program partners, and neighbors offer testimonials that are highly contagious. Encounter a citizen who speaks glowingly about an enterprise, and we are intrigued. Travel to a new location, and we rely on the recommendations of others. Sometimes the information is accurate, or suggestions are based on old information. But their reflections start to shape our worldview. As a child residing outside of New York City, Time Square, the subway, and Central Park were all things to be avoided at night. I could continue to share those observations but those landmarks have changed in today’s New York City.
How do we set the people around us up for success? How do we make sure they possess an accurate worldview or at least the courtesy to encourage others to create their own experience? How do we make sure people make it to our front door without being misinformed or detoured by the neighbors?
If you do not intend to navigate far from the runway then flying with the landing gear down is realistic. If you have plans for a transformational journey, then you need speed and altitude, and the aircraft must be configured for cruise flight, and therefore the landing gear should be retracted to create a more streamline state. A deployed landing gear results in an immense drag on the flight characteristics of a plane, which is ideal for landing but not optimal for gaining altitude and extending range. The next time you are at (or near) an airport watch how quickly the pilots retract the landing gear upon take-off.
Is your organization committed to the itinerary it has stated? Or has your cause filed an ambitious flight plan but flys with the landing gear down, just in case? What would it take for your team to commit to their wayfinding abilities to reach bold destinations? How has drag cost your forward progress?
There is an unseen effort in capturing a sunrise picture from the top of a mountain. It takes some planning, commitment to getting up when the alarm sounds, and ascending in darkness. The image may have a wow factor, but the story behind the picture is often more remarkable.
I saw images from a photo contest surrounding the eclipse this past August. The majority of the finalists were photos taken from unique vantage points and of compelling subject matter. The photographers did a lot of unseen work. Anyone in the zone of totality could click a picture of the sky. What made these pictures more engaging was the story behind each image.
Are we taking the time to share the stories that go along with our events or do we just hope the final result will wow our audience? In the strategic planning engagements, I facilitate, the narrative that supports the written plan is the far more compelling product. Telling the story about the unseen work may be the most engaging part of the process.
When endurance training there are different interval sessions that are employed. One session includes 50-meter efforts at maximum speed. Think sprints repeated over the course of a workout. A benefit of the maximum speed workout, it is not too challenging on the cardiovascular system since the heart rate starts rising only when the interval is ending. There is a high return on effort when these intervals are done over time.
How can you employ maximum speed opportunities in our organizations? Consider starting at a board meeting. My friends at One Stone do this a couple ways. They use One Stone Introduction where you give your name and then a 10 second response to a question prompt (e.g. if you had your own flag what would it look like? If you could change the ending of any story which one would you alter?). Everyone in the room gets an introduction and a brief opportunity to share an insight. Another method is they hold a sticky note throw-down when brainstorming. Everyone stands around a table, the topic is announced and participants write down ideas and say them aloud as they slap the sticky note on the table. These are max speed events that have a lot of impact in a short period of time. They feel good and the finish line is always in-sight.
Sometimes moving at our highest speed provides remarkable progress.