Jumping to Offense

Cliff Sign

(Image Courtesy of http://www.aroundtheworldl.com)

The other day during a conversation with someone close, I noticed something about our interaction. It was a simple conversation, nothing too deep or seemingly important, but a pattern revealed itself.

The pattern was simple: I jump to offense.

Let me explain. This means that my mind appears to be on a quest to find a way to be offended at what someone else is saying. By quest, I mean that my mind considers this its highest priority and will devote both time, energy, and resources to ensure the quest’s success.

Here are a few examples:

“It is getting kind of late for sending out Christmas Cards”

My Jump: So are you saying that I should have sent these out?

“It would be nice to do more interactive things at the next holiday with everyone”

My Jump: So they expect me to plan this then be responsible for meeting everyone’s idea of what is fun?

“We need to make sure we are attentive to the bottom line”

My Jump: So they are saying that I am overspending?

There are risks in jumping to offense, just like the risk of jumping off a cliff. It is dangerous and there is unseen peril just beyond the lip. Luckily I am beginning to notice this pattern as it occurs (or shortly afterwards).

I realize that I need to retrain my mind to see the warning sign on the edge of that cliff before I go off jumping. Picturing that warning sign helps, but also explaining to the person I am talking with if it begins to happen.

Here are a few tips for my fellow jumpers:

  1. Recognize your bent toward Jumping to Offense.
  2. Understand that Jumping to Offense is dangerous, for you and others.
  3. Slow down and listen, don’t respond right away.
  4. Ask clarifying questions, make sure you understand what the other person is saying.
  5. If you do jump, climb back up and reconcile with those around you.
  6. Repeat steps as needed.

Where are you Jumping to Offense? Take a few moments to think about where you could, as my grandmother always used to say, “look before you leap.”

P.S. I am going to print out this photo and put it where I can see it every day.

I still have work to do…

About a month ago, I attended training on a new tool to help match individuals to a job, or to help coach them on a deeper level. This new tool can identify someone’s capacity in various attributes, and how they view the world, understand systems and people. The tool doesn’t stop at the outside world.

This new approach also takes a peek at how you are doing on the inside. Do you understand and balance your various roles, do you see your future as bright or muddled, and are you moving forward or just hanging on.

During the training, the instructor eventually passed out our results throughout the room. My little table of four slowly received the results and each person began flipping through the pages to gain some insight. Somewhat guarded, we all peered at the pages occasionally glancing at the others at the table. Eventually we shared the results.

Despite the individual variation, there was one theme. Each person at the table had a good handle on other people and how to help them (most were consultants or HR professionals), but all of us could use a little work on ourselves. I couldn’t help but feel a little uneasy and my Narrator seemed to try to tell me that unless I get my own act together, I shouldn’t be telling others how to improve.

In the far left corner of the room, there was another consultant. This consultant has been working with individuals and companies for almost 43 years. When speaking or providing insight during the session the room hushed as if everyone in the room wanted to let the words and insight of this wise sage penetrate our minds. It was amazing and intimidating at the same time.

This consultant called me yesterday. Mostly because of my half-joking statement at the end of class when each of us was asked to say what we learned the most during the training.

“I learned that I need to be coached by you” I said speaking directly to that consultant.

It got a laugh, but imagine my surprise during our call. When we were discussing some of the potential areas I may need to develop and work on, I heard the following.

“You know Carl, when I read my own results and report, I realize that I still have work to do.”

It was reassuring that someone who has worked with others almost as long as I have been alive still has work to do and their development journey is far from over.

This conversation reminded me that there are two paths.

One path makes a bold statement.

“I have it all figured out and I will tell you how to make your life, career, job, and world better.”

The second path echoes the simpler statement I heard while on the phone.

“We are on this collective journey together. We still have work to do and if some of the insights we learn help us…great. Let’s see where this takes us.”

I still have work to do, and I look forward to this journey together.

Build Up or Tear Down?

Stones on the Beach

I have a habit of making cairns, especially when we spend time on the rocky coast of Maine. There is a challenge to find the right stones that will fit together, balance against the wind, and rise up to leave their mark on the landscape. These reminders provide some sense of identity along the somewhat anonymous coast that someone stood on that spot and created.

When creating in this space, one must acknowledge that eventually the pounding surf will remove all evidence of your work. The never-ending cycle of water will topple any temporary reminder of any creation, but something compels us to create near the ocean despite the inevitable. Something about letting the ocean reclaim these stones seems appropriate.

