Monday, September 16, 2013

Row, row, row your boat?

Sometimes, we try to change something about ourselves that we believe will be simple and straightforward. A great example of this is the weight issue. Most everyone can relate to trying to lose or gain weight – and more importantly, keep it off or on! But this is a good example because it is actually simple to start, sometimes simple to achieve – but extremely difficult to maintain. I do not have the answer to the weight issue, but I have noticed that many companies try to change by looking at an exterior methodology – and think this will answer all their issues. But many times, these new ways of doing things only surface the deeper issues – the ones that do not require a simple change. Worse yet, sometimes the organization does not know why it is making the choice it will pursue; it is blind to the deeper issues. This natural blindness can get people and organizations into some interesting trouble.


In a different place in my life, I decided that I could help out young kids learn about the outdoors by helping lead a small scout troop. A friend noted that I liked being outside and doing outdoorsy things, and he asked me to see if I would be interested in "helping out". Very soon, I was a commander, with a troop of about 9 or so 6 - 8 year old boys running around all over the place! The experiences we shared were awesome, nothing quite prepared me to be a Scrum Coach like this activity did - but as time went by I got used to working with kids in the outdoors, and it led me to trouble almost as soon as I got to go out to the lake on my own.

As many Texans are, I am a boat owner. I own a 14-foot canoe. With my past experiences (helping the kids and all), you could say I feel I am a relatively capable canoeist. So much so, that I though I would take out the old boat and go fishing in the spring. I had just seen a new technique for catching yellow bass that allows you to jig at depth while standing on a boat, and I was eager to try it out. After all, the lake near my house is full of yellow bass in the spring. So I ventured out on my own, and was excited to try out my new knowledge.

If you have ever spent time outside, I think you probably are laughing or chuckling at least by now. Because you can see what is coming next. I paddled out right on top of my sweet spot, where I knew the fish were hanging out - and I prepared my line and boat, and promptly stood up an got ready to drop the line. Here is where things got funny and weird right quick...

I immediately felt the boat become unstable. I felt the rocking, but caught myself. I actually dropped the line while trying to figure out "why is this canoe so shifty? It is a wide body, and very stable in normal circumstances..." As this mental calculation was going on inside my head, the whole canoe flipped over. I was fully submerged, and looking at all the contents of my canoe slowly drifting towards the bottom - almost like a slow motion movie scene...

Of course, I recovered quickly. I flipped the canoe over so fast, only my swivels were lost in the ruckus. But I really was surprised - really shocked that the canoe had flipped over. I was replaying all the other times I had gone out on the canoe, and all the people that stood up, ran around, went fishing, and did all sorts of things in a canoe. Why would I have any issue this one time? I had done and seen this work LOADS of times before…

When I slowed things down a bit, after a few days, I realized - yes, you CAN stand on a canoe, and you CAN fish from one too. Just not if you are alone, are an adult and are the anchor for the whole "team". You see, I got used to KIDS running around, paddling standing, fishing, jumping in, carousing in a canoe - while I sat in the middle and desperately kept the boat afloat and the kids alive. THEY could stand, so long as I remained seated and paddling. There was a lot of yelling, tons of fun and all sorts of shenanigans...  I had associated "canoeing" with "all sorts of activities standing up". It seemed completely normal to me to have people having fun and be in a canoe at the same time. This allowed me to learn an embarrassing and dangerous lesson!

Recently, I wrote about a meeting that I was a part of, and I touched upon how the presenter was actively trying to overcome the organizational bias that they thought might creep in and affect the decisions that were being considered. You can do some of this, but you may also miss some big items you think are "normal" just because we tend to be blind to our own environment. I think that all of us have to look at our environment and see what we can do to make it better, but by working collaboratively and trying to discover our blind spots we may be able to at least get closer to where we want to be. Organizationally, this can be difficult - but in any team, where you have people with outside experience, slowing down and asking - and actively listening - can make a BIG difference. On my fishing trip, I got very wet and very embarrassed. It turns out I have a gift for falling while on boats (more on that later). But I learned that my time on a boat as a commander, and my time on the boat as an individual require a whole different set of rules!

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