The sprint at the end of a project does get you there. It focuses your and your team’s energy, keeps the pressure on, and is an occasion for heroic efforts. It can work.
Except it only really works when you guess right about where that finish line is. It only really works when you time everything just right, so that you cross the finish line just at the moment when your and your team’s energy is about to run out.
Meaning that, once you hit maximum velocity you’ve closed yourself off to discovery, closed yourself off to noticing, a good ways down the path, that you need to make a turn, you need to double down, you need to shore up for a longer haul.
That tortoise was on to something.
We’re generally really good at and comfortable with talking about “what:” what we’re proposing, what the big vision is, what the plan looks like. We’re eager to spend our time constructing the argument, perfecting the slides, and standing up and making our big pitch.
“We want to do this and this and then this.”
But “why” often stumps us. We treat “why” like it’s some sort of attack. “Why” makes us feel defensive.
“Why” can sound to us like someone is tearing down the “what,” just without doing it directly.
Here’s a suggestion. Hear “why” for what it is: a chance to dig into the assumptions, the core issues, the strategic opportunity. “Why” means: I share your goal of getting to the bottom of this one, let’s figure it out together by getting to the core issues.
More often than not, when someone asks “why” they really mean just that.
In early 2008, about a year after I started at Acumen Fund, I noticed something surprising. Even though I was busier than I had ever been, I started reading again– first fiction, but then all sorts of things including a healthy dollop of things that cut to the core of how I see and understand the world and how to be more professionally effective.
What changed? I’d have thought that going from a not-so busy routine to one where I have to savagely guard every minute of the day would give me less space to think and reflect and grow.
It’s because in my previous job, I was dying on the vine.
That meant that I spent all my mental energy all day long trying to convince myself to hang on, that I was making it work, that all of the cognitive dissonance – the cacophony, really – between what I hoped the job would be and what it turned out to be was manageable. So by the end of the day, when I had some time to myself, the idea of reconnecting to the professional, productive part of who I am ran the risk of reminding me of my terrible, energy-sapping job, and I wanted no part of it.
What I wish someone had told me then – which is what I wanted to share now – is that you (if you find yourself in a similar situation) are not the job. You are a wonderful, intelligent, highly capable person who will take huge strides forward as you continue to invest in yourself – through what you read and the relationships you build and the connections you make and the doors you open for others.
And if you find yourself stretched and thinking and growing every day, take that as a sign that something’s very right, because in yourself is just about the best use of time around.
Abundance breeds abundance, not the other way around.