After creating these three cairns the other day, we walked further up the coast to another small beach and passed a couple with a child. We did the obligatory head nod and smile as we passed and eventually we turned around and headed back past our creation. To my surprise, we saw the couple and child again, at the site of our creation. Instead of admiring our work, they were standing at the path and throwing rocks to topple the cairns.

They must have seen it in my face when I gazed upon their actions and they spoke first.

Did you create these?


There was an awkward pause. Stones in hand, they looked at me as if they had done something wrong and were waiting for some clue from me on how to proceed. It was a struggle to fight my initial instinct to be angry or upset at them. I did not own the stones, the ocean, or the coast. My creation was temporary and the changing tides would return these stones to their rightful home within a few hours anyway, but the rush of emotion was still present. I knew I had to say something.

It is totally okay. Some people build up, and others tear down.

I smiled. Eventually they smiled too and restarted their stone throwing and we moved on.

When you build something, however temporary it is hard to watch it used for something else when you knew its original purpose. Change can be hard. What seems like tearing down, may just be a new and innovative use for what you built. But when someone else sees a new use for your creation it can still feel like a loss to you. Perhaps your creation had its run, served its purpose, but its time has passed.

So when someone is changing your creation ask yourself, is it time to build up or tear down?

The Successful Solution Trap

The Successful Solution

Success is great. The trouble with success is that over time, you begin to rely on that success the next time. And the next time, and the next. The prior solution may have been great, and after a few successes, you may even have a few various solutions up your sleeve. Maybe you even have five. But these are a pretty solid five solutions that have worked in the past. You rely on them, and they solved a lot of issues.

But what about when there is a need that doesn’t match your five?  How many times is someone describing their issue, their problem, their need and you are just trying to figure out how to make it fit into one of your solutions?

This success solution trap became real to me a few weeks ago.  I took a call.  I listened for a few minutes.  I had a plan.

“This should solve your issue, and I will send over an outline.”

I opened up an old document that was a successful solution in the past, made a few changes and sent it over.  The reply was not what I was expecting.

“What is this? How is this going to solve our issue?”

I stepped back and replayed the call in my mind while looking at my notes. I was so worried about fitting their issue into my solution, I even ignored my own notes. Shortly after, I re-drafted a new solution and sent it over. It was the right fit, and much more creative than my old canned solution.

It takes a little more work, but new creativity beats old successful solutions. I want to learn from the past successful solutions, but not become a slave to them.

An Online Game to Change Your Life

I had the privilege of watching Jane McGonical speak at a conference.  She is a game designer who is on a quest to make our reality more like a game, with quests and “epic wins” that are celebrated together.  When I saw her name on Ted.com’s front page yesterday, I was compelled to watch her again.  This time a much more vulnerable Jane gave a moving talk about her own struggle dealing with a severe concussion that left her bedridden and suicidal.

True to her belief that games can be harnessed to change our world, she created a game to help herself, and all of us with the things we struggle with, or need to overcome.  The game is called Superbetter, and can be found at www.superbetter.com.  We have discussed here a few times the power of setting goals, and Jane takes this to a whole new level by making it more like a heroic quest, that harnesses our allies, encourages us daily and finds very creative ways to assist us in our journey.

Take the first step.  Watch Jane’s Ted.com talk, or if nothing else, watch the intro video on her website at Superbetter.  You goal may not be a dramatic as Jane’s was, and may be about losing weight, becoming more healthy, or lowering your stress level.  Whatever the goal, the site has tools to help you accomplish this and create resilience to help you in your life.  I was moved and signed up for my own quest right away.

To Jane, thanks for being vulnerable and for creating a tool to help us find our way out of whatever we struggle with…whatever holds us back.  Maybe together we really can change the world.

When Dreams Don’t Work Out

Let’s face it, not all of our dreams work out.  We set goals, we have a vision of the future and something derails, delays, or simply denies it from happening.  What do we do in the face of this failure?

I suppose we have a choice to make.  We can choose to pick up the pieces, see what we could have done better (maybe), and start to aim towards another dream or goal.  Or, we can become tainted, cynical, and hardened.  Yes, those seem like two extreme views, but by not consciously picking the first, we tend to end up in the second even if we do not realize it.

Life can at times be harder than we imagined.  When I think about life, there are way more long-periods of monotony with brief moments of excitement (good or bad).  What seems to break up the daily routine of life is a dream.  The strange little hope that you can make a difference, do something great, and alter your story and the stories of those around you.

So the next time that dream starts to become just a faded light in the rear-view mirror, stop looking back, look forward and find the next dream…and the next…and the next. Make the choice, and don’t let the hardening of disappointment in…dream instead.