“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore” Andre Gide, 1927.
I saw this quote from Nobel prize winning Gide, a week after the officially worst day of the year (that day when the post-Christmas bank balance is at an all-time low, the New Year’s resolutions have gone by the board, the next holiday seems a remote date somewhere in the depths of the diary and Trump is in the White House…).
It was the same day that someone posted a version of the change curve on LinkedIn – I’ve copied it for you below…
Luckily, I saw it before I lurched stumbling and groping into my own version of the Dark Swamp of Despair. Laughing put my concern about a new project into perspective. Family and those I love, always help me put things into a bigger picture.
We’ve all been there. Imagine. You go almost overnight from “this will be fun” to “this sucks, I have no idea what I am doing”. A lengthy procurement process is over. The eagerly awaited awarding of a supplier contract finally complete. Streamlined processes mean your job is easier and the end customer will be delighted. Thoughtful detail and almost unheard of innovation is embedded into ways of working. Immense planning and reflection had been given to how it will operate. It’s the brave new world. Except (you guessed it) it isn’t. The staff from the old contractor are passed over to the new and so is the backlog. Customers have no tolerance for the inevitable things that go wrong whilst new processes and internal relationships are bedded in. Neither do front-line staff who answer the irate calls, respond to complaining emails or eyeball disappointed customers directly.
What else can you do? You knuckle down dealing with queries, acting as liaison between customer services and contractor, getting more and more bogged down fire-fighting, working longer and longer hours to iron things out, losing your resilience and feeling completely at sea. Your ground-breaking vision lays discarded along with your infectious enthusiasm, forgotten somewhere in the muddled reality of getting everything up to speed. Only in that moment when your shoulders drop, your cheek colour returns to normal, your voice softens, jaw relaxes as you breathe and you to lift your head to focus on that vision again can you use your intelligence and skill to start working out how to put out the fires for good. I was lucky enough to hear Tom Peters speak a few years after he published In Search of Excellence. He gave helpful advice that I’ve held dear for years, “Every success is a failure in the middle”. That thought has often helped me cling tight to the wobbly bridge over the Dark Swamp and has given me faith to know that on the opposite bank I will at least start to see what I have learnt. As 2017 advances and we face new projects and challenges we might all do well to hold onto that mantra as we navigate the long maritime journey to new lands.