Author: Sterling Hawkins
You can turn an unpredictable world into predictable results. It comes down to the practices we have in our businesses and with those around us. Even though we might not be able to predict the exact timing of a breakthrough, the practices create the conditions necessary to have a breakthrough, even making that breakthrough inevitable over time.
Seal Island, South Africa. One of the most renowned places in the world to see sharks.
We’ve been out on the ocean for over 4 hours before this photo was taken. And it’s only about 8am so it was an early morning (or maybe a late night depending on how you think about it). The ocean was empty. No other divers. No other boats except for a small local fishing boat. No sharks either. No big fish. Nothing but thousands of penguins on a little island and all the smells that went with them.
There are all sorts of waivers you sign prior. Not just signing away your safety, but also agreeing that if you don’t see sharks you don’t get a refund. And I’ve just about given up. We agree to give it about 10 more minutes so I sit on the side of the boat with my feet in the water inside the cage.
We’ve all been here in business or life, haven’t we? A little bit resigned that this is just the way it is and there’s not much to do about it.
Then there’s screaming. About 18 inches (yes inches) to my left a 14′ shark has leaped out of the water and was hanging from a rope that used to hold the bait. I freeze. Literally could not move. As the screaming comes into focus, they’re yelling at me to get in the water. I later learned where I am on the edge is more dangerous right now than inside the cage. At the time though, I was thinking: “are these people crazy?! This can’t be the best time to get into the water”.
Seconds later I trusted them enough to jump in… once under water the shark came down and when I looked into it’s big black eyes a total peace and calm came over me. And fear was gone. It seems like that’s always how it is: endless waiting for the right moment. Fear as it becomes a reality. And suddenly a new normal.
The unpredictability of those moments is the interesting part. Nobody could have guaranteed sharks. Nobody can predict the future. 2020 has been a masterclass lesson on that.
We’re not powerless though. What we can do is build predictability into the unpredictability by focusing on our cultural practices. In shark diving it was knowing where to be and when. It was using a certain kind of bait and moving it in a specific way. The crew knew they had created the conditions of success and that’s why they stayed at the ready even though we had given up. They knew success could happen in any moment and they’d be immediately ready to respond.
In business, it’s things like what do we do with failure? Do people provide real feedback? Even how people interact in meetings. When effective practices are in place, it creates the conditions for breakthrough results regardless of the circumstances. And it can happen even when you least expect it.
What are your practices? As an individual or as a company? When those practices create the environment to yield success, it’s only a matter of time.
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