Most Saguaros cactus do not have golf balls embedded in their arms. However, those that reside within a golf course are inclined to collect a few errant shots. I have been in many conversations where a social sector cause wishes to attract a sensational feature or benefit, perhaps a billionaire philanthropist who takes interest in supporting the enterprise with untold generosity. However, if we are not in a billionaire’s mindset, then perhaps we are like a cactus in the wild trying to catch golf balls. Embrace our respective geographies, we are remarkable for existing within the landscape we occupy.
‘Good fences make good neighbors,’ penned Robert Frost in his poem the Mending Wall. Fences are visible demarcations of boundaries. Either to keep things in or keep things out, depending on our perspective. The lifecycle of a fence is fascinating. Newly constructed fences with upturned soil where fresh posts were recently driven, creating unnatural scars across the landscape, until the new boundary becomes part of our unconscious memory of the landscape. There are untended fences with missing pieces, abandoned fences with silhouettes of their former connections, mended fences with visible repairs and temporary structural scaffolding, and temporary fences, constructed for real-time assistance and deconstructed overnight.
I encountered a line of fence this winter where the fence posts remain, a 4-wheel track on one side and a single track on the other side. The abandoned and loose barb wire had been collected, coiled, and piled safely away from the trails. Yet, the pattern of travel remained, out of habit we dared not cross between the two paths midway down the fence line. A reminder that even after we remove the obstacles tha prevented different ways of travel, mindsets and behaviors will endure.
Just because the fence no longer exists, it may take a new generation of users to blaze a fresh path.
If we call out an obscenity (expletive delete) at somebody, we are seeking a confrontation. It takes little effort to shout out a demeaning term and leaves few viable response options. If we say, ‘I do not agree with your choice,’ we open a dialogue. The other party might respond with a questions and we can clarify what actions are not agreeable.
Are we trying to start confrontations or conversations? Shouting obscenities might feel good in the moment but they are a lazy form of communication. Acknowledging that something does not resonate but leaving room for interpretation requires a different mindset.
If we want a fight, slander away. If we want to engage and learn, be curious about different perspectives.
If we have confidence in the future, we can rely on data and numbers to guide our decision-making. If the future is ambiguous, we are better served by employing creativity and wayfinding. Numbers become irrelevant if we do not posses a map and the destination is uncertain. Fantasy sports leagues work because we can agree on what to measure and how to determine the winner. Predicting what to track in a box score for 2021 is less certain. Based on the number of trips I had pre-booked in 2020, prior to the pandemic, I was was planning the wrong course of action. The reality of the world I encountered required a pivot to a new perspective.
How are you planning for 2021? Are you using a fixed mindset and goals linked to data? Are you approaching it with an open-mindset with flexible goals? Are your objectives tangible or experience based? Are you employing a scorecard or a human-centered approach?
We can be presented with new scenarios in seconds. Our focus shifts to a new reality, with different rules, and altered outcomes. In the words of Don Cheadle’s character Cash in the movie Family Man, “Well, you’re working on a new deal now baby.”
What if we framed our boundaries as the conditions under which we would say ‘yes’? The boundary mindset is often thought of as the edge we reach where we say ‘no’. How might flipping our perspective change the way we encounter and interact with boundaries? Would it be more expansive and liberating?
To gain a useful perspective, we might benefit by standing back from the heart of our focal point. Even if we climb the highest spire in the center of the mountain range, we may miss the opportunity to assess how each peak and valley are connected.
When working with consulting clients, the ideas that resonate the strongest are the concepts that the client develops, not points that I share. My greatest contribution is to get the team to the right vantage point and encourage them assess the landscape. Creating a mindset that starting from the observation deck is actually the work that matters before one can start the climb.
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.
The opportunity to change another person’s mindset is both powerful and remarkable. What do you have to share that can change the worldview of another person?
The force of our work may not be easily evident. As a former urban-rural interface firefighter, we trained to stop, drop, and align ourselves in a specific orientation if caught in an aerial water or retardant drop. The simulated training is as close as we got to reality since the danger of impact is evident in the video.
It is challenging to describe the consequences of our work, and often, an image or a viewing in real-time leaves a far greater impression. What service do you perform that is hard to describe but can fundamentally shift your mindset when witnessed in-person?
Our first choice is not always the best choice. The first option may be convenient and meet a need for perceived progress but the results can be less than desired.
Do you click the first link during a Google search, even when the first result has clearly paid for search engine optimization? Did you propose to the first person you dated, on the first date? Did the pilot of your flight land the plane the moment they saw the destination city? Did we nominate the new Board Chair based on the first name mentioned in a passing conversation?
Taking a moment to consider options often leads to better results. In our rush, frenzy, and scattered moments, we settle for anything that looks like a decision. Is it better to make any ferry, even when it heads to the wrong island or is waiting for the right boat a better choice?
What if we commit to looking for at least three options when we reach a decision point? How might three choices change our deliberations if the available answers range beyond yes or no? What other opportunities might appear when we make room for curiosity? How might adopting a three option mindset exponentially change the impact of your work?