Whale Sharks

Solving problems is a hallmark of entrepreneurship. Challenges are presented every single day of our existence – some small, some large and some that are the size of a 41,000 pound Whale Shark. Regardless of their size, we know that we must persevere and work through the many issues we face. Let’s stop for a moment and think about our problem-solving encounters. Are they particularly stressful or do we handle them on a pretty even-keeled basis?

There have been periods in my career where problem-solving was extremely hard. Why? Because I made it so. There were times when nothing seemed to go right. It was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle and there was a piece that I absolutely, positively knew belonged in a specific location, but it wouldn’t quite fit. It was a maddening experience until I eventually figured out that I had jammed the correct piece in another spot – and that was also wrong. How did I feel? Frustrated is an understatement. At other times I’d be cruising along fixing little nits and nats along the way, only to find that other minor issues would keep cropping up. I remember putting together model airplanes as a kid. I might get a little too much glue on one part that would leak out through the seam. Or my hand wasn’t as steady as necessary and I’d get some paint in the wrong place. How did I feel? Irritated is the proper term.

Frustration, irritation, anger and anxiety are all emotions that we can feel when we are dealing with our challenges du jour. Then when a Whale Shark-sized problem swims by, it can push us over the edge into a full-blown meltdown. I’ve been there with all of this and I’m betting that you’ve been there too. Eliminating the drama in my life has been a priority in recent years. I decided to try and become more like a robot in this regard  . . . a robot named Zen! As time has passed, I’ve become much friendlier with Zen. I’m much less inclined to major in drama where problem-solving is concerned.

Here’s how I’m succeeding at experiencing less in the way of negative emotions when dealing with business and personal obstacles alike. I’m not a poker player but have watched enough poker to understand what a “poker face” is all about. So I try and emulate a poker player when I’m working a problem. It’s become a game for me to see if I can reach a solution without anyone (including myself) detecting frustration, irritation or any other unfavorable emotion. This works most of the time for small issues.

For larger problems I take a deep breath, smile and gulp in a healthy dose of positivity and optimism. Starting from a positive place is critical. Recently I heard someone reject optimism in favor of hope. To me, optimism is more of an action-oriented belief system. Hope is like keeping my fingers crossed. I’d rather place my trust in visualizing a positive outcome than keeping a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. Each step of the way I remind myself to stay positive and avoid the negative emotions. I look for the small victories along the way. And guess what – there are small victories in the midst of solving large challenges if we look for them. They are like stepping stones that take us from one side of the stream to the other without getting our feet wet.

Finally, here’s my approach to the Whale Shark problems. I get into a clinical state of mind. I map out a process from A to Z. My business colleagues know that I work a lot with spreadsheets and diagrams. I use these tools quite often to figure out the really big, hairy, tough stuff. This is where my robot, Zen, enters the picture. I love the story about Captain Sully Sullenberger who landed his US Airways aircraft on the Hudson River when both engines flamed out after ingesting a flock of geese. This man became a robot. In his mind he mapped out a solution to the problem. He remained calm and didn’t panic. Sully didn’t agonize over the decisions he made because there wasn’t time to do so. Embracing a process-driven approach and maintaining focus is the best way to avoid destructive negative emotions when solving the Whale Shark-sized problems.

We will succeed to a much greater degree when we learn how to control or eliminate negative emotions when solving problems. Then it doesn’t matter if the issue is small, large or of a Whale Shark scale – we’re well prepared.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 69 – Old Fashioned or New-Fangled?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Headwinds

An airplane wing gains lift by taking off into the wind. This then causes the airplane to defy gravity and fly . . . an entrepreneurial metaphor if ever there was one. Interestingly, in my pilot days I once experimented with a downwind takeoff (on a very long runway) and could barely get off the ground. I quickly put the plane back on the runway and ended the experiment!

To build a muscle we exercise it regularly adding more weight and repetitions. Members of the military become elite Seals, Green Berets, Delta Force and Rangers by undergoing rigorous training involving obstacles that severely test the physical and psychological strength of a human being. In Kenya, long distance runners often wear no shoes as they traverse inhospitable terrain, toughening the soles of their feet in the process. I think you can probably see the lessons here.

Adversity can be an entrepreneur’s best friend if we allow it to be. If success comes without challenge it’s easy to become complacent. We’re also robbed of growth opportunities that result from what we learn as we work through various hardships on the road to achievement. No one says we have to like adversity. But avoiding it and fighting it does not work. I’ve found that the most constructive approach is to actually embrace it. For me this means relaxing and easing into adversity. It means establishing a positive mindset and expecting that much good will comes from the experience. We’ve all heard the term “silver linings” and used it many times. Often we look back on what has transpired and almost as a consolation prize we identify the silver linings. Looking for them in advance can give us the lift that we need to fly through the clouds.

