Reflections on Life, Leadership, Mindfulness, Change, and other Important Stuff

Month: November, 2011

Thriving on Change: Asking the Right Questions

For those old enough to have watched Johnny Carson’s “the Great Carnac,” you will recall he held a sealed envelope to his forehead and used his powers to answer the question held within it.  He might offer an answer such as “I’ll be back.”  Most of us then anticipate some reference to “Ahnold” Schwarzenegger’s  character offering his ominous warning in the film Terminator.  Yet when Carnac opens the envelope he reads “What did Lindsey Lohan say after she was released from jail?”  We laugh because our expectations are met with misdirection and irony.  In Carnac’s case he knows the answer because he has already divined the proper questions.  Regrettably, in life and business, we may find ourselves failing to ask the right questions which inevitably leads to the wrong answers.  We can only hope those wrong answers  lead us to nothing more than laughter and a sense of irony.  But learning to thrive on the change in life and business requires us to learn to ask the right questions.

It is possible for us to move through life reacting to the opportunities presented to us and still find ourselves stressed, angry, and anxious.  In business, we can seize on these apparent opportunities and still find our companies languishing in mediocrity.  In many cases, those circumstances are the result of our failure to come to terms with the right, rather than the “urgent,” questions.  We take a new job because it is a great “opportunity” only to find ourselves disappointed.   We move into a new business venture because we sincerely believe we can profit from move in the market then find it drains our core business of precious resources.  These decisions are much like a man driving down a highway and choosing a highway because the road is well paved and brightly lit regardless of having any real knowledge of whether it leads to his destination.  (Notice I said “man” driving.  As one willing to “argue” with the Garmin GPS in my truck, I know of what I speak.)

To genuinely “thrive on change” we must struggle with and sincerely answer some challenging questions.  The answers to those questions will become the foundation for how we make decisions for our life and business.  While the results of our decisions are rarely assured, we can begin to live and work with more satisfaction than we otherwise might.  In completing strategic plans for our business some refer to the issues related to those questions as defining our “values.”  In short, they answer the questions  “What is most important?” or “What comes first?”

For the moment, let’s just deal with those questions in the context of our personal lives. While this format doesn’t allow for us to address every conceivable question we need to ask, here are a few that seem to be helpful.

  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • How will my decision affect that legacy?
  • How will this decision affect my health?
  • What is the best thing that can happen in making this decision?  The worst?
  • What are the possible unanticipated consequences of my decision?

Rather than succumb to the temptation of listing dozens of questions we need to ask ourselves, these seem to capture the central issues most of us need to address.  The problem isn’t that we don’t know the questions we should be asking.  The problem is we don’t invest the time to address them.  In a culture that seems to equate “busyness” with achievement, we react rather than respond.  Reacting is the unmeasured pursuit of an unconsidered “reward” like a child chasing a ball into a busy street.  Responding is a deliberate evaluation of circumstances, people, opportunities, risks and rewards.  Yes, there are times when we need to react, like when the car in front of us slams on its brakes or when we are standing in a field and lightning is overhead.  But in learning to ask the right questions before facing the decision we can be prepared to respond in ways the help us avoid the pain of reacting.

More on all this later.  For now, and as always….

Keep the Faith!

Thriving on Change: Anticipating Change

Be prepared.  It’s the Boy Scout Motto.  It is also a critical skill for anyone determined to thrive on change.  Boy Scouts or, for that matter, anyone who spends much time in the woods realizes how critical it is to be prepared.  For our purposes we’ll call it the skill of anticipating change.  Experienced outdoorsmen (and women) anticipate the possibility of a sudden weather change.  They know conditions can change quickly and dramatically.  In the worst of cases, failure to anticipate such change can be fatal.  So to enjoy their experience in the woods they anticipate such changes.  They prepare.

Fortunately, most of us don’t face change that has such dramatic and life threatening possibilities.  While they are normally not so sudden we face changes that can slowly drain us of “life” and joy.  We can find ourselves going through the motions of life without the exhilaration we once knew.  We find ourselves dreading the day and begin to see ourselves as an object floating atop a coastal tide, never quite reaching the shore.  We get close but then find ourselves pulled back by some unforeseen force.  Though we cannot control every force of the tide of change, we can anticipate its current and experience more satisfaction and accomplishment if we will simply invest ourselves an the process of anticipation.

Anticipating change is about looking ahead.  It is about asking the right questions.  Like the kayaker who must know where to enter the rapid, we must anticipate where the currents might take us.  As we reflect on the future of our personal journey and that of our business, we must start by knowing our objective. More to come on that topic later. For now, we simply must put our questions in the context of a a predetermined goal.

Our first question must be about the possible threats, challenges, and obstacles to reaching our goal.  Those threats may be physical, intellectual, political, economic, or relational. In that context we must ask ourselves, what must be done to prepare to meet those challenges. We may find ourselves needing a “change” to achieve a change.  (Wait.  What’d he say?)  For instance, we may need to change the way we dress as part of a tactic to change the way we are received at work or in the community.  A change before a change is a change in our strategy to effect a change in our experience.

The central theme here is to anticipate changes, threats, and opportunities.  That requires us to ask the right questions.  A very wise woman I know, my wife, often says “Wrong premise, wrong conclusion.”  What she is saying, in part, is if you are asking the wrong questions as you anticipate change, you won’t develop successful strategies to reach your goal.  And if you are not asking any questions about the future, well, be prepared to get bounced around on the tides of change rather than thrive on them.

Our anticipation of change requires us to ask value based questions as well.  The decision to act in one manner always means we are giving up, at least for a time, the ability to do something else.  That comes with a price.  We can only spend money and time once.  So we must ask ourselves, “Is  it ‘worth’ it to go this way?”  and “How will this choice affect my other goals?” These value based questions are perhaps the most important ones we will ask ourselves.  They go to the central question of “Why am I here and what do I want to invest my life in?”  Failure to ask those questions means we are simply reacting to the changes and “opportunities” that happen “to” us.

There is much more to be said about anticipating change and asking the right questions.  There is more to be said answering the questions about how we invest our lives and how we develop strategies that will lead us to the satisfaction we desire. For now, spend some time reflecting on the goals and objectives you have for your life and business.  Begin to develop your own list of questions.  We’ll talk more about them in the future.  As always,

Keep the Faith!