David Fitzgerald, a long time reader and occasional commenter of this blog, sent me a story.
He was sitting in Tampa Airport waiting to board his flight. He observed a fellow traveler, a 2-3-year-old girl, playing nearby in the way restless children tend to play: energetically, loudly, and oblivious to her impact on others.
The grandmother who was minding her was not so sanguine about her granddaughter’s behavior. It led her to continuously admonish, “Don’t do that.” To no avail.
The happy toddler kept up her wild play.
Mom returned and the volume and number of orders to the child to not do what she was doing increased. To no avail.
David got tired of watching this multi-generational drama play out so he decided to use his secret weapon to make everyone happy. He reached into his bag and pulled out a box of crayons and a pad of paper.
Problem solved. The child eagerly channeled her enthusiasm into coloring. Mother and grandmother and surrounding passengers relaxed and smiled.
David, a neurologist, always carries crayons. In addition to calming young travelers they are the perfect tool for distracting children while he consults with their parents.
It’s a nice story about a simple but creative solution to a situation all frequent flyers, and many other people, regularly face: a rambunctious child. Be irritated, roll your eyes, complain, admonish…or find a creative solution that leaves everyone happy.
Think about problems you face on a regular basis. How often do you react to them by complaining, feeling sorry for yourself, even telling yourself and others “don’t do that”? You waste your breath and don’t resolve anything. The problem remains.
The next time an irritating situation arises, before opening your mouth, think about how to reframe the issue in a way that leads you to a positive solution, one that leaves everyone better off. Become part of the solution rather than someone who enlarges the problem.
Bring out the crayons.
Create an artist.
I had an epiphany early this morning! There I was at 5:45, sitting by myself at the Wharton School waiting for everyone to arrive so we could finalize the Global Consulting Practicum projects in time for the upcoming presentations. Clients from around the world would soon arrive expecting exceptional strategic marketing recommendations.
You read that correctly, 5:45, and that was after a 45 -minute drive into the city from my home. It’s a nice time of day…I beat all the traffic, it’s quiet and peaceful, and I find I do some of my best thinking before the world intervenes.
I was reading the book Obliquity by the economist John Kay, and came upon these words from Sir James Black, the Nobel Prize winning pharmacologist behind the discovery of beta-blockers and antiulcerants. “Goals are often best achieved without intending them.”
Goals are often best achieved without intending them. At first this seemed silly to me. Goals are the driving force behind achievement. Or are they? What is it exactly that leads people and organizations to be successful?
I spent several hours reading and thinking about Kay’s ideas on the winding path that indirectly, rather than directly, leads to achieving our goals. I read stories of companies that unintentionally found financial success as well as Kay’s insights into how our lack of control over so much that happens around us and to us requires a flexible approach if we are to reach our goals.
A flexible path guided by a deep desire that drives us forward. In the case of Sir Black, he was motivated by chemistry, and a passion and desire to discover new things through his research. As he worked and explored, he was unconcerned about financial results. Yet his research yielded the unintended result of huge profits for several global pharmaceutical companies.
Suddenly Kay’s ideas took over my thinking. I realized many who share their vision of building successful businesses say nothing about money. They build success by focusing on doing what they love to do, by doing what excites and energizes them. They detour past obstacles, adjust to changing conditions, and backtrack and find a different path when they get stuck.
Their fire burns so brightly that it attracts like-minded people who share their passion, vision, and core values. This enables them to build an organization completely aligned and driven to achieve the same goals, no matter how much meandering is required to achieve them. And when success arrives it comes with a nice additional result…a profitable company.
One of Kay’s chapters is titled “The Profit –Seeking Paradox – How the Most Profitable Companies Are Not the Most Profit Oriented.” And that sums it up.
After several hours the team members began to appear. With my mind whirling at the ideas Kay’s book generated I rose to greet them. Little did they know that while reviewing the decks and massaging the recommendations, I’d be watching for obliquity and ways to incorporate it into the teams’ thinking and work.