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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.’
Sometimes a trail requires an alteration. A re-route is necessary to keep the journey going. There is a liminal period between the moment the change is made and once GPS, maps, word-of-mouth, and experience make the transition final. It is a transformation of habit, exchanging a known for an unknown. Disruption occurs all the time, but not as frequently as we might notice. How we adapt to the change says a lot about our mindset. If we approach our journey in a fixed mindset, then the flight cancellation, followed by the subway strike, and finally bad weather will be highly disruptive. However, if we have an open mindset, the opportunity to navigate through a new airport, take the bus in place of the subway, and use the umbrella that has travel with us for numerous trips might create a memorable experience.
How we respond. How others respond. It might be the start of an epic journey or a catastrophe. If we leave room for serendipity we may find the road less taken has made a difference.
We do not need more trouble. Walking into a trap after ignoring warning signs is a problem of our creation. Learning from others’ mistakes is a far more valuable use of our time. The value of an affinity group is to share successes and failures. To be a voyeur, not the voyager who paddles over the known waterfall after numerous parties navigated the same waterway. If we come to collect you because you got caught in the bear trap, it is a waste of everyone’s resources. If you got caught in a sticky situation because you were the first person down the trail, then we are ready to assist. If we share what we learned, the benefit is not only better decision-making, but it allows all of us to focus on the work that matters.