Tuesday, November 27, 2012

(Plan and) Build carefully!

Ever felt like you started forward with a great idea, only to watch it get buried under a deluge of unexpected complications? Felt like a torrent of problems was sweeping away your previously smooth operation?

Flooding in the centre of Bradford-on-Avon,
near Bristol, stops work on this UK construction site
Above is a real-life example. England recently experienced a spate of flooding. BBC photographers snapped a construction site under water. The architects, builders, and planners did their part and started the project in good faith. Looking at the water swirling over their hard work is daunting.

Surely, this was an unexpected twist to a project that was doing well. How on earth could one regain ground after such a catastrophe? I bet the contractor and architect will meet with City Council to discuss the flood zone. Does one rethink plans for this low-lying area? Redo the buildings' foundations to make sure they don't wash away in the next overflow? Or clean up and carry on?

It's easy to be enthusiastic when thinking of possibilities. "Idea People" get frustrated with apparent naysayers who insist on working out all the details before they proceed. On the other hand, cautious managers want answers before their team leaps into action, no matter how wonderful the proposal. How do you work with opposing views? And how can you recover from catastrophic interruptions?

1. Every gate we enter represents increased freedom or restriction. You can rarely go back to where you were, whether that's a safe or risky place. Choices today open new possibilities and burn bridges behind us. However, status quo (doing nothing) is usually more dangerous and unfulfilling than alertness and motion. Only dead and weak fish let the current take them without a fight.
2.  Consider the past as well as the future. How have we proven ourselves. Are we
  • optimists ("Everything will work out,")
  • painstaking researchers ("Who knows what will happen unless we think it through?"), or
  • project managers ("What steps need to be taken for success?") 
  • Has your intuition pushed you into greatness or caused injury? 
  • Has your wariness saved you from harm or caused stagnation? 
  • How does that affect your future decisions?

3. Diversify the team so gifts of vision,  detailed record-keeping, and implementation provide balance.
  • Jumpers: be willing to think before you jump. Partner with someone who is careful and will help you think about the cliff you're about to tackle. (You'll begin to understand the ramifications beyond the initial leap.)
  • Bookkeepers: be willing to carefully consider how an idea could revolutionize the world as you know it.  (You'll expand your repertoire of possibilities and skills.)
  • Implementers: be willing to compromise on the process when you're working with someone who has proven success. Partnering with people who have great ideas, energy, and enthusiasm keeps you current. It changes life to an adventure rather than offering boring routines on a secure treadmill. (You'll help keep those visionaries focused, make the accountants happy, and round out your CV with new accomplishments.)
4. Evaluate. We must be willing to take off our blinders to see what's really happening before and during a project.
  • Have we taken proper precautions? 
  • Are we tipping into a danger zone?
  • Are we stalling a really good idea because of fear? 
  • Burying progress under rules and technicalities?

5. Pour heart and soul into the decision. Once we (individually or as a team) decide to move ahead, we commit to doing our best. That way, we move with skilled efforts, regardless of the outcome.

6. Recognize that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. When we've done our best, whether we get accolades for an outstanding win or have to start from the beginning, every attempt teaches us something. Don't get so scared that you never try anything again!

7. At the end of an idea (whether it dies or comes to life), consider the next step. Is this a winner that needs to explode into broader possibilities? Did you scrape through by the skin of your teeth so it's time to end here? Did you lose the shirt off your back? Ask, what lessons did we learn? What skills did we acquire? On a team, who is weak and who is strong? Whom can we count on and who let us down?

And then be willing to ask, "WHAT'S NEXT?" as you wait for God to bring his creative and meticulous direction, working in the world ... through you.

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