[Life Back West] December 2008 – “Three Square”

My dad, who passed away at age 96, referred to life in his later years as “Mike raising father.” From the land of what goes around comes around, my son Traylor seems to be inspiring the same type of learnings for this pop.

After lunchroom / playground duty with fellow volunteer parents Erica and Billy at the new school , I got to see a couple of my son’s classmates apply simple pragmatism to recess. As they grabbed a large ball and looked, one said “These lines are for four square and four players but we can just use two and make it two square.” When a third joined them, the four square layout became “three square” just as quickly.

Any number of people and organizations that I’ve worked with in my 30-year business career could take wisdom from this simple application of doing with what you have rather than pining for what you lack. Dr. Seuss in Oh the Places You’ll Go speaks to the types of people who wait (rather than do) at something called “The Waiting Place .”

One of the lessons from kids is that left to their own devices they usually figure out how to make things happen. In contrast, some teams and people spend their time and energy figuring out the reasons something can’t be done rather than figuring out how things could be done.

Just as in managing your personal health , doing nothing is often the biggest risk to take in one’s work life. Life is seldom static. People and organizations often wait for perfect opportunities rather than making the most of what’s possible right now.

Roger van Oech notes “Most people think that success and failure are opposites but they are actually results of the same process.”  If you don’t try – the doing part in the process– you’re less likely to succeed and more likely to fail. Actively choosing to wait, reflecting on things before taking action, is a different and often appropriate tact. Doing nothing — absent reflection — is paralysis.

John Mason – author of “Know Your Limits – then Ignore Them ” – offers a series of nuggets for action including one of my favorites: “If you wait too long, the future is gone before you get there.”

When Annie and Craig Stoll first opened a little restaurant in my neighborhood ten years ago, the space and set-up were suboptimal. With more than just a little imagination, and lots of hard work, their little restaurant-that-could has become nationally award winning.  They “manufactured” a little luck to double the size and later open up a separate pizzeria when more space became available (where else?) next door. A second pizzeria on the north side of the City followed last month.

Moral of the story: Figure out to make do with what you have, rather than what you lack. Bumpy times abound all the time and will exist in the future. Staying put – and staying on the sidelines not doing anything – may be the worst strategy of all for this year, and the New Year to come.

All the best,

J. Mike

More information, including past writings, at Back West, Inc .