In addition to the tangible benefits that come from overcoming adversity in specific situations, there are numerous more global wins that can occur. Think about the last time you had a tough puzzle to solve. Perhaps one of the outcomes was that of heightened creativity and innovation. When faced with the prospects of failure our creative instincts kick in and the results can be amazing. We also find that collaboration and teamwork increases reinforcing the notion that two heads are better than one. While I thrive on making sense of complexity and solving tough problems, I find that doing it with others is more productive and builds a stronger organization.

Suppose a professional basketball team plays a game against the best high school team in the country. There’s no doubt about which team would win. Now, imagine that the same NBA team plays against the reigning world champion NBA team and beats them. Which win do you suppose offers a greater sense of accomplishment? We need to feel like we are doing something really worthwhile which can be difficult when we prevail without any struggle whatsoever.

Adversity helps us to identify weaknesses within our company as well as with our strategy. When we aren’t tested and succeed anyway we don’t really know what could happen if our feet were held to the fire. Challenges and obstacles also allow us to develop resilience and perseverance – both individually and organizationally. I truly hated those first few months of my career when I was an apartment manager. I was kicked in the teeth, the rear and every other part of my body – I was totally miserable. But something finally clicked and I figured it out. Quitting wasn’t an option for many reasons – thank goodness! Now I look back and understand how valuable the tough times were in teaching me how to get off the ground and back on the horse.

When we embrace adversity we can make it work for us like an airplane uses the wind to take off. Then it can become a powerful tool in the entrepreneur’s tool box.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Confluences

Consider this. One of your key employees just gave her two-week notice. Your company didn’t win a major contract for which it was bidding. The vice-president of production just informed you that delivery of a key component for manufacturing a product that is 30% of your sales has been indefinitely delayed. Your company website was hacked last night and decorated with cyber graffiti. Cash flow is a bit tight right now. Oh, and you haven’t been able to squeeze in a workout for a week. How does all of this feel right about now? Certainly being under siege might be one way to describe it.

Let me assure you that similar situations like this are experienced by many entrepreneurs every single day. Perhaps some of it is preventable. But more importantly – how do you handle it? Are you able to stay calm, smile and find your way through the minefield? Or is it meltdown time and maybe a visit to the local tavern after work? The key is how we choose to view and respond to such events. If we see all that I’ve described as a crisis, then we may react with fear and panic. However, if we simply see this as a “Confluence of Events,” we may be a bit more sanguine about it. Let’s look at some of the reactions I’ve witnessed over the years when I see entrepreneurs encounter a “Confluence of Events.”

  • The Beginning of the End – those who go here lay awake at night conjuring images of complete and total disaster and destruction. They are convinced that their company is going down the tubes; they’ll personally go broke, and they’ll end up living under a bridge. They go to the office and try to slug it out, but they have this feeling of impending doom. Sometimes this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
  • Deny and Hide – others utilize the Deny and Hide approach. They refuse to acknowledge that something needs to be done and go play golf, take a “business” trip or find some other distraction. Rather than face the issues at hand, they rationalize their reaction by positing that “others need to step up and show leadership” in order to solve the problems.
  • Focus, Focus, Focus – I’ve watched leaders with the best of intentions sharpen their focus . . . in over-the-top ways! They tend to jump in and micro-manage a particular situation to the exclusion of everything else that is occurring. By plunging in this way they believe that they are being productive – except that the rest of the issues that need solving are languishing.

These are just three of the reactions I’ve observed and each demonstrates the classic fight or flight response. There is another way.

When the “siege” begins and a Confluence of Events is in sight the first thing we can do is take a deep breath. Seriously. Spending several minutes to become quiet will help clear the mind. There’s plenty of time to deal with the issues at hand, and becoming centered will make the process easier. Next, we write down the specific facts surrounding each challenge that we’re facing. This helps move us away from dwelling on the emotional elements. I’ve found that when I push out the emotion, things generally aren’t as bad as they seem. Finally, we map out the manner in which we are going to tackle each situation that is contributing to our Confluence of Events. We identify the priorities and start working our way through them. At no time do we feel victimized or defeated. We show leadership by maintaining an even keel and demonstrating that no matter what the situation, there’s always a resolution.

A confluence of problems in our business and personal lives may seem insurmountable. Avoiding a siege mentality begins with remaining calm and unemotional. Then we’re able to methodically and successfully work through or around the obstacles we are facing.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Knock-Knock . . .

