The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.Rob Siltanen
Why do we seem so persistent in our tendency to get stuck in the status quo? The basic answer is comfort. It’s comfortable to stay put. It’s easy to not change. It’s simple to keep plodding in the same direction. A more complex answer is that, underneath the “easy” or “simple” aspects of staying-put, we feel that same old, same old is somehow safer. The known is preferred to the unknown, even if the known is unsatisfactory.
At least to a point. We’ll endure unsatisfactory until it tips into painful. Then we’ll wait a bit longer until the pain level surpasses the comfort of the known. Finally, we’ll begin to consider change. Or, at the other end of this spectrum, we may change when we become convinced that the alternative to the status quo is significantly better. Some claim this won’t happen until change looks at least ten times better than the status quo. Whether pushed or pulled, change lies on the other side of something significant enough to push us out of inertia’s orbit.
Wandering in the Wilderness
Along this path, we continue “banging away,” “slogging it out,” and “chipping away,” at the same things. If we are competing with others, this often means a race to the bottom: a fight to give more of the same for less. If we are just maintaining, the bottom likely means dissatisfaction, lack of fulfillment, and purposelessness. We wander in the wilderness of doing the same old thing hoping that we are somehow chosen for more or something cosmic knocks us into some new orbit.
Considering the “slog it out approach,” a movie from the year 2000 comes to mind: The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson. The story is about a reluctant hero caught in the evolving devastation of the American Revolution. As war between Great Britain and her American Colonies ensues, we see massive armies taking the field of battle, marching in formation to a point at which they are within range of their enemy with their single shot muskets, only to line up in formation and take turns shooting into the other mass of men at nearly point blank range. Talk about game of attrition!
Gibson’s character quickly recognizes that the smaller, less disciplined, American forces cannot win this type of war and introduces guerrilla tactics that leverage surprise and rapid movement to defeat the British. His small band proceeds to relentlessly harry the much larger forces of the enemy with surprise raids and non-traditional tactics; an approach that is devastatingly effective.
A Terrible Strategy
Faced with a similar situation, all of us would agree that standing in formation and taking turns shooting into one another is a terrible strategy. Yet, we do this every day when we continue to walk comfortably, or uncomfortably, in our status quo approaches.
We fight the same fights with our competitors: racing to the bottom by trying to beat other’s pricing, offering me-too products, copying ideas, or even bad-mouthing others in the hope that it makes us look better.
We fight the same fights with ourselves and our peers: playing political games, criticizing one another in hushed conversations as we try to bolster our position at the expense of theirs, undermining (intentionally or by omission) the efforts of others if perceived to be threatening to us, or simply not assuming good intention in someone else’s actions. Not showing up for ourselves when the opportunity presents itself, we focus on the “enemy” rather than on our self. Lining up in formation, we stand across from one another and shoot point blank into our ranks.
Walking Toward the Answer
What’s the answer? Elevation. Differentiation. Change. We elevate ourselves when we shift our focus from the trench warfare of the status quo and focus on value, ideas, trust, and connection. We differentiate ourselves when we shift from “banging it out” and focus on competing at a higher level in how we think, engage, and reflect. We change when we decide to play a different game.
The high value game lies in solving problems. To solve a problem, you need to identify it first. To identify it, you have to be looking for it, asking about it, and listening to what’s being said or not said. To get someone to share, you need to gain trust and connect on a different level. You gain trust with your ideas and by giving value first. We all hunger for these things and they are becoming increasingly rare in our working, and personal, worlds.
Think about it, there are tons of great ideas out there, but which ones can you trust? There are so many people shouting about solutions to problems but do they understand yours? There are so many meetings, conversations, challenges, expectations, and possible directions, but how do you sort through it all? We are starving for trusted connections that bring value but we keep showing up on battlefields looking at the same muskets pointed directly at us with no smarter answer.
A Different Game
We can only win by playing a different game. In The Patriot, Mel Gibson tells his boys to “aim small, miss small.” Focus, don’t get lost in the broad scope of battle. Pick that one place and zero-in. Become a person of value by learning to solve specific problems. Become a person of value by focusing on high impact opportunities; not all problems are created equal. Become a person of value by listening fully and actively, then bringing that same focus to generating ideas.
Next, become a person of trust by sharing your ideas. Become a person of trust by doing what you say you’re going to do. Become a person of trust by telling the truth and helping others find the truth. Become a person of trust by solving problems with high value ideas. High value ideas won’t come unless you understand what high value means to the other. High value ideas won’t matter unless they trust what you propose.
Finally, become a person of connection by showing up. Be there when needed. Value, ideas, and trust make you compelling. Connection makes you a necessity. This isn’t just a “Like” on social media, I’m talking about real, human connection. The kind where another person dismisses bad-mouthing in the market or in the office because they know you, they know you know them, and they trust you.
If you want to win in today’s rough and tumble environment, you’ve got to play a different game. Staying put in the comfort of the status quo may feel safe but that is an illusion. The only safe place is being a person of value, ideas, trust, and connection. The only way you win is to stand apart from the noise and you cannot stand apart by trying to make more noise. At least not for long. You can win, personally and professionally. But to win and keep winning, you are going to have to play a different game.