Inconvenient success

It’s rare to have one’s ducks all in row, leading to a strategically planned and executed successful outcome. It’s more often the case that an unexpected challenge prompts a need for action or a different direction.

Can we still have a successful outcome arising from uncertainty?

The opportunity for success, for growth and development, rarely arrives in a neatly packaged convenient bundle. The intersection of our plans and goals with the unexpected, creates inconvenience. It is how we respond to this inconvenience that shapes our attitude towards success. The ability to regroup, take stock and adjust course is fundamental to continued personal and professional growth and, ultimately, success (however we may measure this).

Success through inconvenience builds our resilience and sharpens our skillsets. Rather than viewing inconvenience as something to be avoided, perhaps we should search within the inconvenience for the opportunity.

LET HOPE RISE

Lessons from a lost ship

Did you know Australia has a Chief Scientist?

No? Well, we do and in early March our newly appointed Chief Scientist, Dr Finkel, addressed the National Press Club as part of an event run by Science & Technology Australia.

Dr Finkel shared a story about a small nation with middle-power ambitions. A nation in transition with a growing population and a commodity-based economy.

…But this small nation was well aware of its uncertain place in a strategic region at a volatile time. So it embarked on a bold exercise to build a flagship for its navy that would also be a statement about its place in the world.

The setting is Sweden, four hundred year ago, in 1625. Now this was no ordinary ship that the Swedes contracted the Dutch, who subcontracted the Germans, Danes and Finns, to build. This was something that no-one in Sweden had ever attempted before: a 135 foot warship with two decks, each bearing 36 cannons.

And it had to be built on the keel of the 110 foot, one-deck warship the contractors were initially instructed to build. That ship was half done when the King changed his mind – inspired by the thought of an extra deck, with extra cannons.

So the builders set to work, and they did their best to adapt the keel, while the King went off to fight his war with Poland.

By August 1628 the ship was ready. All of Stockholm gathered at the harbour for the launch of this mighty symbol of Swedish pride. And all of Stockholm was still there when, twenty minutes after the launch, tilted by the gentle nudge of a light sea breeze, it sank – less than one nautical mile from dock.

This ship – the Vasa – has sailed into business school history: as the textbook case in innovation done wrong.

The ship and 53 lives were lost as a result.

That ship sat on the bottom of the harbour for 333 years. Then it was raised in 1961 – almost perfectly preserved, ornamental mermaids and all. Raising it was a phenomenal feat of ingenuity and engineering. It was installed in a purpose-built museum, where more than a million people every year line up to see it. To Sweden, the Vasa is now a great source of national pride.

Because Sweden didn’t give up on building ships. They built two-deck gunships. They built three-deck gunships. Gunships that became the pride of the Swedish military for the next thirty years.

They helped to usher in the age the Swedes call stormaktstiden – the Great Power Period.

Failure – repurposed as a symbol of success.

But we don’t have to get there from the bottom of the harbour.

Let’s take the direct path to our own stormaktstiden, our Great Power Period.

LET HOPE RISE

Oiling when there is no noise…

We’ve all heard the saying ‘the noisy wheel gets the oil’ (or a version thereof!), but what about the wheel from which no squeak emanates; the wheel that just seems to be working? What do we do about that?

Place this in the context of relationships – be it within the family, the workplace, a team. Much leadership effort can be consumed by the ‘noisy wheel’ – the person requiring emotional support, the team member with the knowledge gap, the child regularly ‘in trouble’. And whilst investing energy and resources into the individual is required, we must ensure it’s not at the expense of others. Just because there’s no noise, doesn’t mean oil is not required!

We need to be deliberate in how we invest into people. We need to manage our own capacity to ensure we have sufficient in reserve to extinguish bush fires that flare whilst consistently checking on the health and well-being of those not so noisy. Each of us benefits from acknowledgement of a job well done, encouragement in the face of adversity, opportunities to learn and grow, but it may not be as obvious in some of us.

Make a decision today to look around your world – your workplace, your family, your team – the person not making noise could be the one needing the oil.

LET HOPE RISE

Spend or Invest?

How often do you talk about ‘spending’ time with someone?

Spend, by definition, is about expenditure, paying out. The word ‘invest’, on the other hand, talks about expenditure in the context of a return.

This might be semantic (or even pedantic!) to many, but I believe our use of words frames the outcomes we expect, consciously or otherwise. My thinking is if we start with the end in mind, then whatever we do is likely to be more fruitful. This would seem to entirely relevant to practical activities such as building Ikea furniture or going on a road-trip where we have a sense of what the end should look like, of what the return will be.

Let’s place this in the context of time with your wife or husband, or maybe your kids… if we think about this interaction time as an investment, are we likely to use it differently? Maybe a return on investment enables us to be more strategic with some of our interactions, turning them into genuine connections. Perhaps we may be more intentional about communicating or doing something towards a shared goal?

I’m not saying a change of words will revolutionise your relationships, but if you think a relationship could be enhanced, then try investing rather than spending!

LET HOPE RISE

DO or WITH – which is more important?

My wife and I often wonder what we did with all that spare time we must have had before the kids came along. Not that we’re longing for the ‘good old days’, but rather understanding that we probably didn’t place as much value on our time back then.

The more full life becomes, the greater the value you place on your time. Simple law of economics really: scarce resource + high demand = increased value! As a dad, it’s easy for me to consistently place my interests or my (perceived J) needs ahead of my boys’. And sometimes, this is entirely appropriate. Other times, not necessarily so…

A key I’ve learned parenting over the past 16 years is that I don’t necessarily have to enjoy the stuff I do with my kids. The enjoyment should come in the fact I’m doing it with my boys, shoulder-to-shoulder. Be it playing soccer, going for an early morning swim, helping them with homework, watching Minions for the 10th time, or guiding them in the finer points of Monopoly… Don’t get me wrong, I often DO enjoy these things, but not always!

The focus of enjoyment should be our kids, not the thing we’re doing. I find that if I remember this very simple point the time I invest with my boys is likely to be much more enjoyable for everyone involved!

LET HOPE RISE

Just do something!

My life has been characterised by potential. Mostly unrealised potential. This has caused me significant frustration, equating this to a lack of value in myself, thinking that I have let other’s down. Thankfully I am now aware of this and have been working upon this not-so-desirable aspect of myself. The key I hold onto are three words my wife once said to me “…just do something!”.

The context was me expressing how I thought I had let down my wife and my family. It was a major league pity party. After my emotional release, I was surprised by my wife’s response “I really don’t care what you do, just do something!!”.

WOW!

This was not the 5 step plan that would have removed all responsibility from my shoulders. This was not the “my poor darling” join in the pity-party approach. This was tough love. This was my wife undeniably backing me whilst challenging me to step up and be the difference I so sorely wanted to be.

I’m not there yet. I sometimes feel old and that I’ve missed something somewhere. But I also know that this potential within me will continue to be realised and progressively ‘topped up’. My desire to empower, enable and equip others has taken many forms over the years and I know I have been gifted an ability to help others realise their vision. I can practically create a sense of order around a dream that otherwise seemed chaotic.

Stepping into potential begins with just that, a step. Even if we’re not confident we’re stepping in the right direction, at least we’re moving! Let’s start by just doing SOMETHING!

LET HOPE RISE

Mark Mahoney's reflections on life as a husband, father and a jack-of-all-trades leader!