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Problem. Problem who? This childhood riddle is emblematic of a common perspective that many of our daily encounters present problems for us. But are they really problems? I’m sure that an argument can be made that anything a bit perplexing or where a less-than-favorable outcome is realized, could be considered a problem. But why do we choose to believe this so often? Some of us by nature are problem-solvers (I’ve been known to fall in this category) and so we may see situations as problems to be solved. But I submit that there is a different way to look at this.

For the last many years, I’ve become more and more inclined to be an “opportunity-seeker.” And what a difference it makes to see things as less problematic and more opportunistic. Obviously this is a subtle shift in mindset – does it really matter what we call it? I believe that it does because of how we tend to react internally to problems versus opportunities. Some of our natural feelings when facing a problem may be dread, fear, surprise, fatigue, victimization, overload, resignation, procrastination and apathy. All of these feelings are cloaked in negativity. Of course there are positive ways to view problems and many of us may do so; but I’ll bet that the natural tendency is to focus more on the negative perspective.

On the other hand, becoming an “opportunity-seeker” is a proactive and positive manner in which to move through challenging situations. Notice my language here. I didn’t talk about “facing” a problem. I didn’t talk about a “resolution.” Instead I used the words “move through challenging situations.” This sounds effortless but it’s not. However, the process of “moving through challenging situations” does not have to be filled with our own emotional downside drama. And there’s one component to being an “opportunity-seeker” that makes it all worthwhile in my view. We get to unleash our creativity.

Creativity is one of the most positive energies that we can experience. It’s much more expansive than just figuring out how to fix something. Metaphorically speaking, creativity enables us to make things bigger and better. I’m sure you’ve felt the frustration of trying to put together a puzzle where you simply can’t find the right piece. We just want to “fix” the situation by finding the missing piece and moving on – right? Contrast this with taking a pile of Lego® pieces and building an object right out of our minds-eye. That’s the difference between being a problem-solver and an opportunity seeker. Some situations will always require finding the right piece to the puzzle no matter how creative we want to be. But we can find a way to harness our creativity in every situation. In the literal case of the puzzle, perhaps we can become more imaginative in the way we sift through the pieces to find the right one. Or maybe we make a game out of it.

When we choose to stop seeing challenging situations as problems we cease limiting ourselves to being only problem-solvers. Moving through challenging situations by looking for opportunities to be creative opens the way for feelings of joy, accomplishment, euphoria, happiness and satisfaction. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Opportunity!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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The Eeyore Effect

Once upon a time there was a donkey; a very sour, pessimistic, woe-is-me, black-cloud-hanging-over-his-head donkey. Do you ever feel like this Winnie the Pooh character, Eeyore? What sort of a load are you carrying? As entrepreneurs we may often feel like that load is very heavy. As a result, our productivity is stunted and our emotional state is negatively impacted.

Feeling the weight of the world can be triggered by so many things. And feeling the weight of the world can have a compounding effect and further escalate our woes. Perhaps we are experiencing a health challenge of some sort. What happens to our functionality when we don’t feel good? Our focus isn’t as sharp and we may be more prone to making mistakes. Realizing this, we try even harder to focus; end up having tunnel vision, and miss something important happening outside of our line of sight.

Maybe we’re having a relationship issue. A member of our team is causing severe problems in the office, and is making outrageous, false and highly personal statements that are very hurtful. We find ourselves dwelling on what is being said about us and become distracted to the point that we miss the signals of dissatisfaction from one of our clients. By the time we realize what is happening, things are spinning out of control and we become even more beaten down.

Entrepreneurship is all about solving problems. We make a clear choice about how we are going to deal with what may be perceived as “the load we carry.” We are most effective when we don’t accept the problems as our own. How can we say that we aren’t going to accept a situation that is ours and only ours? The previously mentioned health challenge isn’t someone else’s problem, is it? True enough. But the key word here is accept. We can view a challenge as a load that we must shoulder, or we can look at it as a problem we must solve. If our mindset is that a problem is a load to carry, then it’s likely that we’ll see all of our problems as loads to carry. If each problem represents a 50-pound weight, three problems are the equivalent of carrying 150-pounds on our back.

Rather than carry our challenges as weights on our back, we can choose to embrace them as opportunities to demonstrate our creativity; our resolve; our discipline, and our skill. In so doing, we refuse to “accept” our challenges as problems. We refuse to carry a load of any sort. Our mindset is that of clinical detachment. How many times have you seen someone appear to juggle a multitude of issues in an apparently effortless manner? And even more impressive is that while doing so they always maintain a sunny disposition. This ability is more than just resilience. It’s not allowing the load to be placed on our back in the first place.

We must draw a line in the sand with respect to whether or not we will allow our challenges to result in problems that accumulate as weights on our back. Seeing our challenges as golden opportunities is a sure-fire winning formula.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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