Potential: Revealed

Strategic Thinking, Innovative Ideas, Growth Marketing, and Revealing of Potential

Archive for boldness

Not Fearless … “I Just Proceed Nonetheless”

One subject I’ve often discussed with friends and colleagues is about making difficult decisions, the reasoning behind those decisions, and the personal characteristics involved. What are the hallmarks of making good decisions in a challenging environment or situation?

There are many factors but for this post I want to refute – with the help of a wonderful example I found today – one factor that I think is either over emphasized or perhaps not really a factor at all. That factor is: fearlessness.

The definition is “to be free from fear”. If you are faced with a difficult decision whether in a personal sphere, in business, or other arena is a lack of fear a good thing? It certainly might help you get over the hump, so to speak, and to act upon a decision you might have based on your judgment, your morality or ethics, particularly if the consequences for failure are dire enough (e.g., failed business, failed relationship, even life-or-death).
This has always troubled me though. I just seems that as humans we all have fears and given they are seemingly universal then those fears are there for some useful purpose (and we should be paying attention to them!).

SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk sent the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station

Yet I like this interview of Elon Musk, founder of Paypal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors (and he’s only 41!). Especially the last line of this part of the interview:

“I wouldn’t say I have a lack of fear. In fact, I’d like my fear emotion to be less because it’s very distracting and fries my nervous system. I have this sort of feeling that something terrible could happen, like all of our flights could fail and Tesla could fail and SpaceX could fail, and that feeling of anxiety has not left me, even though this has been a great year. So I feel fear quite strongly; I just proceed nonetheless.

I would say that fear is part of what stokes Elon’s drive and his attention to what is important in his business decisions. Fear is a means but the end – the decision to and actually act – is all about bravery. To move ahead despite the risk, despite the fears is a concious act, not an unconcious act (as fearlessness seems to be, at least to me).

So, may you recognize your fears. Confront them and use them to inform your decisions. Then summon your bravery to act with confidence on the decisions you have made, or as Elon says “just proceed nonetheless“.

(P.S. read the rest of the interview with Elon Musk. It is quite interesting.)

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Imagination

Albert Einstein once wrote that in science “imagination is more important than knowledge”. That’s a powerful thought. I suppose you might expect nothing less from an intellectual giant such as Einstein.

What resonated with me, as someone who often not only wants to understand but who finds fully understanding something (i.e., “knowledge”) to be particularly satisfying, is the caution it offered about seeing knowledge as the only worthy end (to some research you’ve conducted, a project you’ve managed, a business problem or opportunity you’ve worked hard on).

Further, in reading more about the context of Einstein’s writing this line, he is saying bluntly that science like many pursuits in life is really just a journey, full of unknowns and unfolding unendingly. At any given point in time there are many truths or facts that are well-accepted and proven but an infinite number more truths and facts that are quite unknown and sometimes seemingly unknowable. Particularly in science there are many areas of study that deal with phenomena that are not readily or directly observable.

Einstein,and other great scientists, made many of their most astounding breakthroughs using their imagination rather than getting stuck trying to understand the seemingly unknowable. They would imagine some alternative reality to what was known at the time, think through how this alternative world might look and how it might operate if it were discovered to be true, then go about experimenting, searching and testing as if the alternate view were indeed true. This gave them great freedom to work creatively rather than be confined by the “known”. As a non-scientist, for me at least, this was very revealing and refreshing – creativity and science go together! I think I thought before this that they were mutually exclusive.

I began to relate this to my work with business clients where we might be talking about a new product or concept, or a new approach to promotional marketing and other challenges where some facts are well known and many others are for practical purposes unknowable. In such a situation how do you proceed? Einstein would say, if I may be so bold as to speak for him, to first beware of investing all your time into trying to know everything. This is similar to the common advice to avoid “analysis paralysis”. He adds to this common wisdom a more unique point of advice: use your imagination and then be bold enough to just try it out! Experiment. Try. Fail. Try again with another approach.

This is of course no guarantee of success. Your imagination might fail you. But when faced with a big challenge, using your imagination can be a powerful tool to spur action and overcome inaction. At the very least, doing so will give you a taste of how Albert Einstein thought and that alone will be fun!

Yes, and…

A little while back I took a management development class (at Duke, with props to their exec ed team) that was unique and continues to have impact on my work and management thinking. It was an “improv for business” course, taught by an great full time b-school prof plus a colleague of his who is a member of 2nd City, the famous improv troupe out of Chicago (John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Bonnie Hunt, and many othersn are alumni). Some surprises from that experience:

Improv while looking chaotic and without form (and at a given moment it may be) is actually governed by some clear rules and norms.

Rather than being at odds with business improv provides a framework and method for breakthrough thinking.

Improv is first about listening, then about acting. Intense listening with the intent to truly understanding the sender’s message is the key to being a good improv player.

While there are others, and for the experienced improv player many additional and deeper levels to the world of improv, here are the most basic of rules:

1. Say yes, and. That is, agree with your stage partners, and expand from there. On a superficial level this agreement can be literal, eg. “let’s go to the gym”, “yes, and I’m going to get you RIPPED for your wedding”, but on a more fundamental level it’s about agreement between the players that if they are truly open to knew information — and trust one another — they can create something unique by building upon each others input and ideas.

2. Treat everything your partner says/does like manna from heaven. Everything is a gift, and if you take the time to really listen to/explore what he/she has said/done, there is a bounty of treasure there for you to use.

3. Make bold choices. New improvisers tend to put the onus on the other improviser to add information to the scene rather than you putting it out there themselves. You learn however that it is more productive — and more fun — to be bold and add as much to the scene every chance you have.

4. Don’t try to control the scene. Look after your own character, and trust that your scene partners are doing the same. The best scenes emerge from your interactions with others, rather than any singularly funny or outrageous thing you or another character says or does.

We did many fun group exercises over three days where we practiced listening — ensuring we truly received the message from our partners. This is not easy and revealed all of our weaknesses in this area. We also did many exercises to practice being “bold”. This rule (#3) stretches — and hopefully breaks — your natural defense against experimentation and failure. If you are going to be bold you will fail ocassionally (and a lot, at the beginning). And lastly, rule #4 played itself out over and over as we worked together and practiced improv scenarios, reminding us that the most beautiful tapestry comes from the weaving of many threads.