Think Big, Start Small, Learn Fast

What do Netflix and snails have in common?  Check out this Forbes article and go see this documentary The Biggest Little Farm to find out.  The article highlights a formula for successful innovation:  “Think Big, Start Small and Learn Fast” and the documentary provides a great illustration of that formula. It tells the story of a couple who left their white collar jobs to become biodynamic farmers in California.

Since they had no experience, Molly and John Chester found a wise mentor who encouraged them to think big and plan for the future.  He also taught them to start small by bringing the soil back to life with worms.  As you might imagine, the Chesters and their team had to learn fast, often by making mistakes.  After seven years of hard work, Apricot Lane Farms is now 200 acres of organic and biodynamic certified avocado and lemon orchards, a vegetable garden, more than 75 varieties of stone fruit trees and a lot of very photogenic animals.

As you consider opportunities for innovation in your sphere of influence, how might you apply the success formula of “Think Big, Start Small and Learn Fast?”

“The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.”

I first saw this Lewis Carroll quote in a high school guidance counselor’s office.  The poster featured Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit checking his giant pocket watch before running madly toward a mysterious hole in the ground.

As someone who has always been in a hurry to get things done with maximum efficiency, I need to be reminded to slow down.  Even as I write this I’m operating at warp speed to juggle competing priorities and too-short timelines.  And sure enough, a few of my spinning plates have tipped a little too far for comfort.

If your new year is off to a roaring start with too much to do and not enough time to get it all done, let’s take a collective deep breath – using the 4 square technique taught by yoga instructors and Navy SEALs and included in Dare to Lead:

Imagine moving around the 4 corners of a Square

  1. Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your stomach, for a count of 4
  2. Hold in the breath for a count of 4
  3. Slowly exhale all the air through your mouth, contracting your stomach, for a count of 4
  4. Hold the empty breath for a count of 4
  5. Repeat until you feel calm – in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4

This will help us avoid that mysterious hole in the ground!

Where is the Squirrel?

Do you ever feel like the puppy in the photo above?  He’s so distracted that he can’t see the squirrel on the other side of the tree.  I felt like that as I drove to the recent International Coach Federation conference in the Texas hill country.  Luckily, one of the first exercises was to set our intention for the weekend.  Since I was bringing a lot of distractions with me I decided on something I could remember:

Positive  —  Open —  Present

At the first check-in most people admitted some challenges with maintaining their intention, even though we had several opportunities to practice techniques for increasing awareness and staying mindful.  Not surprisingly, this was more difficult as the day wore on.  At our final check-in the next morning, I realized that practice had made it a little easier to stay Positive and Open  …which enabled me to stay Present.

I  brought home some visual reminders of the positive things I want to focus on so I wouldn’t go right back to:

Negative  –  Closed —  Distracted

If you’re like a distracted puppy, what will help you stay focused and present?  How will you put that into practice in the next week and beyond?

Self Knowledge is Power

English author and philosopher Francis Bacon, an advocate of inductive reasoning in science, wrote, “Knowledge is power” in 1597.  This phrase has come up with many of my clients recently in a new form: self-knowledge is power.

One of the first steps in coaching is creating awareness of strengths, motivators and stress behaviors, typically through a personality assessment and confidential feedback from colleagues.  The challenge then becomes what to do with that information.  I often tell my clients, “You don’t have to agree with all of the feedback but you can choose what to do with it.”

Knowing …

  • your strengths gives you the power to resist buying into destructive comments from an undermining co-worker.
  • what motivates you gives you the power to pursue a role that makes you look forward to work every day.
  • what triggers your stress behaviors gives you the power to stay calm and in control when your brain wants you to do the opposite.

What do you need to know in order to be your most powerful self?

“No Thanks”

Are you tired of people telling you to be thankful this month? You already know that is important. What about saying, “no thanks?” This isn’t about the second piece of pie at Thanksgiving dinner although it is about resisting temptation – to saying “yes.”

Do you keep saying “yes” to everything you are asked to do until you are so overwhelmed that you can’t do any of it well? I’m not discouraging going above and beyond to exceed performance expectations. I am encouraging strategically prioritizing the things to which you say “yes.”

How do you say “no thanks?” In this month’s issue of Fortune the CEO of Priceline Group shares this advice: “It is far more important (and difficult) to decide what you are not going to do than what you are going to do. Try to replay every direction in the negative: We won’t do X, Y, and Z. Focus and simplicity are a workforce multiplier.”

Try (politely) saying “no thanks” to one thing to which you usually say “yes” and see what happens. Enjoy the holiday and the pie!

Virtual Team Building

Two clients contacted me recently to explore options for virtual team building because travel bans and budget constraints are making a difficult situation even more challenging. They want to go beyond standard conference calls to bridge the distance between people in multiple locations.

Video calls are another option that can create a more personal connection. In the same way that we set ground rules for an in-person team building session, the team needs to decide how they will interact on calls. Here are some things to consider in making this an effective tool:

Include an icebreaker activity to help people get to know each other. Check out 50 Digital Team Building Games

  • Determine how to ensure everyone’s participation
  • Constructively voice differences of opinion during the call rather than afterward
  • Define the boundaries for confidentiality
  • Establish accountability and timelines for action items

In between calls, pairing team members on special projects or initiatives can create camaraderie. Rotating the responsibility for leading the call is a great way to develop new skills and generate different ideas and approaches. Find more ideas at HBR Making Virtual Teams Work.