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.
We can fly from New York to Boston on the hour via commuter flights that barely reach a low cruise altitude before descending to the airport. The choice of air travel for this route is usually one of preference and price. The bus, train, on-demand car service, or personal automobile are all viable. A journey that connects significant metropolitan areas is not that remarkable but necessary.
Far more ambitious is a journey into space. We cannot readily hop aboard the next shuttle or rocket and find ourselves unshackled from Earth’s atmosphere. The opportunity to look back upon our planet from the vantage point of the Moon or orbiting space station allows for different thinking. We access a perspective only available to our human nature when we stand separated from that which usually conceals us. This is why mountain peaks, observation decks on skyscrapers, and canyon overlooks continue to fascinate us. We find ourselves suspended in places where we cannot remain.
The challenge to our enterprise is what journey will transform our way of thinking? The shuttle approach works. It is quick, predictable, and alternate forms can be substituted if our preferred method of travel encounters a delay. The journey to space requires the commitment of a team and numerous resources. When successful it tends to inform our decision-making for a generation. The question is, which landscape do you need to see when you are thinking strategically? Does an elevated view of I-95 suffice or does a little blue marble sitting above the horizon of a lunar landscape reorder our ways of thinking? Both journeys are viable, the results are poles apart.
Sometimes we need to adjust our perspective to make remarkable experiences resonate with those who share the journey. As Seth Godin wrote, “You probably don’t need yet another new idea. Better to figure out what to do with the ones you’ve got.” Do not abandon your quest, perhaps tell the crucial story from a different point of view.
Boarding a United flight from Chicago to Paris, Charles de Gaulle last Friday evening was a test of resolve. Passengers intently studied smart phones; United representatives repeatedly turned to the PA; overwhelmed travelers disembarked after boarding uncertain as news of the terrorist attacks ebbed and flowed. France was closing its borders; our flight would divert to Brussels if sunrise over the European continent denied us permission to land. My ninth grade daughter and I reviewed our options. There was no correct decision, just consequences to our choices. “How flexible do you want to be?” I inquired. She thought we should commit. Soon we were jetting into arctic air, away from the frenzy of real-time updates and towards the scene of tragedy. Committing to an uncertain future required preparation for disruption.
During our first night in Paris, we navigated the desolate streets to a classic vantage point on the River Seine. The Eiffel Tower stood devoid of the iconic illumination show; the searchlight beacon dimmed as if incapable of penetrating the tragedy. Closed museums, off-limit playgrounds, gated parks, fortified landmarks, bag and torso checks at the entrance to public buildings were omnipresent. A couple checking-in to the hotel and being informed of the numerous closures responded, “That is the right thing to do. Of course, everyone needs to be safe.” Few cafes and restaurants opened. Yet, the hashtag #portouvert trended on twitter offering the displaced housing, food, and safety. While fortification and security prevailed, the French citizens opened their doors to strangers.
Forever Changed by Hope
Our third night in Paris was marked by the illumination of monuments. A chance for a deep breath and a stroll. A partially opened Eiffel Tower permitted ascent to the second level and the vantage to take in the architecture of shadows as waves of rain washed across the city. Parks and museums accepted culturally starved visitors. The spirit of the city raised from catacomb to cafe. We departed forever changed by Paris. We had walked among sorrow and witnessed spirits bend in torrential circumstance, only to rebound with hope.
Stuck trying to resolve a challenging situation. Consider the board that will succeed the current board. What will they think? What questions will they ask? Who’s perspective might they seek? How would distance from the emotions surround the current situation advance their dialogue?
Chip & Dan Heath’s WRAP model presented in their book, Decisive has been a great resource for addressing big questions. I encourage groups to try it out on low-risk decisions before using it on a burning platform.
The above image represents mapping from the Bomb Sight website that tracked the impact locations of all the bombs that fell on London during World War Two. I has recently completed the book Citizens of London which illuminated the power of the bombings of London but this map provided a level of understanding that was far more profound. If you have ever visited London you can zoom into a neighborhood you know and feel the echo of chaos that must have existed during these bombing raids.
We can share the work we are doing and sometimes it is met with a shrug. The question then for us is if the insight is worth representing in a way that is more visible. Can it be appreciated for its full effect? Sometimes it feels like we provide rainstorms when we were looking to create a microburst.